Expat issues - Coping with your own company. Is it ok to be alone?
Like it or loathe it, regular employment brings many elements to one’s life beyond the basics of getting paid. It gives form and structure to the day, whilst clearly delineating the week from the weekend. It (preferably) requires you to motivate mind and body giving a sense of achievement and contribution.
And crucially, it tends to involve regular social interaction, whether that is with colleagues you care for or not!
One of the biggest challenges as an expat
One of the biggest challenges I have faced as an expat who has moved for their partner is that, having left a job behind, I now have to structure my own time.
Friends back home ask what I am doing with my day and I increasingly sound like Will from About a Boy: "Morning - get up and go to gym. Come home. Shower. Job hunt. Lunch (sometimes with partner). Wander round a museum. Come home. Update social media (blog, tweet etc). Evening activity."
Whilst much of this is rewarding to a degree, it involves an immense amount of time spent in my own head - much more than I am used to. Before we moved I used to relish the approximately one day a week I had to myself. Now, I long for company. I have had enough "me" time. I am sick of me.
It was not until after one particularly fractious lunch date that my partner had any idea I felt this way. I had been sniping for the best part of an hour when I finally broke down and admitted that I was bored of my own company and missed my friends and family terribly. I do not know why it took so long to admit.
But there is something about saying that you are lonely that makes you feel like some sort of leper, or a social failure. Successful people do not submit to loneliness, unless it is for self-indulgent theatrics (and I quote Lady Gaga: "I’m perpetually lonely. I’m lonely when I’m in relationships. It’s my condition as an artist.")
Clearly, however, I am not "alone" in my loneliness. Turning to the solace of the internet and belatedly reading articles on Being an Expat Spouse, it transpires I can actually be plotted on a Spouse Graph: I am currently in a trough. Well. Quite.
Being on your own is ok
I also came across this video on YouTube via multiple re-tweets
It is meant to be an uplifting affirmation that being on your own is ok. If you read the comments it splits judgment squarely down the middle. It scares me. I do not want to be the girl with the harmonica who takes herself out to dinner. She is not cool.
I want to be the girl from Sex & The City who meets with her best friends for cocktails. Watching it makes me want to call everyone I know. But is it ok to be alone?
Actually, my time alone in the day has brought some incredible positives. The opportunity for introspection has allowed me to re-evaluate the things I value in life:
- I have had time to learn a new language
- I have rediscovered a love of writing
- I have visited inspiring museums without a partner in tow who was just humouring me and wanted to leave as soon as we’d arrived.
I think it is one thing, though, to discover that being on your own is ok sometimes and another to resign yourself to it. The internet can create a very false sense of community that can only be realised if you get off your backside and get out.
The internet will never buy you a glass of wine and laugh at your jokes (although it may send you a smiley). In the evenings me and my partner are currently spreading our social net wide and joining clubs we never usually would have in the hope that, long-term, we will meet like-minded people who we can just casually socialise with.
For expats this is essential in order to create a sense of settling in and belonging, but it could equally apply to anyone who feels alone. Go out. Do random sports. Meet random people. Have fun.
Learning to cope with your own company is a positive skill, but wallowing in loneliness can only be damaging in the long run!