You’re So Brave (to the tune of “You’re so Vain” By Carly Simon)

Bright Lights, Big CityI’ve noticed over the last few weeks that people, women people, have told me that I am so brave, when I tell them how I did something on my own. I went to Canada on my own to see my sister who lives alone. To me, she’s the brave one. She decided she wanted to go to Canada to live and work, did her research, jumped through hoops and got there. And when she got there, she was on her own. Yes, we have some family and yes, she had some friends out there, but ultimately, it all fell on her. Finding a place to live, a place to work, a grocery store, working out how the public transport system, managing to live in a culture that wasn’t her own.

Hopping on a plane and wandering the streets during the day between doughnut breaks? Not so brave.

And yet. Travelling on my own is terrifying. I have a whole ridiculous history with travel (I’ve been diagnosed with travelphobia (apparently a thing!) by the NHS and had telephone counselling with a chap who, with the best will in the world, had no idea how to help me, because he didn’t understand. “You know that if you miss the train, you can get the next one, yes? So…where’s the problem exactly? I’m not sure how to help you if you already know that”) which I manage. The issue isn’t wholly the mode of transport – being on a plane is PERFECT. Once I’m in my seat (concerns about luggage aside), I’m grand. I’m safe. Everything that is out of my control is in someone else’s, I can do no more.

It wasn’t the flight that concerned me, it was the Being On My Own Somewhere Foreign. Somewhere Foreign Where They Speak English at that. How would I fill my days? To be clear, I am FINE (better than fine!) in my own company. I prefer it that way sometimes. I have noticed that I have started to speak to strangers, but I think that’s my Irishness finally kicking in, rather than an inherent anxiety of being alone. I like walking alone, going to museums alone, being alone.

I don’t know how to explain it.

I’d make a plan with my sister the night before. She was working every day, so I had to entertain myself until she was free to eat pizza and watch Netflix. I had a plan of where I would go and how I would get there (inevitably on foot because FEAR OF PUBLIC TRANSPORT, which is INSANE because Toronto has two subway lines and tokens and a designated my-token-is-fake-i-can’t-get-through-the-barriers gate. Granted, I never quite worked out buses or streetcars), she would leave in the morning and I would nap and pretend I wasn’t psyching myself up to leave her apartment.

I did not travel all the way to Canada to eat pie in an apartment.

Mealtimes were especially anxiety inducing. Coffee and a pastry in a coffee shop was fine, but going into a restaurant wasn’t something I felt comfortable with. There are whole streets in Wimbledon lined with restaurants I would like to try out, but I have no one to go with me, so I never go inside. I can see how ridiculous this is. No one cares. Once I’m sat down, the wait staff don’t even care. I’ve been a waitress – I know this to be true. As with most things and most anxieties, no one is thinking about it as much as I am.

On business trips I will grab a bunch of groceries from a supermarket and picnic in my room. Okay, I get more for my money and watch CSI in another language, which are ideal pluses, but I also miss out on the cuisine. I’m not entirely sure why this bothers me.

At home I will go to museums, art galleries, the ballet and the cinema on my own. It’s very hard to organise people in London because everyone has commitments and schedules and buying tickets for events can be hectic. So I just don’t. I fly solo. Okay, I miss out on a shared experience (as one Tinder date argued), but I don’t miss out on THE experience. I would have missed the Vogue exhibition at the NPG, but I went on my own.

Also, the time I have to spend with my friends is minimal because everyone has plans and schedules. I don’t WANT to spent what little time we have together sat in the dark not talking. I’d rather go to a bar or a café or a restaurant to speak to them and hear about their life. Going to the cinema alone isn’t brave, it’s time efficient!

I was discussing this with a friend last week – one of many who declared I was brave for seeing Star Wars on my own. I explained that I don’t go to stranger activities or some event where I am required to interact with strangers. That’s too far, I’m not that brave.

This afternoon I committed myself to going to a party where I will know only one person and wasn’t super keen to go (not because I don’t love the person involved, but I know I won’t have the emotional energy reserves to do that and the following week), because none of the rest of our group was going and I wasn’t brave enough to say “actually, I can’t go either.” The social awkwardness beat me to into it. I could have said “I hate parties and I’m nervous, but I still wish you a great birthday and will see you at a smaller event where I will celebrate you”, but I didn’t.

I feel such pressure from invisible sources to be and do and achieve things I don’t really want or feel necessary to me and I’m not brave enough to say “Actually, no thanks” and I’m starting to notice it now.

I want to be braver. I want to do the things that matter to me. I want to live life fuller and eat in restaurants on my own. I mean, I’d like to have someone to eat WITH, but I’d like that not to stop me.

My grandmother wouldn’t go to a restaurant without a man because it was unseemly. This was unfortunate because she was a widow and there weren’t a lot of spare men about. She got over it. I should get over this next hurdle. Maybe I need to dare myself.

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