Doing things alone has never bothered me. In fact, I find that being alone helps me to hit the refresh button in my life – better yet, on my mood and mindset. Reading a good book while picking away at my sushi roll and sipping on a glass of Colby red at PFChangs, going to see a sappy love story in the theater on a Sunday afternoon, or even hopping on a plane to a place I’ve never seen before. Being alone is good for me.
Recently divorced, I can tell you, I felt more alone being married than I do now. And to be completely upfront, so did my ex. We were two people, under one roof, undoubtedly feeling alone. My feelings of loneliness became confusing while going through our separation. It was almost as if I had become attached to the lonely nights and self-pity while we lived together. When I didn’t have those thoughts to lean on, the alone thing felt different all of a sudden. It didn’t feel good for me anymore. Multiple times a day I would find myself chanting, “I am fine alone. I don’t need a companion. I am a strong independent woman. I won’t die alone.” But I couldn’t quite convince myself. I wasn’t quite sold on the idea. And to be honest, I wasn’t even sure what my truth really was.
A month after my divorce was final (December 2016), I was on a plane to Puerto Rico. Alone. My children were with their father over Christmas so I chose to take off. As I observed the passengers around me, I imagined neon words flashing above my head; Solo. Unaccompanied. Unmarried. Traveling light. Detached. Outcast. Me myself and I. I judgingly labeled each group as they passed by my seat, as if I knew exactly how their lives were. So predictable. So scripted. So conforming. The perfectly put together family of four was traveling for the holiday. Mom will post an obnoxious amount of perfectly posed pictures on Facebook. The just-married-lovers are heading off for a romantic getaway to screw as often as their bodies could handle it. And the sweet, old retired couple. Married for 47 years, going to see friends who are also retired and have been married for eternity. They all rented a beachfront condo for the month. I hated them all. I really did. Part of me wanted to tell them it’s all bullshit. What you have now will never last. I think I might have even grinned at the thought of this. Instead I buried my nose in my book, ignoring the chaotic bliss happening all around me.
I don’t recall at what point in my trip I realized I was going to be ok. But I can tell you it didn’t take long. Maybe it was the moment the unfamiliar island breeze kissed my face. It was as if a lovely mist of enchantment was sprayed on me as my welcoming gift, whispering “you’ll never be the same.” Maybe it was when the peculiar, young Puerto Rican boy, about seven years of age, that smiled my way, his eyes warning me, “you will never want to leave.” Or maybe it was the day I got lost driving to lunch. I remember the very moment I realized, “I’m not even irritated or pissed about this. Ha! I don’t even care.” I was in Puerto Rico, alone, and captivated.
Old San Juan felt like a place I had been before. Not from the standpoint of knowing what restaurant to go to for the best mofongo (a local staple) or what store to visit to buy my favorite wedges (another local staple among women), but from an inner comfort that hit immediately. From the minute my foot stepped out of my rental onto the cobblestone street of this 500-year-old Spanish colonial city, my body became intoxicated by the natural buzz of Calle Fortaleza (a famous street of shops, food and music). The charm of the colorful buildings, carrying yellows, blues, pinks and greens all worked in such harmony, all so visually stimulating. And the battling of salsa and reggaeton music playing at opposite ends of the street…still managed to find a rhythm together. Maybe I had been there before…in a forgotten about dream. After all, this neighborhood, this very moment, feels all so dreamlike.
When I woke on Christmas morning I was sure of one thing. All those chants I had to say to myself just a few months ago, I don’t need them anymore. Not only will I be fine alone, I now know that I prefer to be alone. I am my best self, alone. Companionship will find its place. I am sure of it. The jealousy and anger towards those on the plane are now something for me to laugh about. “Yikes, I was bitter.” The life I thought was for me, is not for me. And that feels damn good to recognize and accept. It took allowing myself to get lost over and over, to laugh at the unfamiliarity, to find what was in me all this time, to be confident in my unknown future. Wandering the streets of Old San Juan, surveying the crowds of people and their ability to slow down and celebrate each day, I, too, wanted that in my life.
On my last day in Old San Juan before heading to the other side of the island, I revisited Rosa de Triana. This had become my favorite local restaurant. With it being one of the first structures in Old San Juan (1953), the character alone was enough to satisfied its patrons. I said my goodbyes to those that I had made friends with. Their warm hospitality is something I will always cherish. Rafael, my favorite bartender (maybe about 45 years of age), reminded me that I always have a place when I visit. As he walked away from my table, I sat down my glass of sangria, leaned back in my chair to better feel the friendly sun on my face, and allowed an audible sigh to brush over my lips. “There is no one I’d rather be alone with,” I chanted.