It’s February. At boarding school. In northern Michigan. And, as has been the case for the past two Februarys before this one, I am in a rut. Sure, things are looking up, and every day we are one day closer to emerging from this dark, snow-filled, winter hellhole (I really love the midwest, I really really do…), but right now, my daily routine involves sleeping, watching endless Netflix, and eating chocolate. So I’ve been looking for ways to break myself out of this lethargic mentality, to mix things up, to escape the lure of my comfortable, warm, wonderful bed, piled high with pillows, flannel sheets, a fleece blanket…
It’s harder than I expected it to be.
I try. I try to exercise instead of sleeping until noon. I try to eat vegetables instead of three grilled cheeses at lunch. I try to read one of the many books on my shelf instead of watching seven episodes of Game of Thrones in a row. But after a certain point, I even get bored with those things.
I don’t like to do things by myself. I undoubtedly classify myself as an introvert, but when it comes to activities, I’d rather have a buddy. I would never dream of walking into a nice restaurant and sitting alone to eat an entire meal. All of the thoughts that circulate through my head are enough of a burden when I’m out with another person, let alone sitting by myself and staring into space while shoveling a fancy salad into my mouth. Like, I said my idea of “alone time” is curling up in my room. Sometimes if I’m feeling particularly restless, I’ll go for a drive on the country roads near campus or head to Target to buy a new shade of nail polish. But, truth be told, I don’t get a lot of alone time anymore.
That’s not a bad thing. I enjoy spending time with my friends, and in my current living situation, they’re always just a few steps away. I can roll out of bed and head to the next dorm over to find my people. If I need a dose of social time in the middle of my cloistered writing session, all I have to do is eat dinner in the cafeteria. I can always find people to go on an adventure with on my day off. My job is very social. And I like that . . . to a point.
Sometimes, like most overscheduled, stressed out people in America, I worry that I’m not taking enough time for myself. I love spending time with my friends, and such close proximity to the people I know and love is going to be one of the things I miss most when I leave here. Suddenly, I’ll have to make plans to meet up with people at a specific place, at a specific time, and we will all drive our own cars to get there. So I try to make the most out of the time I have here, packing in as much social time as I can when I’m not working.
The problem is, I need to take time alone to recharge. It’s easy for me to make plans for myself — to sit and write, to finish a book, to go for a walk in the woods, to watch a movie I’ve been meaning to see — but it’s even easier for me to break them when something else comes along. So last week, I decided to make a real date. With myself.
At first, I thought this sounded like the most pathetic thing ever. Who goes on a date with herself? Someone who doesn’t have another person to go on the date with, duh. Would I even have fun by myself? I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to, and I’d probably get bored. But I did it anyway. And guess what? It. Was. Awesome.
It was a snowy afternoon, so I drove downtown and grabbed a table at my favorite coffee shop with a cup of black coffee and my laptop. I sat and worked on a screenplay I had recently started. I people-watched a little bit. I savored the taste of well-brewed coffee. Now, it’s worth mentioning that this part of my Me Date was not uncharacteristic. I often sit alone at the coffee shop with my computer or the latest book I’m reading. But typically, one of my friends ends up meeting me there later on. This time, I had no obligation to anyone but myself. It was freeing. It was beautiful.
After an hour and a half of writing, I walked down the street to the local independent movie theatre. This was the anxiety-inducing part of my Me Date. I had never been to a movie by myself before. I know some people do this all the time, and it now occurs to me that I’m not sure why I always felt I needed a movie-going buddy. The only time you can talk is before the movie starts. (I guess popcorn is cheaper when you split it with someone? Whatever.) I bought my single ticket to see Dallas Buyers Club (SO GOOD, by the way!), then threw caution to the wind and ordered a popcorn and a Diet Coke. (I know, it was so nice of me to treat myself.)
Sitting alone in the theatre, I felt good. Whole. Free, again. I knew I could watch the movie without the obligation of discussing it, or sharing an armrest, or even sharing my popcorn. I could process the entire experience internally, an introvert’s dream. And even though I was surrounded by people who had come with their spouses, significant others, and best friends, I didn’t feel ashamed about being there alone. I felt independent, and, if only for a couple hours, finally free of the stress and anxiety that had been plaguing me during these winter months.
I walked out of the theatre with a renewed sense of autonomy and freedom. I felt like I had cleared a hurdle. I drove home, singing along to my playlist of female empowerment anthems (typical), a smile plastered on my face. I didn’t feel alone or pathetic, but I did feel like I was on my way out of my February rut. And while I won’t henceforth be doing everything on my own, I am not as afraid of it as I used to be. If my friends don’t want to see a movie, I will go on my own. (I’m still a little not convinced I can sit alone at a restaurant for an entire meal, but who knows.) I’m still afraid of moving somewhere new on my own, but I’m getting closer to feeling like I won’t end up a hermit who never leaves her apartment. If nothing else, it’s a step in the right direction.