If I were watching a movie about my life in the past year, I would probably see too many scenes with a cat in it. I would see someone whose marriage fell apart, and she had to start over. I would see someone who just barely got her footing again until this adorable little pandemic slowly but surely eroded plans, dreams, and connections into unrecognizable forms of their former selves. I would probably feel sorry for this person, living alone in a basement apartment with tiny windows, discussing the meaning of it all with her cat, then start making a bet with others as to whether she would start collecting more cats or more bicycles. The behind-the-scenes perspective is fortunately much different, and I found it worth talking about.
It’s been seven months since I re-started my fresh-out-of-college life and moved into the lock-off apartment, and the fact that I am living alone continues to blow my mind. In my 36 years as a human, I always had to share my living space. I grew up with a loud and boisterous family, often living as an extended family unit, and sometimes sharing a room. I did the campus life in college, and continued to live with roommates in my early 20s, until I moved in with my now ex-husband. While I had a decent amount of time to myself while living with the ex because we often had different work schedules, living alone is a completely different animal, and a privilege not that many people are lucky to know. The experience of being with yourself, being responsible for yourself, and actually being yourself comes with powerful lessons and a level of emotional freedom that I can only try to articulate.
There are the obvious things. I have endless space for all of my stuff, arranged however I want. I can watch whatever I want (nature documentaries and stupid comedies), and not have to hear the TV when I want silence. I can listen to my weird-ass meditations and hippy music without judgement or annoying anyone else. I can talk loudly on the phone. I still sleep on “my” side of the bed for some reason, but I can go to sleep without being woken up, and not have to tiptoe in the morning to avoid disturbing anyone. I don’t have to deal with anyone else’s mess, and I can cook whatever I want, whenever I want to. Or not. Ice cream for dinner? It happens. Elaborate curry dish? Delicious. I can have people over, or not. I love the bra-off and sweat pants comfort of settling onto the couch with a cup of tea and a tiny furry poltergeist purring on my lap. Honestly, if you remember the first time that you were left alone as a kid, it still feels like that.
There are the deeper realizations. The first is that I had my shit together more than I originally thought. When the Coronavirus mayhem descended upon the world, it blew apart a lot of what I was trying to rebuild: My big race goals, learning my new job, connecting with new people, and reconnecting with existing friends. Through it all, I have remained secure because I was relentless in laying a foundation, with the help of many, even prior to leaving the ex.
When I first thought about moving out, I daydreamed about starting over completely, in a new town somewhere, looking for a new job and a place to live with no connections at all. I am glad I listened to myself and decided to make just one big change at a time. I had a stable job as an equipment operator, and getting hired a couple months later in the Town’s marketing department was really just icing on the cake.
I worked fast to move out of Blue River, where a coworker was kind enough to let me stay when I first moved out of my house, but I felt completely disconnected from my community. I was homesick as hell living so far from my old neighborhood, and I hated the commute. Finding my current apartment was divine intervention, and I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better place to weather the emotional storm that is the divorce process. A process that I was glad I initiated swiftly, a process that was finalized not long before the shutdown, a Band-Aid I tore off for the both of us.
I kept riding my bikes, running, walking, anything to get outside and move my body, and I stayed on my training plan, even as every race or event I was looking forward to was cancelled or postponed. I had every reason in the world to fall completely apart this year, instead I am able to simply begin again, and create new goals, dream up new ideas, and ride new trails.
The next realization was how much I am learning to own my shit because there is no one there to own it for me. There is no one else to blame for the mess on the kitchen table, or my shitty mood. While phone calls with friends and family are nice and can be helpful, it is now up to me to decide how to react, how to comfort myself, and to figure out what it is I need in the moment to get through a situation or a tough emotion. I am far from perfect on this, but my solitude has made me much better at catching myself in the act of creating bad stories and understanding that there are other ways to see any given situation.
The final big lesson I am learning from living alone and being alone so much is about self-acceptance, and dare I say, confidence. Those who know me also know that I tend to be hard on myself. When I first left my ex, I wanted to be around people all the time. I needed the support and I was stoked I had more time to hang out with friends. I wanted to meet new people and do new things right away to validate how fully I can live my life as a newly single person. I enjoyed coming home and being alone, but between work, training, and my newfound efforts at socializing, I usually didn’t stay there very long.
The pandemic forced me to face myself and deal with my own bullshit in a way I never have before, and I realized that it doesn’t have to be all combative. My mind drifts to almost every romantic comedy ever (and Beauty and the Beast) where the main characters meet and initially hate each other until they are forced to spend time together and then they start realizing that the other isn’t so bad and eventually fall in love. I’m not fully in love with myself or anything yet, but all this time hanging out with me has made me realize that I am actually a pretty neat person. I enjoy going on long bike rides alone more than I ever have before. I like making myself nice meals. I like buying myself little presents and I tell myself I deserve it. I will even take the occasional selfie when I dress like a respectable adult for work and think I look cute. I love doing things on my own timeline, and picking my own destination. I have genuinely begun to enjoy my own company, and have started to trust myself; in my ability to get things done, in my ability to make the right decision for me, and in my ability to deal with hard times.
I don’t know yet when I will be ready to start making plans again with other people, and actually follow through with them. I don’t know when I’ll be ready to start joining group activities like trail work days or seeking out people to ride with. I know that I do occasionally feel tinges of loneliness. I know that I will want real human connection, or just to be able to sit down and have dinner out with someone. I know that I will want more campfires, and hugs, and laughter, and random moments with strangers that leave me feeling a little bit better about humanity. I know I want this pandemic bullshit to subside because it’s one more thing driving us all apart when it’s the last thing we need. For now, however, I will continue to learn about myself and how to deal with life. For now, I will just allow myself to be.