A few years ago, I was seeing a therapist, and one of the themes we discussed often is my struggle to find connections without having close friendships nearby. This has been a challenge most of my adult life, and while I have a few close friends, they’re often hard to connect with on a deeper level because we live hours apart and only see each other a few times a year. I’m a pretty strong introvert, so I do much better with conversations that go beyond small talk, but most of my interactions weren’t getting that far. In response to this, my therapist suggested I take the opposite approach and focus on finding more fulfillment in spending time alone. This was definitely not a challenge – I’ve always loved going on long drives, wandering around bookstores and Target on my own, and had even started going to dinner on my own during work trips to get a break from the constant “on”-ness of my job. My therapist, however, challenged me further and told me to take a trip away on my own, for fun.
The challenge here was not only to travel on my own, but to overcome all of the internal barriers I immediately put up to the idea. Self care has become such a frequent topic of conversation it’s almost satirical now, but the crux of why it continues to be so hard even though we all know it’s necessary, is usually because we as women and mothers just naturally put ourselves last and feel guilty if we don’t. Frankly, I loved the idea of going away by myself, but it felt selfish to spend money just on myself. It felt like I would be judged for prioritizing myself. I felt like I would need to reciprocate to make sure that my husband then has equal time for himself. It just felt wrong to have something just for me.
Thankfully I’m married to a man who supports me in everything that I do, and my therapist told me, as a way to address my deep resistance to doing things for myself, to challenge him to plan this solo trip for me, to allow someone else to take care of me for a chance. He was giddy with excitement at the prospect, and a few weeks later, I was on a plane to Maine for a 3 day weekend, all on my own. I stayed at a beautiful B&B that had pie for an evening snack. I had a rental car that allowed me to traverse most of the state, including going on a gorgeous drive to and through Acadia National Park while listening to the Hamilton soundtrack with a closeness I had never gotten to listen with before. I walked around small bookstores (one of my all time favorite things to do), read while enjoying dinner and drinks, walked around small towns, and watched mindless TV before going to sleep. I spent a lot of time thinking – something I thrive on, especially in times of emotional stress. Being on my own, setting my own pace, it all allowed me to turn inward to myself, and to have the freedom to think about what matters to me. It was one of the most energizing and restorative experiences I’d ever had, both physically and mentally.
It will surprise no one that most of those worries I had in undertaking this trip were unfounded. I am incredibly privileged to have financial stability that allowed me to take this trip and not have it be a trade-off for something else we might have done as a family or as a couple. My husband is the least “tit for tat” person in the world, so never once has there been a conversation about inequity in how much personal time we were getting. Most of my friends cheered me on and some even thought it was brave, because solitary travel and doing things on your own still seems like such an odd thing to do.
What that trip also made me realize is that finding time alone has to be imperative for me. It can’t always be a jaunt to Maine, but I had to find it somehow. Since then, I’ve made concerted efforts to carve out that kind of time regularly. When I work at home, which thankfully my job affords me to do anytime I want, I make sure to step away from my desk and read or watch TV when I have lunch. When I feel especially tired, overwhelmed or stressed, I take a mental health day and go to a bookstore or for a long drive on my own. My husband, an extreme extrovert who previously had a very hard time understanding how I could possibly like being on my own, now regularly asks if I want to go out to dinner on my own to recharge. This past holiday season, he gifted me a weekend in NYC, making sure that I left on the earliest possible bus and came back on the latest possible one, complete with an itinerary full of indie bookstores and stationery stores to check out, and a reservation at a highly rated sushi restaurant (something I rarely get to have, since he’s a vegetarian and it’s not an experience we can share). I used my time to see a movie, something I also rarely get to do, walk (one of my favorite things and why I will always be a city girl – the first day I clocked almost 10 miles on my Fitbit), visit bookstores, and revisit my old college stomping grounds in lower Manhattan.
I still hope regularly to find friendships that will give me the kind of connection I’d like to have with others, but what the last few years of making solo time a priority have taught me is that I don’t have to feel unfulfilled in the meantime. Solo travel and solo time isn’t for everyone – my husband would go nuts – but for me it has become a lifeline. I am a better person, partner and parent because of it. I won’t pretend that the doubt no longer sneaks up – I still feel guilt over spending money on just myself, and often wonder if it’s the right time to take a trip given our other priorities. I’ve had some judgment come at me, about “missing” out on time with my daughter (ironically my husband never gets those comments when he’s away) and how “weird” it is to just be on your own. I still worry about parity with my husband, but have made it a point to talk to him about how I feel so that it doesn’t sit just sit and fester with me. I don’t get to take solo trips often – the NYC one was really the second since Maine, which was a few years ago now. But I have made a more concerted effort to build in time for myself, and it has without a doubt made me a healthier person.