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Comfort or Discomfort? How Being Alone Can Teach You to Thrive

Being alone means …

How would you fill in that blank? Think for a moment and come up with a way to finish the sentence. Now, was it positive or negative? Mm-hmm… just as I suspected.

I’m here to tell you- it can be good. One month, I decided to take off on a road trip. “On your own?” asked every single person I told. “Yes,” I would say firmly, and by the end, annoyedly.

It’s the same response I get when I tell people I’m going to a play, or to a restaurant or out on a hike. Yes, people: I don’t have a significant other, but I still manage to have a life. Why is that so hard for people to understand?

Likely because we’re conditioned by school, government, and churches to think that when you grow up, you get married. Everything from biology class to tax structure to the current events in the news assumes marriage to be the normal and desirable route to follow in life.

But what if despite your best efforts you haven’t found the right person to marry and live happily ever after with? Do you hunker down in a cave? Do you throw yourself at the first available mate that will have you? Neither of those options appeals to me in the least. So I persevere, stubbornly asserting my right to a fabulous life, while trying to stay open to the possibility of one of those relationship things (this balance is so hard people have written books on it).

Which brings me to my road trip travel adventure.

I got the idea to drive up to Nova Scotia from Washington, DC, since I would be leaving the East Coast of the U.S. soon, and it was my last scheduling opportunity to take a vacation there. I mulled the idea over for a week, then asked for the time off from work, made a couple hotel reservations, and got my brakes checked. I was ready.

But a lot of people– coworkers, family, even friends– would ask me that same rote question, and it made me feel like less of a person. So I’m here to tell YOU:

You CAN have your own adventure!

Especially for young ladies, this idea runs up against some resistance, but don’t let it hold you back. Going traveling on your own teaches you how to deal with discomfort.

Why would you be in discomfort, or uncomfortable, if you’re on your own? you may ask.

You have a good point; when you’re on your own you’re free to choose a posh hotel if you like, or not get up for a sunrise hike up yonder if you don’t want. That’s true– you do get to design your itinerary, up to a point (weather catastrophes notwithstanding).

But what happens instead for most of us is that conditioning I mentioned: we feel like we’re not following the ‘normal’ path if we don’t have a diamond ring, a mortgage, and an office job by age 30 (for example). The dissonance between that conditioning and where we find ourselves creates that discomfort.

You may or may not be satisfied with being alone at this point in your life. For me, it’s a delicate balance. I definitely would like a partner, but just haven’t found the right guy. So I make my own adventures, not following the regular path but blazing my own through the manzanita jungle, and deal with the discomfort as I must.

Take eating alone as a first example. I stayed at B&Bs on my road trip sometimes, making the breakfast meal a social time with strangers, and I liked that. I packed snacks other times, when I was out hiking, or driving to beat the darkness, when my eyes go a bit wonky. But the meal out in a restaurant? That one’s tough, since unfortunately our society looks on people out dining alone as weird.

Once I stopped at a local chain restaurant, and ate a sandwich while looking over the map at my proposed route through New Hampshire. Another time I tried having a relaxed meal at a resort in Maine, and managed to mostly pull it off, with the help of friendly wait staff.

I’d like to think I’ve made progress and can now shrug off any discomfort with the expectant attitudes of others- where’s her partner?- and the creeping boredom inside myself that says- “You lose your train of thought as soon as another one comes into your head, why bother sitting and thinking on your own?” But the truth is that I have ups and downs. I’ll feel great, dressed in boots and jeans at a gastropub, and then out-of-place at the local chain in a fancy scarf.

I am an adventurer, I think. I walk through all the worlds. I’m bound to fit in some better than others. I hold on to that, when there’s no shared silence, no knowing smiles.

Another example is navigating. On a road trip to somewhere you’ve never been, it can get tricky in spots to know where to go and watch the road for safety and signals. I’ve got a smartphone that reads me directions (that sometimes run me in circles. on scary bridges. but no matter), but more than that, it’s a matter of multi-tasking and making decisions.

On your own, you are forced to pay attention to many things at once, and repeatedly monitor them- and this can be a great blessing! I listen for the directions, I watch the road signs, the speedometer, the cars behind me, the cars before me. There may be some space to relax but it is brief. You are also forced to make decisions. —Did I want to get off at that rest stop? Oops, too late now. —Shoot, I missed that farmstand! Well, let’s just turn in at their exit driveway instead then! It’s up to you whether or not you get to do what you want.

In decision-making especially, I see that I get uncomfortable committing to a choice without a long, overwrought process of weighing pros and cons. The discomfort of having to make instant decisions on the road showed me that I could do it, and there weren’t the drastic consequences I was expecting. So I went a mile down the road but still wanted to go back to try that funny-looking little restaurant on the highway… I turned around with no loss of face and went back to find the best lobster roll I’ve ever tasted.

Final example: the itinerary. Each day, do you plan, plan, plan your road trip adventure? Or do you let everything go and hope it ends well? I bet it’s somewhere in between, right where I have ended up. I only learned this recently, even though I’ve travelled a lot: Whatever is right for you, is right.

If you don’t have the time to plan some of the details, maybe you are meant to meet someone who will show you where to go at that point. Or maybe you’ll end up learning that you do want to plan more for your next trip! In any event, you learn something about yourself, and that’s what adventuring is all about.

In the end, the road trip is like life: It’s up to you whether or not you do what you want. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and blaze your own trail, whether that’s in a diner in Vermont or in a national park in Nova Scotia. Discomfort can be a great teacher, if you let it.

Margaret Pinard is the whirling dervish behind Taste Life Twice, a website featuring ways to discover life through food, travel, and writing. She is also the author of three novels, which can be found on her writer website, MargaretPinard.com. She loves historical fiction, mystery, and a good romance. Wouldn't you? 😉


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Margaret Pinard is an international traveler, adventurous epicure, and a self-published author. Her novel [I]Memory's Hostage[/I] is a historical mystery set in 1880s England. Her second novel is a young adult novel set in Nova Scotia, Canada, and her third novel is the beginning of a dramatic new series featuring the MacLeans of Mull, Scotland, in 1822...



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