When I told friends I was heading to Portland, Oregon for 10 days by myself, the responses were pretty uniform: "Do you know anyone there?" "Won't you get lonely?" "Aren't you too old for a road trip?" The answers were "no," "no,"and "no."
Who knows why some people find being alone so intolerable? Clearly, there is a difference between going temporarily solo, and being truly lonely, but some fail to make the distinction. According to a New York Times book review last week, there are two variations on the theme: transients (those who feel lonely periodically) and chronics, those who find a way to feel alone even when with family, having sex, or on Facebook with 1000 supposed "friends."
I always say that if you like to read, and are interested in other people -- especially those who haven't heard all your stories or whose stories you haven't heard countless times -- you can never be bored. I have read four books in five days. I have done Yoga every day, (and didn't restlessly count the minutes of shavasana) binged on three seasons of Breaking Bad, taken long walks, ate fine food, mostly at bars. I rented an apartment to add a more relaxed feel to the visit.
Could I have done all the same things at home in NYC? Of course, but there the distractions are plenty, the responsibilities unrelenting. The familiar and the familial will be met with more finesse when I have had a break."I need an escape"! a friend wrote me this week, not knowing that I had already made mine. She seemed intrigued, as do others, male and female, about how one actually does this.
I would argue that those who are secure in their own lives, and not actively seeking companionship, find this more doable. I am a writer and it can only add to the quality of my work to see how others live and to hear what they are saying -- even if they are not saying it to me. The late and great singer Sam Cooke was once asked how he managed to write so many songs that resonated. "It's about observation," he said. The interviewer looked at him confused, but I get it.
The world may very well be divided between those who can be alone, unembarrassed and comfortable in their own skin, and those who can't. I know people who cannot imagine even going to a movie or the theatre by themselves, let alone take a solo vacation. As we age, one tends to grow more insulated, if not isolated: sticking to the routines and comforts that entail few risks. Maybe that is exactly the time to explore, to expand the mind, and the curiosity. I have attended two author-talks here at the country's largest bookstore: one by a scientist speaking about the "Brilliant Blunders" of people like Darwin and Einstein, and one by a psychologist discussing the manual that determines what disorders qualify as diseases. Could I do that in NYC? Yes, but would I?
Another fact of being alone -- when well past the point of flirtatious youth -- is that most people won't talk to you. Well, they will if spoken to first, but they won't look at you that way. But sometimes, invisibility can be a relief. When I think back on my first journey alone, as a 19 year old eurail-ing her way through Italy and France, I think of hiding in compartments from men who found ways to get their hands on me, without ever looking me in the eye.
Do I miss my family? Of course, but I talk with or text them every day and will have even more to share when we are all together again. Will more of these getaways turn me into a hermit? A calendar full of social events awaits me when I return and I am looking forward to every one of them. Am I going to leave fast moving, competitive, youth-obsessed NYC for this Landia where everyone under the age of 30 looks like they are happily stuck in the sixties, and everyone over the age of 40 is proudly gray?
Not in a million years. But solitude is highly recommended for those who need time and space to stop talking and start listening.