I went to Manchester alone on my birthday.
Before we go on, I want to clarify something. This is not a sob story. Nor is this a surprise story, where I record the details of my ‘lonely’ state up until a point where suddenly I stumbled into a surprise party waiting for me, or had food bought for me by randomly generous tourists. No – this is a celebratory piece. A celebratory piece about how I was alone in Manchester on my birthday, and how it was beautiful, interesting and peaceful. Because, sometimes, being alone is an absolute necessity. Being alone is beautiful, interesting and peaceful.
It occurs to me that going somewhere alone, or doing things alone, is not something that people ordinarily do. First-time gym goers are always encouraged to ‘bring a friend’ to make the experience less intimidating. People go to the cinema in twos or threes or full-on packs. Restaurant tables and booths are designed to accommodate two or more people – it’s just the way of the world. We stick together in couples or groups. We’re constantly in contact, chatting, planning meetings and seeking deep (or shallow, even, if that’s your bag) relationships, on dating sites or in clubs or in brief conversations we look forward to with our friendly barista between 8 – 9 in the morning on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
So when I told some of my friends “I’m going to Manchester alone on my birthday”, they were shocked. “Really? On your own? Are you sure you don’t want me to come?” “What are you going to do on your own, then? Why don’t you want anyone to come?” “Why would you DO that? Are you CLINICALLY DERANGED!?” (The last example is arguably not an accurate transcript, but more included for artistic effect.)
Pretty normal reactions, all things considered – reinforced by the fact that I felt a little weird announcing it, even. Like I was doing something wrong or, more, like I was doing something to be pitied. I didn’t really want to mention to everyone that I’d be going on my own because there’s such a strange social bugbear against it. I could just see the instantly assigned role unfolding in their minds: Laura, the Friendless, Unloved, Wandering Hermit. Laura, The Loner Weirdo Who Is Probably In A Secret Cult Which Is Why She Doesn’t Want Anyone To Come. Or something.
It’s just all so bizarre, isn’t it? We’re just not expected to enjoy our own company like that. We’re only really expected to enjoy it when in the bath, or doing yoga, or eating crap in the light of the fridge at 2am after promising our partners we’re on a health cleanse, or binge-indulging in our guilty pleasures (total disclosure: mine is Pretty Little Liars). We’re not really expected to want to ‘take ourselves out’ without a means to an end, or enjoy time alone doing other things – like grocery shopping or commuting. Actually, I really value my moments of aloneness during my commute to and from work – the only patch of the day in which I am truly separate from the people who know me and can just sink into a daydream before I ‘enter the day’.
Nope. We’re not expected to like that. We are expected to mooch about in a safety blanket of chums and cohorts most of the time, lest – God forbid – we find ourselves alone but for the buzzing in our brains. Bzz bzz bzz.
I and the buzzing in my brain do not get along that well all the time. In fact, the buzzing in my brain is one of the chiefest reasons why I often find it hard to sleep at night – I can’t nod off in silence if I’m alone. I have to listen to the radio or a boring political series (that I don’t understand, hence I can’t concentrate on it, hence I ignore it and am able to drift off – clever, right!?). The buzzing in my brain simply has far too much to say.
I wish to improve this relationship.
So I took the buzzing in my brain to Manchester with an aim to encourage a more tranquil state. I took the buzzing in my brain on a day out to cultivate a more beautiful, interesting and peaceful relationship. And it was wonderful. I daydreamed about the future, mused about food, stroked different fabrics in vintage stores, sat in the local park, wandered in and out of wherever I fancied and felt the sun warm on my face – without any rush, perfectly to my timing and devoid of external influence or dictation. I enjoyed the hubbub of the people around me, going about their daily business on what was a regular Thursday for everyone else, and enjoyed minimal but very optimistic and genuine contact with only a few others (namely, Starbucks employees who let me use their loo and a bodyguard at City Hall who told me to check out a cool witchcraft exhibit at a gothic library down the street). And the contact that I did have was lovely – energetic and natural and not at all tired, little golden nuggets of connection throughout the day.
I did whatever I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to do it. I went totally at my own pace. And I smiled a lot. I looked at fancy architecture. I bought some weird prints with cool designs on them. I drank one of the best coffees I’ve ever drunk. I ate a peanut butter brownie from a local food market. I sat in a cafe I’d always wanted to sit in, and wrote a little in my journal that I’d brought with me.
Being alone is beautiful, interesting and peaceful. Being alone is just as important as being with others. Being alone and reconnecting with yourself is on a par with, I think, reconnecting with an old friend, or visiting your family. I’d wager in this climate, actually, that it’s a little more important – as doing activities or going on days out alone is socially considered a bit odd or sad, from my experience, and it’d be positive to dispel that judgment.
Of course, there are those of you who far prefer company to being alone, and are therefore probably in no way inclined to try it – but I recommend that you do, just once or twice. You might find that you warm to the buzzing in your brain. You might find it a therapeutic exercise, even, if you’re slightly more frantic or anxious in nature. Enjoy the beauty of spending time with you. Enjoy making little decisions for yourself, without compromise. It’s not selfish – it’s just a lovely way to give yourself a little TLC and attention.
After all – only you are truly with you from your first ‘til last day. You’d do good to get pally with you. (I bet you’re lovely.)