After being laid off this past December, I booked a two-week trip to Paris. I already lived alone, went to dinner alone, sat in coffee shops alone and danced at weddings alone. But I had never traveled alone. It seemed like the final frontier of my life as a single woman.
When I booked the trip, I imagined all the things I would do by myself in Paris. I would walk along the Seine. I would spend hours in the Musée d’Orsay. I would eat pastries as 2 p.m. without anyone around to give me a side-eye. But as the trip grew closer, my anxiety flared.
“Isn’t it kind of sad that I’m going to Paris alone?” I had asked my mother. “You’d think that I’d have someone to come with me by now.” The day before the trip, I considered canceling. But I swallowed my fear, drank some wine and got on the red-eye flight to Paris.
It was cold and raining when I landed. The Airbnb I had rented, which looked so charming online, had chipped paint and a musty smell emanating from the kitchen sink. After my host handed me the keys, I unpacked and went in search of flowers to try to brighten up the place. Halfway down the block, I called my mother, sobbing. “What am I doing here?” I wept. “I can’t spend two weeks alone. I don’t like being alone! I hate my own company!”
The strong, single woman facade I had been peddling in my writing and on Instagram suddenly crumbled, exposing the real me. And she was terrified.
In the back of my mind, I knew I sincerely disliked being by myself. How I came to live alone is still a mystery to me, since the very thought of spending time alone with my own thoughts is terrifying. This is especially true when it comes to romantic relationships. When I meet someone I am excited about, I latch on quickly, happily leaving pockets of my week open in the off-chance they will want to hang out. I am an emotional leech.
This, however, is a side of myself I have hid from the world. In writing about relationships, I have been open about my desire to meet someone. I have allowed my fears of dying alone spill out onto the page. But I have never admitted out loud this stemmed from a deep, dark fear of being by myself. It is not that I just fear being alone. I fear being with me, and that is something different.
That fear was exposed, standing in the rain in Paris, on the phone with my mother who was nearly 6,000 miles away. After we hung up, I had no idea what to do with myself. So I grabbed my notebook and walked until my feet hurt. Instead of writing for the Internet, I wrote for myself, spilling out every fear I had about being with myself. With no one to perform for, I allowed myself to be honest. I wrote about how hard it was to live inside my mind and how tired I was with being dishonest with myself.
Most people travel solo to learn to be selfish, to allow themselves to fall into every whim and desire they have. I had to start a few steps back from that. I needed to take time to learn being by myself was not some scary state — it was just a stop between meetings with other people.
I cried the first 48 hours I was there. I would book earlier return flights, then cancel them before I had to pay. On the second night, I gave myself a migraine because I was so terrified of eating dinner alone that I put it off until I made myself sick.
On day three, things started to shift. I took a day trip to the Palace of Versailles, one of my favorite parts of Paris, and resigned myself to being alone. I picked up an audio guide and took my time wandering between the rooms, listening to the soothing British voice telling me about the paintings and carpeting. I found being by myself in a crowd had its perks. Since I did not have anyone to worry about, I could weave my way through the throng of people until I found a sliver of space to look at Louis XIV’s bedchamber. I walked through the grounds and lay down in the grass, basking in the feeling of being able to rest when I needed to. I surrendered to the uncomfortable feelings of being by myself and wrote every time I felt anxious.
I tried to take this approach throughout the rest of my time in Paris. In planning this trip, I had read essay after essay by women who traveled alone. They wrote about the ways in which they found comfort in solitude, how the slowness let them turn their minds off. But that is not who I am. I did not have to relish in being alone, but I could learn to tolerate it.
And that is how I came to enjoy my time in Paris. I forgave myself for being so hard on myself, for not wanting to eat alone, for craving company. I allowed myself to feel a little sad when I saw couples kissing on the Pont des Arts. I imagined coming back to Paris with a lover.
I also found ways to enjoy being with me. I ate when I was hungry and enjoyed my meals. I had wine when I wanted wine and did not give a damn it was 3 p.m. I learned to listen to myself, and when I did that, I realized my mind was not such a scary place to hang out.
I am not sure I will ever prefer being alone. But traveling by myself taught me was tolerance. I could live with being alone, and from time to time, even enjoy it. That is not the emotion I went searching for, but it is the one I needed more than anything.