Alone, but not Lonely
My primary takeaway from my second full week in Dublin has been that, despite the excitement of a Study Abroad semester and all of the wonderful, exciting people I’ve met and done wonderful, exciting things with, sometimes what I need is a step back. A step away from the wonderful, exciting madness here at UCD. In a lecture this past week, I heard the phrase “loneliness is not the same as being alone.” This phrase stuck out to me. And, in the time since, I’ve used it to both reflect upon and guide on my still-young time here in Ireland.
I think that, at first, I was eager to make new friends in Dublin and to build up a social network that would provide me with the best and most enjoyable way to pass these few, special months abroad. It thought, without people around me, I wouldn’t hear about the best events, the coolest parties, or anything else. I saw other people as my source of enjoyment. In a subconscious way, I think I was afraid of being lonely. But, after a couple of weeks of friends badgering me to go out night after night and having to navigate the interpersonal drama inherent to any university’s social scene, this past Saturday I decided that I wanted to be alone. Not lonely, just alone. So, early in the morning, before most of my friends were awake, I whipped up a quick breakfast, threw a book and a notebook into my backpack, popped on my headphones, and took a bus into Dublin City Centre. Alone.
From there, I walked. I walked and I wandered. Around me were hundreds and thousands of people I didn’t know, shops I would never visit, and buildings I would never understand the history of. But it was O.K. I was just walking, by myself, and getting know my new home city from the ground level. I didn’t need friends telling me about “the best pub ever” or “the cutest little book shop.” Using the Liffey (Dublin’s central river) as my bouncing-off point, I took turns for no reason. I took pictures of things I liked. I followed my own two feet wherever they took me. And they took me to some pretty cool places.
The first stop I made in the course of my Saturday solo-wander was at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Now, it’s not for everyone, but I’m a man who likes his modern art. I find it refreshing and intriguing and difficult to pin down. And I like that. But that’s just me. But, me was all I had to deal with that day. So, alone, I walked the halls and gardens of the museum (which is completely free, by the way), listening to my music and moving at my own pace. No one was pulling me away from the exhibits I liked and no one was keeping me at the ones I didn’t.
From the museum, I wandered back up the Liffey, this time on the north side of the city. I felt a little hungry, so I popped my head into a café. There, I spent an hour or so eating lunch, reading my book, writing in my notebook, and taking a load off of my feet. And then, when I was ready, I kept going. I wandered past some quirky shops, some eccentric buskers, some cool graffiti, and more. I took pictures. I listened to more music. And I was alone. Not lonely. Alone.
By the end of the day, I was tired, but I was relaxed. I felt I saw more of the city that day than I had during any of the guided tours or group walkabouts I’d taken in my first two weeks in Dublin put together. And, as fate would have it, just as I felt my walk ought to be coming to an end, I got word that some of my friends had already gathered in a pub that also happened to by on the north side of the Liffey. So, with my backpack and headphones in tow, I joined them. Once there, I was not longer alone. I was with friends, drinking and chatting and watching sports on big projector TV’s. But I was still happy. It was a different sort of happy, but it was still happy. Happy to once again join my social network, to ease myself back into my world here at UCD. But I don’t think I would have enjoyed the night nearly as much if I hadn’t first taken the time to be alone. That time had allowed me the space and the freedom to see and explore Dublin with new perspective and without restraint. And I think that allowed me to approach my friends and our time together with the new level of appreciation.
The next day, a few other friends and I took the opportunity to visit the Dublin Flea Market. The Dublin Flea is an indoor/outdoor event that takes place only on the last Sunday of every month. Once there, we explored the various stalls full of knickknacks and musty clothing, poured over boxes and boxes of vinyls and used CD’s, and lunched on some mighty fine falafel from one of the food stalls. Then, when we were done, I was feeling a bit tired. Some of my friends wanted to see a movie. Some of my friends needed to find a grocery store. I didn’t really want to do either. So I told them I would do my own thing. A bit concerned, they asked me if I was going to be fine getting back to campus alone. I assured them that I would be more than fine. Despite being far from home, in a foreign city, I would be fine on my own.
So, two weeks in, I now understand that, despite the incredible opportunities to socialize and meet new people on this once-in-a-lifetime semester abroad, sometimes all I need to enjoy myself is a backpack, some headphones, a map full of unknown streets, and some time alone.