I pull the steel door handle closer to me and use my left hand to put the left headphone up to my ear. What song should I start with today? This has become my morning tradition, I ponder, as I wait for the lift.
New York is a funny place. In a city of eight million there are always people around. 6AM, 9PM, 3AM, it doesn’t matter. But the number of people mean nothing unless there’s interactions, conversations and movement.
Some days, I realise I haven’t even had a real conversation. I go the whole day, exchanging only a few lines here and there to whoever is serving me my coffee, food or packing my groceries.
Naturally, as a writer, I spend a lot of time alone. I sit in parks journaling, ride trains listening to music, and walk the neighbourhoods lost in my own thoughts. Yet, most of the time I never feel lonely.
See, people get loneliness and being alone confused. I spent all of last year travelling through Asia with my best friend. We came to New York together but she only stayed one month. The day she left, I was devastated and scared.
What if I don’t like New York without her? What if I don’t make any friends? Will I be able to afford it?
All the questions start to roll in. I remember calling a friend and talking to him. He said something that still remains etched in my mind: “Amanda, you’ve got reframe your idea of loneliness. You need to learn how to be comfortable with being alone.”
I’ve carried this with me all year. It’s something that’s more important than anything I own in my suitcase.
Every time I’ve started to feel the pang of sadness and isolation from the people I love, I go back those words. I asked myself ‘am I really lonely or just alone in this current moment?’ 99% of the time, I’m just alone – physically away from friends and family.
What matters is not the extent to which we’re surrounded by other people, but rather how we experience those relationships. I could see thousands of New Yorkers every day, but unless there’s an interaction of substance, I could feel lonely.
Loneliness really is about relationships. It’s got little to do with numbers, but rather quality.
I always say this but travel is the best form of education. And by doing it alone, it doesn’t mean you’re lonely or don’t have friends. I’ve grown more this year since travelling by myself than I have in the past 10 years. When you carve out the space to spend time alone, you’ll get to know every part of yourself – what makes you happy, what you don’t want, who your friends are, and why you’re on this earth.
At the risk of sounding cliché, travel has helped me chase what I want in life, fearlessly. It’s easy to keep busy and pick up your phone every free minute you have. When you do this, you’re only keeping yourself distracted.
It’s scary to let your mind wander without fear of where it’ll take you. But to become the best version of yourself, you need that time.
The clock will keep ticking and the years will go on. There’s no stopping it. Because those moments of solitude – walking on a beach alone, looking out the window of a plane or sitting on a park bench – is time you’re spending with the most important person… You.
Loneliness is sign that you’re in desperate need of yourself.