I wrote this for the Bravery Blogging Project. I want everyone who ever feels lonely to know that they are brave in my eyes. Just because you are by yourself and feel like an island doesn’t mean you are alone. #braveblogging
I’m an only child. And an introvert. And suffer from anxiety. And social awkwardness. Growing up, I was labeled “painfully shy.”
Which is why I go to events alone. Obviously.
I had spent an hour in public transportation heading the opposite direction of the rush hour diaspora. So for several stops I was completely alone in the train car and I had a sudden feeling of being 14 instead of 42.
Worried I would miss my stop or someone would ask where my adult was. That fear arises unexpectedly sometimes. Out of the blue and without any warning, I will suddenly feel helpless, incompetent and incomplete.
After a heading the wrong way for a block, I retraced my steps, trying not to look clueless. Even in a generally safe area, and in daylight, I am wary. I had it drilled into me at a young age that the world is a dangerous place and you must be vigilant for those who lurk in the shadows, patiently waiting to prey on the visibly vulnerable.
With great relief, I see the line. Several other women heading in the same direction look unsure and I ask “is this the line for will-call?” A friendly face and a “yep, I think so!” reassures me.
Everyone is in their own world. Looking down the street for a friend who is meeting them. Consulting their phones. Waiting patiently. I feel confident as the line begins to move and I receive my ticket and event materials. I am thrilled to be here. To hear someone I admire speak. I smile and nod at the other women heading through the entrance.
My heart drops as I scan the seating. Rows and rows already filled. Dozens of seats with scarves, bags and event packets placed on them, as their claimants stand chatting in small groups throughout the space.
The aisles are narrow – the event space is a historic, religious building – and I feel the pressure of people standing behind me, waiting for me to move ahead and choose a spot. My old friend, panic, begins a quivery ascent in my belly.
Hoping I appear casual, I head to a side section. There is a short expanse of open seating close to the front. “Excuse me, are these taken?” I lean toward the man sitting inside the row. He is listening to the couple in front of him as he scrolls through his phone and I have to repeat myself.
“Uh, no, just the spot beside me.” Waving to his side, he is curt and barely glances at me.
I quickly realize he is with the entire group sitting in the remainder of the row, as well as the people in the row in front of us. They make up at least a dozen and are palpably excited about the talk. Whispering animatedly, they are all smiles and hugs. I wonder how they are affiliated. I feel like an intruder sitting in their section.
Self conscious, I tug at the hem of my too-short dress. I knew I should have worn jeans. Am I obviously uncool with my clogs, funky dress and turquoise streaks in my hair? It suddenly occurs to me that my hair matches my leggings and I flush with embarrassment.
You’re not weird. You are UNIQUE. No one is looking at you. No, your arms do not look fat. You look cute in this dress, not freakish. A litany of impotent self-talk speeds through my mind.
The group around me begins taking pictures, an older woman cheerfully beckoning everyone to squeeze together. I pray a selfie stick will not emerge as I try to shrink out of their background.
Watching the space fill up, I’m certain I’m the only person who came alone. Oh, how I wish I had someone with me so I’d feel less awkward and conspicuous.
Several times, couples sit in the unoccupied seats next to me, only to depart several moments later. For a better spot, I assume. Or maybe they don’t want to sit next to you, ya circus clown. I hear that mean voice inside me. It’s much quieter these days, but it never really goes away.
I shake my head at the mean voice. I remind it that it’s not welcome and busy myself with a photo of the sponsor’s sign so I can post my attendance on Instagram.
A single woman comes to sit next to me. Smiling, she asks if I’ve heard the speaker before. “Yes, once. And I’ve seen her TED talks, of course.” She nods and glances around. “I don’t know much about her. I got a ticket on Craigslist and came on a whim.” She seems skittish; I wonder if she’s nervous about being alone too.
Suddenly it’s time for the program to begin and I realize I actually have a great seat. While I’ve been talking with the woman next to me, the speaker has slid into a seat in front of me to await her introduction.
As she stands to take the stage, her eyes twinkling, she glances back at us, smiling and winking. I’m reminded of her topics: vulnerability, bravery, being imperfect but loving and accepting yourself anyway. I will probably always be a student of these topics.
I’m exactly where I need to be right at that moment. And it occurs to me that being alone isn’t the same as being lonely at all.