“But when the group is literally capable of changing our perceptions, and when to stand alone is to activate primitive, powerful, and unconscious feelings of rejection, then the health of these institutions seems far more vulnerable than we think.”
“Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.”
― Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
I hated high school. Not the time spent during those years outside of school, but the actual environment of classes, hallways and lunch break I hated. Every social myth we have feels stronger there. Teens are so willing to put labels on things and on people, to perceive the world in ways that makes deep divides between people based on age, beliefs, race, gender and socioeconomic status. When I left high school, I had the feeling that I needed to unlearn more things that what I actually learned from books and teachers.
The typical reaction some people may have towards those who share my opinion is, “Wow, that person must have been a huge loser in school.” It’s funny, isn’t it, that we tend to think back on our memories of high school in extreme ways. It was either amazing and we wish we could relive and cherish that time, or it was awful and we are so happy to not be limited to that kind of social experience and the identity we were classified with there. What I mean by that is if labeled a loser or a slut in high school, that can be left behind and there will be different more substantial ways to prove yourself later on. Thank God for college. Thank God for the fact that karma often bites that popular bitch who was your friend once, but who later slept with your boyfriend, in the ass. I know. I have this type of a person in my past. Her life is now an unfortunate wreck to the point that all of the hate I once harbored for her is now just pity. I think that is even worse and honestly it holds no satisfaction for me whatsoever. Thank God for that as well.
I may have been a bit of a loser in high school in the minds of some people. Others would say the opposite. I come to find out years later what people thought of me in those times and am always shocked at how warped people’s perceptions were. I had a lot of friends, but was often overshadowed by their life-of-the-party personalities. I had a boyfriend but he cheated on me probably more than I even know now and when in his presence I was usually a bit psycho because of this. I was smart but dropped out of school twice. I wanted to be a good person, and generally had a strong moral compass when I was sober, but I drank A LOT and that led me to do things I am not proud of today. Mistakes were made, lessons were learned. Most people have this to some degree in their pasts.
All in all I think I was pretty typical, with the exception of the whole dropping out of school thing and the moving into an apartment/Hell senior year. I walked into history class one day and our teacher had us working on an assignment that deserved about a half hour of time, for the fourth day straight. Finding Nemo was playing on the TV in the background, and I was appalled. I picked up my stuff, walked to the office, and told them I was done and going to go to the community college or the alternative high school. I was never going to learn anything in that history class and I wanted very badly to learn. I also felt that I could get school done in half the time they required us to spend each day, and wanted those extra three hours of time to do whatever I chose.
This morning I woke up with a headache. It was the kind of headache that needs strong coffee, Tylenol and fresh air to cure so I put on a coat and my new 7$ dress I bought at Marshals to go down to a coffee place below my apartment. It is starting to feel like winter here. The pinkish red roses that are planted in the center dividers of major roads, along walkways and in building garden beds are still blooming, but I could see my breath before me in white clouds as I walked. Ordering my coffee and turning to face the tables to find an empty one, I was hit with a familiar feeling of being unreasonably self-conscious. I get this more often than I would really like to admit. It is a feeling that is left over from high school that tells me it is not acceptable to be alone and to do things alone.
This is why women walk together to the bathroom so often and why they recruit their friends to go run errands with them that involve being in public. There is a stigma that sitting at a table in a restaurant by yourself is sad, or that seeing a movie by yourself is embarrassing. I know that this is a stupid thought to have but I don’t want these strangers who I will probably never see again to think that I don’t have friends and worry that if they see that I am alone they will think that.
Have you ever noticed someone who is alone in public and is very preoccupied with their phones? This might be because they are self-conscious about being seen alone, and want to look as though they are being social in a different way—through their phone. I have had conversations with my girlfriends where we laugh about the absurdity of this act and the fact that we all still do it. I also know some people, obviously much more able to cope with life than I, who wouldn’t dream of bothering themselves with worrying about this but they are still on Facebook and constantly plugged into technology. This is in fact another way to not feel alone. I would actually be really interested to hear what others have to say on the topic. Here is a Ted talk by Sherry Turkle that is interesting and she has a different view of why we socialize so much via technology but agrees that it is about presenting a front: projecting an image of who we are in a different way, rather than just being comfortable as ourselves.
I’ve tried to rebel against this for a long time, and usually I do an ok job. Consciously, I think it’s ridiculous but subconsciously I am not immune. I mean, I moved here knowing I would be alone a lot. But then people at work ask me what I’m doing for the upcoming weekend and I shrug and smile, saying that I don’t really have plans, and in my head I am wanting to tell them, “I have lots of friends. I am actually a well-liked person somewhere. I just don’t have many here yet. It is not sad!”
This whole complex began in high school. Maybe earlier than that, like in middle school or elementary. Somewhere along the lines I was conditioned to think that being by yourself is the same as being unwanted and undesirable. If you were worthy of friends, a boyfriend, or admirers you would never have to be alone because they would want to be with you all the time. I actually think that a lot of girls who move from boyfriend to boyfriend, without ever being single might be trying to avoid that very same feeling of inadequacy that occurs with being alone.
The truth is, being alone is powerful and necessary. At least I know that it has been in my life, and I would imagine that it is in others as well. It means you can entertain yourself and you believe in yourself; you are able to occupy your mind with things that do not need to be discussed out loud. You learn to appreciate silence and to be independent. You are never held back from doing the things that you want to do because there is not someone available to do them with. Also, you can choose to be alone rather than fill up time with people who don’t make you feel good, or who are not giving you what you deserve out of the friendship/relationship. Sometimes, like in that case, being alone is a bold move for a person to make.
That being said I miss my friends. I miss my family. I wonder every day if I will find this experience as enlightening as I once thought I would after all is said and done. I was at dinner with some friends, explaining to them why I’ve always wanted to move away, and I remember telling them, “I feel like I have lessons I need to learn. I need to separate myself from the expectations people have of me, and from who they think I am, so that I can make every decision based on what I truly want apart from that. I am wondering though, if the lesson I will learn will simply be that the grass is not greener on the other side, and that life is really not worth living without the people you love in it. In which case, maybe I already know that and shouldn’t try to live away from all of them anyways.” We laughed at this reasoning. It isn’t exactly coherent, I know. It came out in a jumble of thoughts and feelings I had before I even learned I would be leaving, but it is meaningful to me now as I look ahead and wonder where I will choose to be in a year.