On seeking joy on your own

I never thought of myself as the kind of person who’d enjoy sitting in darkened rooms on my own.

Actually, I never thought of myself as the kind of person who’d enjoy doing much of anything on my own.

I vividly remember telling a friend, when we were both in our twenties and knew everything about everything, that I preferred travelling with another person because there was someone to reflect on experiences with — if it was a location I hadn’t visited before, I could be excited and adventurous with them, if it was somewhere they hadn’t been before, I could show them all the best spots, and if it was somewhere we both hadn’t been before, then what a grand adventure!

Being on your own for any activity, when you’ve been carefully socialised to be social, is confronting. There’s nobody’s arm to grab in terror or joy, there’s nobody’s attention to draw to hilarious goings on. There’s no-one else to rely on if things go wrong. There’s no-one to share pleasures with, and no-one to halve troubles with.

Like everyone else during the cursed global catastrophe of this pandemic we all thought was going to be a one-year disaster that turned into a three-year-and-counting disaster, I’ve had some personal reckonings. Relationships I thought were solid, have wobbled and wavered and turned to jelly. Others I thought were fleeting, have been surprising sources of strength and sustenance. This shift prompted me to a deeper, more careful reflection of who I am, what I bring to a relationship, and what I want. If you’ve never done that before, if you’ve carefully avoided any deep investigation of your own flaws and failings, I recommend getting a supportive cheer squad together (or a therapist) first. It’s a lot. Even without the crushing weight of <gestures broadly> everything to do with COVID.

At times of crisis in my life, I’ve walked. I don’t mean I’ve walked away from situations that are difficult, though I’ve done that too, to my chagrin. I mean, I’ve gone for long walks. Or swims. Some of my best thinking has been done pounding the pavement, trekking a trail or immersed in water. So I walked.

Initially, when everyone was working from home, I walked with my husband. I walked my dogs. I walked to the shops. I walked to get my nails done. I walked to meet friends. I walked with friends. I walked up the highest peak in my state.

As work-life shifted and everyone started going back to offices and workplaces and educational institutions, I walked on my own.

Then one day, I wondered what else I’d enjoy doing on my own. And that’s how I came to walk to the movie theatre near my house, sit in a darkened room with strangers, and watch a movie on my own for the first time in my life.

I loved it. I made it a habit. Tuesdays, when tickets are cheaper, if I have no other impending appointments, I take myself to see a movie. I enjoy imagining what stories other patrons are making up in their heads about why I’m there alone. I relish not having to consider anyone else’s opinions, or needs. I treasure not being responsible for anyone else. In retrospect, I didn’t even mind encountering a racist religious zealot outside the theatre that one time because I could unleash on him without having to consider anyone else’s safety or feelings.

Who knew I’d like my own company so much? Certainly not me.

Turns out, I am a source of my own joy.

And so is watching a movie in a theatre on my own.

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