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Weekly Photo Challenge: Solitary

“HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED” – Chris McCandless

alone in the wild
I obviously didn’t take this photo but it fit the theme outstandingly well. I think my roommate in Sydney, Clothilde, took it. We were swimming in a glacial lake near the Southern Alps in New Zealand.

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?

15 comments

    • mishvo says:

      That’s true. Unfortunately, I’m currently failing to make connections with anyone, be they strangers or those close to me. But yes – I’m glad I could inspire some pondering!

  1. KimVo says:

    Mishvo –
    By the response (number of likes) I see you’ve struck a chord here. This is wonderful that you can articulate this so well. So many (myself included) dealt with the loneliness following the end of college life in self destructive ways. You recognize it for what it is and are dealing with it through the appropriate expression of your feelings.

    You make me proud of you every day.

    MomVo

    • mishvo says:

      Melt my heart. Thank you, mom. The Weekly Photo Challenges tend to get a fair share of likes because I link to them on the main Weekly Photo Challenge page. I was hoping for some more feedback in the form of comments, but I’m betting many of those who have visited this page thus far weren’t looking to read so much as they were looking to see the photo.
      Anyways.
      Love you.

  2. Hey girl, I know exactly how you feel and we have talked about how hard it is to find real friendship living in Bangkok, I think it is something that just takes time too. I know I still don’t feel like I have a good supportive group of people here after a year but that has taught me a lot about myself as well. I am enjoying learning how to be by myself and structure my life in a positive way, but man it sure can wear on ya. Maybe we should set up a weekly dinner date, maybe Wednesdays? Think it would be good for both of us 🙂 Keep your head up girl, it can only get better, right? I keep saying that….

  3. Allison says:

    You are not alone.

    It doesn’t change anything about what you wrote here. It still sucks to feel lonely. But all of your friends back in the US and all of the people you know at the school where you teach.. all of the rest of the world, in fact… feels lonely.

    At least there’s the knowledge that you aren’t alone in your loneliness, right?

    • mishvo says:

      I have a theory that the reason everyone is so lonely is because the world is organized the wrong way. Here we’ve created a society based on the priorities of business and money and “success” (whatever that means) instead of on learning and connecting. The Real World should be organized more like college!

  4. Anna says:

    Hi there,

    Can I just say this post really struck a chord with me? I’m moving to Bangkok in a couple of months and my only one, real fear is that I won’t make any friends. Like you I don’t have a massive social circle but I’m used to having a small group of close friends around me. I’ve also lived on my own before and I know I don’t like it. I love to explore and travel and it’s demotivating not to have anyone to do it with. Anyway, all I’ll say is that there are at least two of us who feel this way so there must be others out there! Persevere and I’m sure you’ll eventually find people nearby on your wavelength.

    I’d also like to say I think you’re very brave for posting this – when I was in a similar position I ‘put on a brave face’ and pretended to my friends back home that everything was ok. I guess I need to learn there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to people.

    • mishvo says:

      Hi Anna – I’m glad you commented. Bangkok can be a pretty lonely place, especially for farang (foreign/white) women. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about what it means to have connection with people, how friendships and relationships work, since living here. While living alone in bkk is really hard, once you’re on the move and backpacking around SE Asia, there’s no shortage of new friends.

      When are you moving here? Are you going to be teaching English?

  5. Anna says:

    HI Michelle,

    I’m leaving London in three weeks tomorrow, but I’m doing an 11-week scuba diving course on Koh Phra Thong before moving to Bangkok to look for a teaching job (I think I’m procrastinating about starting real work!) This will actually be my fourth time in Thiland but I’ve never worked there before and I’ve never spent much time in Bangkok. I’m really excited but absolutely terrified at the same time!

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