As a person who flourishes in group settings, I enjoy being by myself.
However, it wasn’t always—and still isn’t—either one or the other. I can remember times when I was a pre-teen, barely able to tell the server at Friendly’s that I wanted the chicken fingers basket. But then, I think of when I was 16 years old at my first job holding a 15-minute-long conversation with my fourth-grade crush that didn’t only consist of small talk about the weather or about volleyball in gym class. Sure it sounds dumb, but I will never forget this because it was a huge breakthrough for me. I’ve always had a lot of trouble talking to people. If you know me now, you may find this surprising, mostly because, well, besides the fact I can talk a lot, I noticeably thrive being around people.
There was a period of my life where I felt incredibly lonely. I can pinpoint it to when I first started college in September of 2014. I went to a community college, which was already difficult in and of itself; I watched all my friends go away to big schools with huge campuses, fanatic sports teams, and the worst part—new friend groups. Meanwhile, I commuted 45 minutes by car to class, barely knew or talked to anyone, and spent a lot of time tucked away at the library with a book or eating my ham and cheese sandwich in my car. It felt alienating—like all the high school movies where the “lame” kid doesn’t have anywhere to sit at lunch. I was the lame kid.
As lonely as it was, this was also the period of my life where I learned to love being alone.
I was alone, but subconsciously, I knew that being alone didn’t have to mean lonely. So, I started driving to Dunkin’ Donuts on my lunch breaks (there was not much else around my school) to have a hot chocolate and an everything bagel. It doesn’t seem like much, but for me, this was HUGE. Vulnerably, I sat in one of the two little sterile white chairs that Dunkin’ had to offer, secretly hoping someone I recognized from school would fill the other one.
After more and more time, those trips to Dunkin’ became daily routine, and I felt no shame in it at all. I enjoyed spending time with myself. I’d listen to music and enjoy the bit of mental quiet that I didn’t want to recognize that I needed. Slowly but surely, this process of doing things alone translated to how I lived my life when I wasn’t at school. I started to get my nails done alone, I started going shopping alone, and I even went to Dallas Hot Wieners alone (if you’re from my tiny town of Saugerties, you would probably know that this is basically social suicide).
I wouldn’t say that I became a loner, but I did prefer and enjoy to do a lot of the daily things I did alone. I was comfortable enough with myself to do so, which made me proud, and it made those moments when I was forced to be alone that much more bearable.
Fast forward to my second year of school, I did start to make a group of friends, a couple which I’m still in contact with today. This was good because I did get the social aspect that I regularly craved, but since it was a commuter school, and we all didn’t live in dorms together, I still got to spend that alone time with myself, even if it was just the 45 minutes I got in the car on the way home.
Sometimes, I wonder if wanting to be alone and do everything alone came from a cynical place. I was so lonely and depressed, it was somewhat my way of showing everyone that I was a strong, independent woman. At the same time though, I don’t like to think that. I like to see it as major personal growth. I went from someone scared shitless to speak to any of my peers to wanting nothing but to be around people constantly to enjoying time with others but ultimately preferring my solo car-karaoke career.
As a young adult, every time I reach a personal milestone, I begin to think, aha! I’ve done it. I’ve figured it out. I know who I am now.
What a load of crap.
Now, I could go into immense detail about the rollercoaster my life has been in the last couple of years, but that would take me too long to even think about, and I’d probably have to make a physical timeline of events. So, I won’t. But, here are some important life chapters of mine to mark the fluid and bizarre nature of being a person:
When I was 16 and could finally hold a conversation, including but not limited to witty banters and chats loaded with bold eye contact, I became Olivia Bronson: Always part of the action, wouldn’t be caught dead being by herself at a diner—rather, she’ll have the waiters push the tables together for the group of people she rounded up for disco fries and a soda.
Flashing forward to my second semester as a freshman, when I was comfortable spending majority of my time with myself, I came to my senses (at least, thought I had) and was like, no this is me. I am floating freely throughout life without belonging to anyone or anything.
Present-day Olivia is much more complex. She has faced some MAJOR life changes, all beginning with moving to New York City in the summer of 2017 (also known as the summer of Melodrama).
My securities and insecurities will never be concrete. With me, and just about everyone else, it’s not so black and white. I go through, cue David Bowie, changes. At times, it’s really hard to grasp, and I can’t help but think, why can’t I pinpoint who I’m supposed to be? How can I be better? And you know what? There is nothing wrong with not knowing exactly who I am. There are so many situations that I haven’t had the opportunity to experience yet—situations that could ultimately alter parts of me. Just as each day keeps this strange balance of being the same, yet different, I too will follow this pattern, ebbing through moments sprinkled with joy, loneliness, and feelings that I have yet to discover.