A few weeks ago, I told my therapist that my version of hell was sitting in a coffee shop alone. She, like most, assumed it was because I felt uncomfortable being in spaces by myself, and while being alone in some spaces feels slightly uncomfortable for me, that’s not the main reason why coffee shops are hell on earth.
Coffee shops, when I visit them solo, are hell on earth, because there are so many people there that I wish I could strike up conversation with and get to know, but can’t. People go to coffee shops to sit in solitude and have time to themselves to work, or read, or write. I go to coffee shops solo to grab my coffee and run out, all the while hoping I form a new connection while there. The last time I sat in a coffee shop and worked by myself, my mind was overtaken by thoughts of how many potential new friends I could be sitting around but couldn’t meet. The thought was so strong, I couldn’t focus, and I had to leave.
I learned in conversation with my therapist that I feel my best when I’m connecting with people. Someone. Anyone. Anywhere. It’s almost as though locking eyes with another human and engaging in conversation makes me feel truly a part of the environment that I’m in, as if simply saying hello or asking how someone is doing makes me feel purposeful. Makes me feel, well, real. The connection releases happy, feel-good chemicals in my brain, and I want to experience that level of happiness all of the time. It’s an intimacy in a way, no? And isn’t all we want at the end of the day to be close to people? To be loved?
I learned in conversation with my therapist that I feel my best when I’m connecting with people
Sometimes, like when in coffee shops or forced to socially distance for over a year, the connection with others—or the opportunity for in-person non-romantic love—isn’t available to me. And I feel lost in my purpose because my need for connection isn’t quite being met. I sat in the discomfort of this feeling during the pandemic, and I had to learn to adapt to my aloneness and not to equate aloneness with lack of connection, because they’re vastly different though they can feel the same.
I had to learn to view my own company as valuable and purposeful. I had to learn to become my own friend. I had to learn to find value and joy in spending time with myself and not relying on another person to either validate my existence or make me feel useful. I’m still learning all of these things, actually, and I’m taking them one step at a time.
In an effort to help adapt to this new way of navigating the world, I’ve begun to rely on connection with myself and not connection with others, in an effort to better learn to trust that I, on my own, am enough. And while connection with other human beings is part of a healthy human experience, the root of the connection and intimacy I crave primarily can (and should) come from me.
First up? Going on a date, and not trying to force connection, but, instead, try to simply exist in the presence of another. And I did it.
The date took me to a local park where our dogs played, and we spent an hour getting to know one another. Typically, a date like this would cause me to overthink or fill every moment of silence with a thought to create an illusion that the conversation flowed effortlessly. In truth, conversing with someone you’ve just met does take effort, and while I enjoy chatting with folks I don’t know, I used to abhor “awkward silences”. On this date, I embraced them.
There were lulls. There were awkward moments when my dog jumped up and scratched him from excitement or ran around so quickly, I became trapped in a leash lasso. There were moments where we didn’t know what to say, or moments where we sat in silence after one of us shared something personal. It wasn’t perfect. But I allowed it. I sat in the imperfect moments… and they were fantastic. Not fantastic in the sense I’ve found my person (we didn’t meet up for a second date—it wasn’t the right fit), but fantastic in the sense that I allowed myself to lean on my own comfort that I provided, as opposed to placing that responsibility onto another, oftentimes unbeknownst to them.
I left the date feeling lighter, and dare I say, excited to try it again with someone new.
Up next was joining a gym and trying a new-to-me workout class where I knew no one. This, unlike coffee shops, is not my heaven, because gyms can oftentimes feel competitive and aggressive in nature, and I typically shy away from both of those environments. But it turned out to be the opposite. I was nervous walking into the gym for the first time and a bit uncomfortable walking into the class full of super-fit folks and treadmills and kettlebells and not seeing a single familiar face. But then I remembered that even if I didn’t know anyone else, I knew myself. And can’t my company be enough?
There were a few exercises I didn’t know how to do. I needed help with form, and I needed a reminder of how the circuit class actually worked. What came first? Then second? How long do I sprint for? If I had a friend there, I would have relied on them.
Hey, friend. What are we doing? Is my form okay? How long do we sprint for?
But there was no one familiar. There was only me. And because of this, I was forced to learn by observation and forced to rely on my own knowing.
What’s next in the circuit? Let me observe.
And if I still had questions, I asked the trainer. That’s what he was there for after all. At first, it felt strange to be the only new person in class, but I was quickly reminded that at one point, they were all new too. And no one was really paying attention to me like I thought they were going to, like my anxiety said they would. They were in their own worlds, and I was in mine.
And I had so, so much fun.
Because I was in the class solo and not with a friend, I noticed my energy and attention was solely on me and my performance in the class. I didn’t have anyone to check in with and make sure they were okay. I had myself and myself only. I learned that I can be my own friend, and it’s actually pretty amazing.
But then I remembered that even if I didn’t know anyone else, I knew myself. And can’t my company be enough?
The third activity I embraced was dancing in public and not caring who saw. One Friday night a couple weeks ago, I threw on a red dress and my Doc Martens and went out with my girlfriends and danced and danced and danced until the early hours of the night. Sometimes I danced with them, but I mostly moved to my own beat: hands in the air, jumping up and down, swaying to the music and singing loudly—so loudly I lost my voice—without a care in the world. The connection I prioritized was the connection between me and the music, and I let it carry me whatever way it wanted to.
And that got me thinking about connection in general…
Going on dates. Sitting in coffee shops. Walking into gyms or dancing in clubs. Connection appears in our lives in so many forms, but it’s all the same thing at the end of the day; it’s love.
We all want to be loved. At the core of everything we do is a desire for love. We’re taught love is a feeling and gift we must earn and acquire from the outside. A smile and ‘hello’ from the barista, a high-five from a gym buddy, a hug from a date. And while those forms of love are valid, and while they are so very sweet to receive, they aren’t the only forms of love we should be chasing.
The most important love of all shouldn’t be chased at all.
The most important love of all is already within us, free-flowing and swaying and moving to the beat. The most important love of all is meant to be released, not acquired. It’s meant to be set free.
So, close your eyes. Put your hands in the air. Lift your face to the sky, let it all go, and dance.
Dance like no one’s watching. Dance like no one matters. Dance like you mean it. And dance like you have absolutely nothing to hide, even in your solitude. Arms wide open. Spinning around in your dress and your boots. Dance. Be free. And thrive.