[Inspired by Marina Keegan's collection of essays]
In the interest of transparency, this blog wasn’t really inspired by Marina Keegan’s collection of essays titled “The Opposite of Loneliess.” In fact, I read those over a year ago and haven’t touched them since (although I intend to change that later today). But the title, The Opposite of Loneliness, kept circulating in my head as I contemplated some #DeepThoughts the other night.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always looked forward to having a family. I read somewhere the other day that extroverts are more likely to be relationship junkies because their brains feed on the adrenaline of connection with another person, and that sentence alone validated my entire existence of being a so-called “relationship person” (and assuaged the sporadic bouts of feeling weak and pathetic for that).
Having been (technically) single for more than two years now, I like to think I’ve more or less mastered the art of being “perfectly lonely” (as my alternate reality boyfriend John Mayer would say). But am I entirely happy with it? I’m contented, to be sure—but embracing the “I don’t belong to anyone and nobody belongs to me” mindset can be both liberating and sad. Insert disclaimer here about this blog’s dizzying amount of John Mayer references.
But while sitting at family dinner the other night (not my real family, ironically enough, but my “Dallas family”), I was observing two married mid-thirties adults—this is elderly, by my standards—attempting to wrangle all three of their under-five children around the table: feeding them, wiping the inevitable spit-soaked, half-chewed food from their chins and shushing them when they began to whine.
I leaned back in my chair, clutching my Miller Lite closer to my single, burp cloth-free chest. Dang, I thought, No, thank you.
I’m not saying I never want children—quite the opposite, actually. But in that moment, I gained an acute clarity for how lucky I am to be in the midst of quite possibly the most fun, most free phase of my life.
When you’re in college, adults talk to you with a combination of sincere envy and misdirected spite. “I’d do anything to go back,” they’d say, glaring at my head of not-yet-gray hair and leggings-as-pants ensemble. I almost always brushed these comments off, thinking, Yeah, drinking beer-flavored water in the muddy front yards of fraternity houses is really the lavish lifestyle I’ve always envisioned for myself.
And now that it’s over, I don’t wish I could go back—but I definitely understand why people look back on college so wistfully. You legitimately can do whatever you want at any given time of day and are judged by the flimsiest of moral standards because, after all, you’re still in college. It’s like living life in a video game with a bag of quarters—as long as you can afford to subsidize your screw-ups, you can almost always play again. Consequence free.
Now that I’m a self-proclaimed “real person” (I have a piece of paper that says so—it’s called a diploma), I’m feeling a little…floaty.
No longer in the phase where my behavior is judged like that of a well-trained monkey (“Wow, she showered today! And that T-shirt doesn’t have any stains on it yet!”), but not in a stage where I’m planning bridal showers and saying things like, “I have to go pick up my fiance’s dry-cleaning because he likes his shirts crisp,” (prayers I never have to utter that sentence because #ew), I feel a little lost in the gray area of old-enough-to-know-my-car-shouldn’t-be-making-that-noise-but-not-making-enough-money-to-fix-it-so-I’ll-just-turn-the-music-up (dad, if you’re reading this, it’s an analogy and my car is NOT making any noises and I promise I’m taking perfect care of it).
Maybe it’s moving to a new city. Maybe it’s leaving Alabama behind forever and knowing my life is about to change in a major, irrevocable way. Or maybe it’s just being 22 turning 23 with an internship (not a full-time job, yet), single, and having a slew of friends who still spent majority of their paychecks on margaritas. Whatever the reason(s), the past month had me feeling like a little pink peg in the board game Life driving her green plastic minivan from one multicolored square to the next, aimless and alone (except, in my case, it was a 737 and the boxes were different cities—no complaints here).
But watching those young parents feed their 2-year-old a chunk of sloppy watermelon between shrieks? Man, I’d be that lonely pink peg all day long to put that ish off for another 5-10 years.
I think the desire to find a mate and raise a dope family is so engrained in our DNA as humans (probably more so as women) that when we reach the age where we feel like that’s what we’re supposed to be doing (or at least thinking about it and making the initial moves in that direction) it’s easy to feel inadequate or lost if our lives don’t appear to be gravitating that way.
Luckily, the experiences you have in this “in-between” stage of life where you’re expected to show up at work five days a week at 8 a.m. (five days a week! Who created this obscene schedule?!), make basically no money AND learn how to do that meal-prep garbage are the ones that’ll make you a better person and a better partner in the long run. Nobody likes the girl in the lifeboat relationship because she’s too insecure or lonely to swim out on her own (so if you’re that girl, dump your neon inflatable raft of a boyfriend and learn to freestyle).
The opposite of loneliness is the realization that it’s better to be alone than badly accompanied. Filling your life with experiences you can claim as your own will always be more satisfying than sharing them with someone who doesn’t respect you.
And much like college, this in-between phase has a unique beauty of its own. Sure, there’s more responsibility, but your (microscopic) expendable income makes you a little freer, too. Lord knows my broke a$$ was not flying to San Diego for day trips when I was in school.
At the risk of sounding like a cheesy, clearance-rack Hallmark card, figuring out who you are is the biggest adventure you’ll ever embark on. Self-discovery is one of the most confusing, rewarding journeys we’re privileged with as human beings, and it can only be put off for so long before you find yourself waking up at 28 on a rando’s couch wondering who the hell you are and why you’re wearing a hotdog suit (low key, that actually sounds pretty fun, but the example still stands).
Happy exploring, fellow in-betweeners.
The fine print: