College days are over. Friends are no longer just a bike-ride away. No more morning coffee chats with the roommate, or post-work climbing seshes. No more surprise birthday parties, or Thanksgiving dinner with a dozen friends… I don’t seem to recall hearing much said about the importance and the challenge of finding richness in solitude, as one steps out of the college lifestyle and further into the 20s; maybe because no one ever really talks about being truly alone in their 20s — something I’ve only come to accept lately, and am currently learning to become better at it.
Most of my friends are adventurous souls, university brought us together, but growing up has been forcing us apart. Many of us have moved away from the city where we spent the four/five years together, and on to places as close as only a few hours’ drive away & as far as the other half of the hemisphere. Instead of looking forward to the next time we would walk down to the beach together after a yoga class, or chat late into the night with too much cheese and plenty of wine (nay, never too much cheese!), I now have to count the time-zones before proposing a skype-date.
We are ambitious people, and we try to remember how important it is to allow ourselves to develop and grow professionally while we are still young, even if the price to pay is sometimes being away from loved ones… I don’t entirely agree with it, and yet, I seem to have bought into it too. Sometimes I wonder whether this career-driven North American mentality is doing me more harm than good.
During my college years, I lived on my own, in a different city from where my parents are; aside from major holidays, I hardly saw my family. My mom was never too thrilled about that, and dad was furious when I decided to take a job there upon graduation, instead of seeking opportunities in the city they live in. I wasn’t willing to face the truth I knew was coming, that eventually different jobs and grad schools would create physical distance between me and my friends, that our social circles would shrink, and that real life isn’t like “FRIENDS” the sitcom, even if we love our friends just as much.
What I didn’t know was just how laborious this whole solitude thing could be… I thought since I was good at “being alone but together” – you know, when you each do your own thing but still keep each other company in silence and presence – that I would do just fine being simply alone too. I mean, how hard could it be if I would just be doing the same things anyway? Reading a book, writing a paper, browsing the web, etc. But I was wrong. I also thought, since I genuinely enjoy taking a night off from social activities from time to time, wouldn’t being on my own be just like taking these off-nights — nothing but peaceful relaxation? But I didn’t realize the difference between choosing to be in that zen space as an escape from busyness vs. accepting the quietness when there’s nothing to escape from.
There is so little set in stone for us twenty-somethings, we are constantly in search-mode — searching for love, a career, you name it. Now that I think about it, this may just be the loneliest decade of our lives; and yet so few of us actually recognize it, let alone admit it. I, for one, have been focusing mostly on the end-result, and consequently neglecting the process of getting there. I’m beginning to think of this process as a marathon, where I have supportive friends and family to cheer me along, and I’m grateful for it; but first, I need to find the reason and the strength within myself to put one foot in front of another — I need to learn to find richness in this solitude.