On being independent (reprise)

I’ve a spent a lot of this past year chasing after independence. Obsessing over it, even.

For some reason, independence felt like a thing to claim, the next necessary step to my growing up. To my becoming. Fresh out of college, I was ready to soar – as if I had been waiting my whole life to finally be set free into the world. I felt a need to prove my competence, to show my strength, and most importantly,

to do this all alone.

It was nice – for a while. I relished in having a living space all to myself, decorated to my very eclectic taste and, of course, full of all things wolf-related. I liked waking up every day, writing down my to-do list in impeccable handwriting in possibly the most OCD journal you’ll ever see, and feeling certain that each task would be dutifully checked off by the day’s end. I liked feeling comfortable showing up to social events by myself, making new friends, and going home as late or as early as I pleased.

In fact, it was the happiest I had been in quite a while. For the first time, I felt like I knew what kind of a future I wanted for myself, and even more – that this future was within grasp. Life fell into a structured routine, each day beginning with optimism and ending with satisfaction. I was self-dependent. Self-sufficient. I was enough, and simple as that sounds, it is a wonderfully powerful thing to feel.

As summer turned to fall, the air became crisp in the kind of way that is usually accompanied with a sense of freshness and change – a big change, it turns out.

When the new semester began, I found myself facing a daunting workload, a slump in my research, and – perhaps the most frightening part of all – single for the first time in my adult life.

My survival tactic was to work hard, play hard. My weekdays became a whirlwind of non-stop studying while my weekends were packed with social activities. Late nights in the office became a norm – as did late nights out at bars. I (don’t) remember celebrating my friend’s birthday until 4am, miraculously waking up hangover-free less than five hours later, and heading straight to the lab. I even tried forcing myself to relax one night by trying a face mask for the first time, and instead spent the twenty minutes of “relaxation” reading about the chemistry of how the tannins in my face mask were reducing my pores.

Sometimes friends would ask me how I was doing, and I would look at them almost incredulously, as if the mere suggestion that I might not be okay was an insult to my fortitude.

Back in my cross country days, I remember my coach telling us that even if we were tired, it was always better to keep running than to stop and walk, even if you had to slow your pace, because walking would decrease your heart rate too much and make it even more difficult to pick up and run again. This is what the semester felt like: a long race in which I could not stop, for fear that any break would mean that I might not finish the race at all.

This lifestyle, however, was not sustainable. After another busy week, I found myself unexpectedly without work and without plans one weekend. As midnight creeped around on a Saturday night, I suddenly felt a craving for ice cream. And then all at once, I wished not only for strawberry ice cream with rainbow sprinkles, but for someone who would sprint down the block with me, laughing all the way, to snatch a tub of Ben and Jerry’s right before McLanahan’s closes. I wished for someone to devour it with me while watching Star Wars in bed. I wished for someone to rant with me about how awful The Phantom Menace is while still watching the whole thing and not making fun of me while I cry at the scene when Anakin has to say goodbye to his mother.

And as much as I hated to admit it, I realized that I felt…lonely.

And worse, that admitting it was uncomfortable.  

I find myself now entangled in a strange web of feelings. Some days I concede to the vulnerability. You are only human, I tell myself. It is okay to feel like something is missing. It is okay to want to love, and to want to be loved. It’s okay to need someone else, sometimes. I sit at my kitchen table and sip coffee. I read in silence, and it feels nice.

Other days it makes me angry. Get it together, I say to the mirror. Loneliness is for the weak, and you are not weak. I pick up my phone. I put it down again. I sit at my kitchen table and sip whiskey.

In the end, I know that I need to find a balance between the two. This whole time, I thought that being independent meant being alone, but real independence means knowing yourself well enough to admit when you don’t want to be alone. Real independence means giving yourself enough credit to realize that needing other people doesn’t mean you are any less without them. As it turns out, independence was never mine to claim, but all of ours to share. You and you and you and I,

we can be independent,