“HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED” – Chris McCandless
People tout solo travel as an important path towards self-awareness and growth. It’s true that being out in the world alone can be deeply empowering, but most of the time it’s empowering because of the people you meet when you’re out there. I’m here to argue that the balance between independence and human connection is what makes solo travel so special.
As an only-child and self-proclaimed sometimes-introvert, I can say with confidence that I’m very comfortable on my own. I enjoy my alone-time reading, writing, jogging, being in nature…I enjoyed traveling to Sydney alone when I was 19 and creating a life for myself there, including finding my own housing, planning my own trips, learning how to navigate the city, and turning strangers into friends. Studying on exchange changed my perspective and changed my life, but apparently it also filled me with false expectations about solo travel. I made unimaginably deep cosmic connections with the people I met in Sydney. They were my best friends in the same way that my friends from home were my best friends. I have had no such experience since living in Bangkok.
To be fair, I’m neither in school nor traveling right now. I’m living and working here. I know that if I were dipping in and out of hostels or immersing myself in college life I would probably have the opportunity to meet way more people and maybe even connect with a few of them. So there’s that caveat.
But part of the reason why I wanted to live and work here was because I wanted to create friendships that would last longer than just the night. Maybe it was too much to expect that the permanence of a home base would automatically mean the permanence of a solid group of friends.
I miss my friends from home so. much. There’s nothing like a good bout of loneliness to make you appreciate the connections you do have with people, no matter how far away those people may be.
I really have never appreciated human connection as much as I do living here. I guess I took it for granted because it seemed like I could always find people with whom I connected. Not that I was some sparkling social butterfly (remember what I said about being a sometimes-introvert?), but in my life I have always felt I surrounded myself with a few very close friends.
I expected my coworkers to be more welcoming. I expected they would be like-minded folk who were also looking for friends. Solitary friend-seeking “expats” just like me, with open hearts, adventurous souls, and love to give. I have tried so hard to be real friends – not just “work friends” – with my coworkers but to no avail. I remember feeling so excited to meet them all, thinking they were so nice (and I still think that!). But nice isn’t enough; it’s like each individual has his or her own personal wall of insecurities, of seriousness, of the pressure to seem like adults, of the pressure to seem successful and happy. Or maybe they all have just established their lives here and have no interest in making new friends. But really – who has no interest in making new friends when you’re living alone in a non-English-speaking country?? Maybe we don’t share the same values or priorities.
Or maybe they are all just more comfortable with being lonely than I am.
The reason why being lonely makes me so unhappy is because of the way I value human relationships. It’s my personal opinion that love (not just the romantic kind, but all kinds) is one of the highest goals to which man can aspire. It’s why we are here; to be with each other. Now you can agree or disagree and that’s okay, but the point is that because I hold this belief, loneliness represents my failure to fulfill my purpose. I don’t feel like I’m getting all I can get out of life right now because I’m not participating in the dance of human connection.
Obviously loneliness is also an inherently negative emotion. So yeah – no matter what kind of importance you place on human connection, if you feel lonely it generally means you’re not feeling too happy (unless you’re a misanthrope, of course).
They say being alone can be good for you – “Rejoice in your growth; no one can join you in that”. Being alone is different from being lonely.
Maybe I’m not painting a complete picture: I have friends here, but I don’t work with them and they don’t live near me so our interaction is essentially limited to the weekends. It’s really difficult to develop any sort of close relationship with anyone without spending time with them. I spend a lot of time with my coworkers, but there is approximately one coworker who vibrates on my frequency, and unfortunately her contract is up this month.
I considered not publishing this post because it makes me vulnerable to admit that I’m lonely. Then I realized that the only way you connect with people is by making yourself vulnerable. You have to be open and curious and silly…that’s how connections happen.
What a learning experience, as they say. I’ve learned how much I hate living alone. I’ve learned not to take my friends – the ones I can count on – for granted. I’ve realized how much I value human connection and maybe how special it can be. I’ve learned that the trick is perhaps a balance of “finding yourself” alone and “finding yourself” through the way you connect with others.
But mostly I’m over feeling lonely. I don’t need to prove my independence to anyone; I’m lonely and it sucks and I don’t ever want to feel this way again. Maybe there is growth to be had through being alone, but that’s not the same thing as being lonely, and it’s only really beneficial when countered by not being alone.
This whole thing would be way more fun if I had someone to share it with. Come visit me?