When I realised I would be on my own for my twenty-ninth birthday I decided to make the best of it. I’d never spent a birthday alone before – it would be a new experience, ripe for reflection.
A few years ago I began to suspect that at heart I’m an optimist. I used to say I was a ‘realist’ (a euphemism with a superiority complex if ever there was one). But it turns out that when I miss the bus and have to walk home I think, isn’t it great to get a good long walk in, and now I can listen to that podcast.
So I buckled down and searched for the sunny side.
It wasn’t hard to find. I’d spent weeks surrounded by friends, old and new; soon I’d be meeting up with some family; the magic of the internet keeps me in touch with home. There are isolated people in the world but I am not one of them, I thought. Some people have nobody to remember their birthday – I had people asking me weeks in advance where to post ‘a little something’ to.
Anyway I enjoy being alone, and as all you fellow introverts will attest, ‘alone time’ is just another way to say ‘super fun times’. I like to think this is partly borne from a childhood of bookshelves rather than TV channels, a big old farm to roam about on, and parents whose response to the complaint of boredom was the threat of “well, I can find something for you to do”.
Well, I said to myself as I mused on the prospect of an alone-time birthday, I can find something for you to do.
In fact, it dawned on me, I could do just as I pleased. Anything I wanted! It doesn’t get much better! I was getting a bit over-excited.
July 20th. I woke up in Bratislava as a newly minted twenty-nine-year-old and all of my bravado faded. I had flown in the previous evening, it was so hot that even I with my super-sleeping-powers hadn’t slept well, and I was feeling the strangeness of a new, foreign place. I felt really far from home.
Being lonely is different to being alone; I consider it a blessing that I’ve never experienced loneliness before. But I am getting a little taste of it just recently and something about having a birthday brought it to the fore. I happen to think this is a good thing though. I am not unbearably, unendingly lonely, not even close. I’m having a grand adventure and enjoying nearly every moment (the moments I don’t enjoy are the ones where I’m lugging my bags around a rail station trying to find platform 8 in the two minutes I have to make my connection). Feeling a bit lonely from time to time is a good thing because it helps me understand that life isn’t always comfortable, and because it might just make me a tiny bit stronger and a little more empathetic.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t miss people.
As for my birthday, it was a nice day in the end: I had some totally lovely chats via Skype, wandered the pretty streets of Bratislava and enjoyed a cocktail. But when my mood picked up two days later and I suddenly got excited about this new city I gave the solo celebration another crack. I had a pedicure for the first time ever, and took myself out for dinner. It was so hot I was practically dripping sweat onto the plate, and the beauty salon was between a Harley Davidson showroom and a cemetery, but these quirks actually made me enjoy myself more. I wouldn’t find this at home, I mused – and there was the silver lining.