A lot of people aren’t comfortable with doing things by themselves – they have to travel in packs, groups, gaggles to be reassured that they aren’t alone. The art of doing things alone is often stigmatized, especially for women. The word “home” has become more about people than places. But if I have learned anything from middle school, high school, and even freshman year of college, you can’t make homes out of people. You have to make a home out of yourself first, live in your own skin until you’re comfortable with the fact that in every home, there is always room for improvement.
The years I spent living in Hoboken during middle school prepared me for the process of making a home out of myself. There would be days in seventh and eighth grade where I’d just leave and walk around town. My destinations would vary, but I never stepped foot out of its fourteen-block perimeter (okay, I did once, but that’s a loaded story for another time). All I needed was my iPod, my Strand tote bag, and a good pair of shoes. I was content with my own company. There would be times where I’d tag along to the city with my mom and she’d grant me the freedom of roaming Union Square by myself. At fourteen I considered myself the queen of that little corner of New York – I’d mastered the street numbers and avenues, the literary landmarks that signified familiarity of my surroundings – the massive Barnes & Noble on 17th Street, and The Strand on 12th & Broadway.
When I moved back to my Ohio hometown from New Jersey two months into my freshman year of high school, I ached for company. I felt a tremendous need to be in a group, to be a part of something. And towards the middle of my sophomore year, I got what I wanted. For the remainder of my second half of high school, I was in a group of about fourteen girls. A large number, I know, but within that group there were little cliques of their own, their members always interchangeable, the favoritism always shifting. For a long time, I was happy. Waking up the morning after a sleepover or birthday party feeling groggy and overtired from staying up the night before, and sitting around various tables eating pancakes and drinking coffee, spur-of-the-moment, after school Panera escapades, post-PSAT thrift store runs, looking at my phone to see several texts waiting for me. Grinning ear to ear, I’d think to myself, I did it! But once senior year hit, I was tired. I was tired of always having to explain myself and feeling obligated to stop everything else in my life to hang out, and report the latest details of my personal life. And suddenly, all at once, I wanted to cut ties. I couldn’t handle it anymore. Time after time when I admitted this to myself I would be hit with a tremendous wave of guilt, after I repressed memories of bickering and spats of annoyance and not-talking periods. How could I want to leave this group of people who have given me so much comfort, love, and support? I couldn’t explain it to myself, let alone anyone. I just wanted to leave. So I did. It took a long time, and it wasn’t pretty. One by one, the amount of people in my life dropped like flies. And I was miserable for a while. I remember feeling like someone had dropped an anvil on my chest when I watched my former friends taking prom pictures together, and being reprimanded for not having a lot of people to invite to my graduation party. But sometimes when you forge a new path for yourself, that path can be lonely.
But there’s this huge double standard that hits you once you’re a little older and out of high school. You’re supposed to be self-reliant, but you’re also expected to have an amazing, goofy, intellectually stimulating group of friends by the time you hit your twenties, a group perfectly suitable for an Urban Outfitters catalog. And when I got to college I realized I had set the bar too high for myself when everyone started getting fake IDs the second weekend in, and coffee dates and movie marathons stopped being as socially satisfying as anything involving copious amounts of alcohol. After I decided to try spending a Saturday in a crowded dorm room with two card tables pushed together for pong-playing usage to see what all the fuss was about and still felt like shit, I carried the Betty Friedan-esque disappointment with me everywhere. I thought about my sixteen year old self constantly and how much I was letting her down, but I also cursed myself for thinking for years how easy it would be to find my niche at college. But what did I expect myself to be doing really? Standing in a random dive bar with an exposed brick wall, accompanied by some English major dude wearing a chambray shirt and oversized prescription Ray Bans drinking craft beer while casually debating Emerson? Becoming a member of Kappa Gamma Delta Alpha Megatron Optimus Prime and hating myself for not looking like Blake Lively? Honestly. I’m not distant enough from my first year of college to write about it in its complex entirety, but what I learned the most from the experience is accepting myself first. I did so many things by myself, like taking two buses to the edge of Cornell’s campus on Halloween and walking across a highway intersection to get to an arboretum. I took myself on coffee dates to do Latin homework and write in my journal. I am thankful for all the adventures, both big and small, I have embarked on and made happen on my own.
There is so much preaching and more than enough Pinterest boards dedicated to the idea of falling in love with yourself first, yet there is so much pressure to have that group of friends that you can call up and have brunch with every weekend and will end up on your Christmas shopping list for years and follow you to your wedding and fight to catch the bouquet. I realize it’s too early for me to panic about this. All of the people I love, who are in my life right now, are scattered. I can count the number of people I trust on one hand, the number of texts I receive per day on one hand. And all of that can change at any given moment. But at the end of the day, I’m always my own home.