‘Tis the season for unending advertisements about togetherness, community, and family. Conversations with strangers always seem to gravitate this way in the winter as well. A few years ago, I found these topics inescapable even in the most vulnerable of situations — the yearly female wellness checkup. As my feet sat in stirrups, my legs askew on the cold metallic table, staring at the top of my doctor’s head, I heard her ask of my Thanksgiving plans.
“Spending the holidays with your husband?” Eeek, NO. Not married.
“Oh, so you’ll see your family? That should be nice!” You haven’t met my family. And also, no. I moved across the country to guarantee that.
“I’m sure someone will take you in! Other holiday orphans!” No thanks.
For some reason, my calm at having no plans as well as illustrating zero urgency to make some seemed to concern my doctor more than the yearly cancer screening I was paying her to complete. Why? Thanksgiving holds no value to me other stuffing myself to forget about it’s real meaning — genocide — and that year, I decided to simply make some food on my own and eat it while relaxing. Some years I interact with people on this day, others I don’t. No big. To me, at least. I’m always with my mother and brother for Christmas, but only because it’s important to my mother, and it’s the one time I see my family every year since we live far apart and don’t really like each other. If she didn’t require this, I’d likely be doing the same thing as on Thanksgiving most years — nothing.
My lack of concern for spending alone what other people tell me are important days seems to drive them up the wall. But I’ve always been like that. I don’t understand why in a country where we are supposed to be free to live our lives as we choose as long as we aren’t breaking the law or hurting anyone others become so panicked when I (or anyone else) dare step outside cultural norms, like it’s an affront to them personally. Me not celebrating a holiday does exactly what to your ability to do so? Nothing, I assume. So chill the hell out.
The same holds true for much of my other life choices. When I’m single, I feel zero urgency to be in a romantic relationship. When I’m in one (if it’s actually a healthy one), super. When it ends, and I’ve emotionally recovered, I’m fine being single until if or when I like someone again, which has taken years at time in some instances. With so many messages, mediated and interpersonal, telling us we hold no personal value or social status without a partner, there’s lots of desperate people out there. In turn, I’ve found that men (and I assume women, but I don’t date them so I cannot say for certain) seem to assume they simply need to be breathing to make me interested and are doing me a favor by even speaking to me, so I’m quite happy to leave those idiots to women who are more worried about being partnered than myself.
Traveling is similar. I have a group of friends, but that doesn’t mean I need to wait for them if I want to go somewhere, nor does it mean we’ll all be good travel buddies and I wouldn’t have more fun on my own. When things work out where I can go on trips with people I care about, I have enjoyed those occasions, but I’ve also been to all 50 states and am starting to travel abroad, much of which has been and will be alone. In my travels, going to a bar or hopping on a tour makes it easy to find people to talk to for pleasant short-term friendships. Though as with everything else, for every one person who is happy to chat with a stranger, there’s 50 who will look at me like I’m insane for traveling alone. I mean Christ, I couldn’t even find photos for this column without using search terms like “lonely” and “sad.”
I don’t even need to leave my neighborhood to see the impact of this judgement. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sitting quietly somewhere, minding my own business and reading, when someone says I don’t have to sit alone and can join their friends. I assume it’s to be nice but also because they think I’m shy and/or a loser. I’m not reading because I have to! I like using my brain and some goddamn peace and quiet.
I also frequently wonder, is it that people are really that concerned for me? Or are they just terrified that a woman might be comfortable looking out for herself and think she has value beyond what personal relationships might hold? I guess this would be easier to answer if I knew more men who went places on their own, but I don’t.
Regardless, I understand that compassion drives some of what I encounter when I’m alone, but much of it is unquestioned social norms that paint people who are alone in public as loners, losers, and pathetic. So if you never want to be by yourself, live your life how you choose, but don’t treat those going solo like freaks. To those of you comfortable with being solitary, I’ll quietly nod at you in the bookstore or bar or on public transport. But don’t worry, you don’t have to talk to me.