Are You OK Being Alone?

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.

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My Pages

My Pages

Some people find comfort in surrounding themselves with others…anyone…just for the sake of not being alone. I am not one of those people. I find comfort in the exact opposite. I find comfort in myself and in celebrating who I am becoming; exploring the parts of me that appear when basic security is stripped away. Most will never understand my decision to be alone on Christmas, to intentionally be away from friends and family, but that is ok. I don’t need to be understood. I need to be supported, encouraged and loved by those who choose to be in my life.  

I have always had a fascination with travel. Travel with friends, travel with the family, travel for business…I welcomed any opportunity that came my way, knowing that they would all bring something of new value to my life. This year I deepened that fascination by traveling solo during my separation. While each place had its obvious natural draw, I chose to find aspects of challenge and discomfort while there. I wanted to add volume my library of diversified experiences. In the past, not once while traveling with a friend had I hiked for miles with no destination in mind, pushing past limits I had placed on myself after becoming a mother. Not once while traveling with my family was I allowed to place myself in a territory that wasn’t researched on Tripadvisor and mapped out hour by hour, day by day. While traveling alone I threw away my road map and pushed beyond my “mom” limits. If I wanted to turn left, I turned left. I let my curiosity be my guide. In traveling solo I was able discover something that left me craving more. A purpose.

Travel has become personal to me. It now carries a motive. One that has matured past the purpose of R&R.  While traveling alone, I envision myself as I am meant to be…who I have always been, perhaps, just put aside for a spell. When alone, I am given the opportunity to slow my thought process and release myself from the daily tasks that have created of my life back home. In removing distractions that will take away from the experience of personal discovery and inward change, I am aligning a better future for me and for my children. A future that is personally written, not just a general outline that was handed to me.

This is not a vacation for me. I won’t be lounging, poolside, with a blended beverage in my hand, adjusting my chair according to the sun. This is a journey. An intentional journey of courage and opportunity; courage of self discovery and courage of cultural discovery. The opportunity to release and opportunity to absorb. With a mindset of seeking out cultural experiences and personal chance, being on the move is the objective. The more I move, the more I gain. The more I challenge my mental and physical boundaries, the more I adapt and evolve. Christmas 2016 will be spent submerging myself into a culture that is unfamiliar. A culture that will make me get out of my bubble, view and adapt. Puerto Rico will be my temporary home. And in this, I find comfort.

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You were always good at, and felt comfort in, being a wife and mother. At least that’s what you told yourself. Divorce told you otherwise. Maybe it was the strength and comfort you found in the routine of being a wife and mother. The routine that placed you acceptingly within a storybook narrative. The pages of June Cleaver come to mind. But something no longer works in their story. Society’s story.  The script you carried with you, unconsciously, year after year has faded.

You won’t pretend that you didn’t enjoy it. The comfort in being needed, the feeling of “success” as you established the American dream, and the planned out map of your family’s future. You know that these are all things to be proud of. And you will never discount them. Being a mother is still your favorite role. And you will always feel at home with your children near. But your wandering mind has always found its way into each chapter. A recurring fantasy that allows you to see yourself from more than one angle. Angles not found in the pages of a storybook. You see your story more like an action-packed, page-turner, filled with adrenaline and anticipation. You wonder… in what chapter will you get to turn the page past ordinary existence?

Late night talks with your husband about family escapades and living abroad with your children are now just packed away dreams. These conversations still feel like yesterday. The thought of your children being world citizens, fluent in multiple languages, are now marked by a penciled-in-strikethrough. The playful conversations of retirement…your then college age kids, traveling to wherever you and their dad would be for a visit. Globetrotters. These thoughts still carry you away. But these pages will never be printed.

The death of your expectations will not shake you. You know that soon enough you and your children will explore the globe, all setting out on a journey to emerge stronger and wiser. Your lifelong dreams, just edited a bit. But for now, a new opportunity has presented itself to you. An opportunity to travel to an unfamiliar place in order to get familiar with who you want to become. Your next chapter might not be what you had envisioned, but it can still be one worth writing. Be brave. Say yes.

My Pages

I can see their faces now, peeking down over the banister, their not so quiet whispers, “did he come?” The anticipated footsteps racing down the stairs. Their eyes race from corner to corner of the piled up presents. My son comments on which presents are his and which are his sister’s, trying to find who has the biggest one. They giggle seeing that there are only crumbs left behind on the plate and the milk half gone. And the stockings….their favorite. It is magical. Just as it should be. The uncontainable excitement in the children. The pure joy in their mother and father’s eyes. Magical.

But this Christmas I will miss all that. This Christmas I won’t even have the joy of seeing my children. To hear their voices, to see their eyes light up and to bask in the pure romance of it all. This Christmas they will be with their father and his family. And just knowing that they will be creating beautiful memories helps, but not enough. If I had my way, they would be with both of their parents on Christmas morning. With this being my first Christmas as a divorced woman, I have played out how this day will unfold for me over and over. None of which will replace the beauty of being with my children. None of which make the tears stop when I think of not being with them. And believe me, the tears don’t stop. But I have a choice to make. I can be pitiful and let Christmas be scarred with tears, wine and sleeping pills or I can be brave, remove myself from my ordinary environment, and further develop what I know already exists within me.

Pages By Society

Society has always struggled with the idea of a single woman. She is a described as a destabilizing force to society. Unsure where to place her, she is often misunderstood. Her economic, social, and sexual independence may seem menacing to some. She can be educated or illiterate, a mother of 4 or childless, provocative or pleasant, yet, single, and written off in the pages of a less than engaging story. With titles like “Sad Spinsters” or “Crazy Cat Lady” it’s no wonder women feel as if they failed at womanhood if they are single too long. Their identity is often under threat.

Let’s take a look at her from another angle. A single woman, traveling solo. A single women over the age of thirty, traveling solo. A single woman over the age of thirty, with young children at home, traveling solo. This is where society starts to get its pages ruffled. The ink becomes smeared in the absence of a male character here. This woman is frowned upon, misread, and definitely not celebrated. Celebrated in a way that her friend Pete was when he took five weeks to go travel Europe. He got a high-five and a slap on the back. He’ll be safe they say. No worries for the male character. Not her. She gets a look of disgust as she shares her enthusiasm about her upcoming 10 day solo trip. Aunts of another generation only know the life they were given. Friends cringe at how unsafe it is said to be for a female to travel alone. Again, the ingrained expectations of a woman are in the bindings of each story we unconsciously absorb. So many women accept these restrictions. And likewise, so many of our loved ones help mark our place in society, folding a dog-ear on our assigned chapter, so we can find your way back to regular life when we return.

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You have now turned the page. You will playfully call it: Chapter 39. Divorced Solo Traveler. You have entered an unconventional path and turned the page past ordinary existence. You even go as far as leaving the storybook behind and entering a whole new book of its own. A book that you will fill with new, nonconforming experiences and new found inspiration. A book that will successfully undo all the rules that were written for you. You manipulate the context which fill the pages of your life. Assumptions about a woman’s life is no longer where your bookmark holds your place. You willingly remove from your table of contents, Complacency and Comfort and replacing them with Transformation and Travel.  

You do not yet know what the following chapters looks like. But for the first time, in what feels like years, you get to put ink to paper and write your own narrative.  A deep change will occur. One that can not happen without breaking past the restrictions written by the rest of the world. You get to write the epilogue now. You.

My Pages

So as I take this journey, it is twofold. I won’t pretend that it is not to escape the absence of my children over the holiday. This is true. And that emptiness will not be filled. But I will train my mind and body in preparation for the positive that will come from it. Not only will I gain personally from this experience, but my two children will benefit from who their mother is becoming. With a new found confidence, I will give them a life full of unique adventures and remarkable wisdom. Wisdom that comes from knowing our world and her beauty. Knowing that our world is so much larger than the one they see from day in and day out. Wisdom in knowing that fear is nothing more than a state of mind, most often placed upon us from those that never venture past the pages of their newspapers. Such knowledge and perspective is a gift. I want to give that to my children. Not only as their mother but also as their travel companion.

This inward  journey excites me and that is what life needs. Things that excite us to our core. Things that challenge us and push us past our default settings in life. Things that make us challenge our labels and not disregard any others that may come our way. Welcoming unpredictable experiences brings about unpredictable change. And even though this journey is still in front of me, I feel hope. Hope for who I am compelled to become. My story, the page-turner I always dreamt of, will be of my voice and of my choices. A destabilizing force one might say.

‘Tis the Season

I can see their faces now, peaking down over the banister, their not so quiet whispers, “did he come?” The anticipated footsteps racing down the stairs. Their eyes race from corner to corner of the piled up presents. Brock comments on which presents are his and which are his sister’s, trying to find who has the biggest one. They giggle seeing that there are only crumbs left behind on the plate and the milk half gone. And the stockings….their favorite. It is magical. Just as it should be. The uncontainable excitement in the children. The pure joy in their parents eyes. Magical.

But this Christmas I will miss all that. This Christmas I won’t even have the joy of seeing my children. To hear their voices, to see their eyes light up and to bask in the pure romance of it all. This Christmas they will be with their father and his family. And just knowing that they will be creating cherished memories helps, but not enough. My first choice is with me. With this being my first Christmas as a divorced woman, I have played out how this day will unfold for me over and over. None of which will replace the beauty of being with my children. None of which make the tears stop when I think of not being with them. And believe me, the tears don’t stop. But I have a choice to make. I can be pitiful and let my Christmas be scarred with tears and booze or I can pull myself together and find a way to celebrate me.

The choices I make in life are mine. I know me better than anyone ever can or ever will. Some people find comfort in surrounding themselves with others… anyone…just for the sake of not being alone. Not me. I find comfort in the exact opposite. I find comfort in myself and in celebrating who I am becoming. Most will never understand my decision to be alone on Christmas, to not share it with others, but that is ok. I don’t need to be understood. I need to be supported, encouraged and loved by those who choose to be in my life.

I have always had a fascination with travel. And just this year I deepened that fascination by traveling solo on a few occasions. Travel is highly personal to me. In traveling I see myself more clearly. It is a way in which I can release myself from the daily tasks that have created my regular life. Without challenge and moving past the comfort of my routine, there is no room for growth. This is not a vacation for me. This is me opening a door…to a journey…a release. Christmas 2016 will be spent submerging myself into a culture that is unfamiliar. A culture that will make me get out of my bubble, view and adapt. Puerto Rico will be my temporary home. And in this, I find comfort.

So as I take this journey, it is twofold. I won’t pretend that it is not to escape the absence of my children over the holiday. This is true. And it hurts. But I will train my mind and body in preparation for the positive that will come from it. This solo journey excites me and that is what life needs. Things that excite us to our core. Things that challenge us and push us past our default settings in life. Welcoming unpredictable experiences brings about unpredictable change. ‘Tis the season…for change. 

                              “To travel is to take a journey into yourself.”  D. Kaye