I come from a pretty loud family. We all like to talk over each other, and as the night wears on we tend to get louder and the conversation gets more chaotic as we laugh and chat and try to conversationally out-do each other.
That said, although we do like to socialise together there were times when my Mum would look a little overwhelmed and quietly slip away. She’d come home from work and we’d immediately be all in her face and she’d say she just needed a little bit of peace.
I’d sometimes talk and talk and talk to my sisters about things going on in school, or uni when I got older, and they’d politely say they needed some space. And sometimes not so politely, when I wasn’t taking the hint. I could never really work them out.
When I was in school, I was always in trouble for talking in class and it was fairly common for my report to say something like ‘Fiona shows a lot of potential but if she spent more time applying herself and less time talking she could do a lot more’.
I’ve always found silences quite awkward and I’ve always felt the need to fill them with something, usually a story, no mater how boring, or how many times I’ve told it before, just to fill the void.
This social aspect of myself and the need to be constantly embedded in a conversation carried on throughout my university days and even now, my chosen career requires me to be constantly talking, constantly building relationships, constantly communicating.
I’ve met a few other people who are the same. My friend Sarah and I, for example, used to have conversations where we’d both literally talk at the same time, about fairly different things but still know what the other was saying. Once, when I lived in Sydney and my Dad was visiting, we bumped into Sarah on the street and even my Dad, being a fairly social person himself, was shocked and couldn’t work out how each of us knew what the other was saying.
Since I started travelling, I’ve had to come to term with being by myself a lot. Sitting on that first plane for 24 hours on the way over here without a soul to speak to was a bit of a shock to my system to say the least. Navigating my way through London and building a life here was hard at first. I felt so lost when suddenly I wasn’t surrounded by people I knew, when I didn’t actually know my flat mates, when I didn’t know my way around.
Not that I don’t know people now, and not that I didn’t meet people and make friends quite quickly, but it was just the nature of travel. I had to very quickly get used to it. Walking into hostel rooms filled with people I didn’t know, going to the theatre to see a show on my own. Travelling around a city or visiting tourist attractions with no-one to share the moment with. It taught me a lot.
But you know, it’s funny because I’ve come to quite like it. Before moving over here I probably would never have gone to the cinema by myself, and I definitely wouldn’t have gone out for dinner by myself. I never in a million years would have thought I’d travel over the other side of the world by myself.
Now though, there are times I actually prefer it. Don’t get me wrong, I still love to socialise, and if its possible of course I still like to share the experience of a new place with someone. And I don’t like to be alone for too long before I start to get a little bored. But sometimes it’s quite nice having a bit of time to reflect.
Perhaps it’s partly to do with getting used to it, getting forced into it. Perhaps it’s partly to do with work being so chaotic that sometimes I like to just remove myself from the world a bit. In that way, I’m becoming more and more like my Mum. I am quite happy for that 5mins of peace. As much as I hate that C and I don’t see much of each other, I think it’s quite good that I often get evenings to myself where I can just zone out and I don’t have to talk to anyone.
On my recent trip up to Lyme Park, I went alone. I was really looking forward to the few hours of reading time on the train, to some long walks alone with my own thoughts.
While I was there I took myself out for lunch. I could have taken a picnic and eaten on the go, but I fancied a glass of wine and a meal and some time to read, and generally just take it all in.
As I was waiting in the queue, it was quite obvious to the others standing in the line that I was flying solo. One particular family, pointed it out to each other. They kept saying, very loudly, ‘well this girl is on her own, so she’ll probably get sat down first’, or, ‘I wonder why she’s come to eat by herself, I wouldn’t’. And when they were then unfortunately placed at a table nearby, I heard them remark that ‘oh well at least she has a book to read, otherwise it would be a bit sad to my dining alone‘.
Normally, in the past, these kinds of things would have bothered me a lot. But I was ok. Ok, I admit, there was a small fraction of a moment when I was glad I was wearing my wedding ring… so at least they knew I wasn’t completely sad and desperate, that someone somewhere loved me, but it didn’t last long. I was ok with being alone. Instead of feeling embarrassed and uncomfortable and mortified, I was ok with it. I was actually thinking to myself how sad they were that they were so bothered by my being alone that it was a primary topic of conversation.
And it was at that moment it dawned on me how much I’d changed, and how much, thanks to travelling, I had learned to just be on my own sometimes.
… Maybe I’m getting to be more and more like my Mother.