Last week, I experienced for the first time in my college career, the "solo dinner." My college has just one cafeteria, an administrative effort to facilitate a sense of community by breaking bread under one roof. Between 430 and 8pm, students flock to fill up on the less than filling, mediocre food that constitutes a college meal. Texts are sent all day long, confirming lunch and dinner plans. This particular day, I did not feel like turning dinner into a social event. I did not want to contact every friend in my contacts list to see who was free. I just wanted to be with myself, alone.
No, I was not feeling sad, and no, I am not a social pariah with no friends to begin with. In fact, I am quite the social butterfly, doing my best to balance friendships, relationships, work, and school. And it is not always easy. Especially when I make the mistake of ignoring the most important ingredient in this balance-myself.
Friends are fantastic, romances are thrilling, studies are rewarding...But what about ME?? When do I take the time to sit by myself, without the pretext of a paper deadline or pending exam? When do I carve out the space to listen to my own thoughts, to check in on myself, to enjoy my own company? Not often enough. Which is a shame because I am a pretty awesome woman, as I am sure you are too!
When I sat down in the cafeteria, i felt slightly anxious. A couple bites into my taco salad, a friend group installed itself next to me at the table. I was the awkward appendage, sticking off their crowd.To make it more awkward, one of my table neighbors kept moving his tray, worrying that it was encroaching on my solo territory.
This awkwardness lasted for another five minutes, and then I got a hold of myself. Why should sitting alone be weird? Why can't I enjoy a meal with just me, myself, my taco salad, and my personal reflections? What is so intimidating about not having a face across from you to deflect your solitude?
I think that one of the greatest life lessons is learning how to be alone. Being alone can be scary, because there is no one and nothing to distract your feelings and thoughts, and, let's face it, not all of our brain traffic is pleasant. But learning how to confront and negotiate these occasionally uncomfortable feelings is incredibly empowering. We cannot always depend on others for our sanity, but we can, if committed to well-being, depend on ourselves.
It is our personal responsibility to care for ourselves, to love ourselves, to be comfortable with ourselves. And when we take on this responsibility, not only are we happier and healthier, we become better friends and attract others toward us.
Only you can make yourself whole. Family, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends,mentors-these people can be great company, and make you feel really really really good. But true happiness rests inside you, and only you have the key to access it.
So go ahead, sit alone, and enjoy the fantastic company of your brilliant mind and heart.