I love to eat lunch alone. I choose the restaurant, the dish I want to eat, my beverage, and I settle in with an episode of “Reign” on Netflix or a chapter of Outlander. I take time when needed to make to-do lists, send and read emails, work on freelance assignments. It’s my quiet time to do what I want and take a breather from a usually hectic day.
I wasn’t always so comfortable eating alone, however. In fact, I wasn’t always comfortable being alone, period. Throughout my childhood I moved from one state to another, the daughter of an Air Force captain. My only friend, in many instances, was my sister, Karen. I had a bad habit of first befriending girls at my new school who were intrigued by the new person, but swiftly excluded me once my “newness” wore off. It would take time to discover my real friends and bond with them.
I went to a college where I knew no one, and that cycle repeated itself. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I really felt I belonged at Penn State. And, although I moved home after college and hung out often with high school friends who remain my friends to this day, I worked at a job that required me to grow comfortable with being alone. As a newspaper reporter, I traveled to assignments by myself, killing time before evening zoning board and school board meetings by eating on my own, reading books. I bought so many copies of Chick Lit back then, I’m not sure I ever read anything of much worth! I also liked to shop; the bustle of the stores made it seem less lonely.
It was when I moved away to grad school in Chicago that I really felt I was OK with being on my own. Though Penn State was five hours from my parents in New Jersey, Northwestern was really far away. Again, I was at a school and in a city where I knew no one. I was lucky to form a fast friendship with my roommate, but there were lots of times of riding the El by myself, walking around Evanston or downtown, exploring. It was there that a lot of the insecurities surfaced, keeping me in a shell, a shell I don’t think anyone knew of because on the outside I’m pretty extroverted. But the thought of rejection, the idea of dating, of finally tackling issues like self-esteem and confidence and body image — those were buried down deep. I was OK with being alone — but I was not OK with me.
But I finally started breaking out of that shell while at Northwestern. Assessing where I really wanted to go professionally. What I really wanted out of life. I even started dating.
Then, during an internship in London, I felt I really broke free. I worked at a fashion magazine, despite my hesitation at being the heaviest woman on staff. At being probably not as fashionable as I would like. At being a small fish in a really, really big city. But I did whatever I was asked to do, and with gusto. I explored every inch of this city that I had loved from afar for many, many years. I was grateful to be there with my grad school roommate, though we lived separately and had different days off. It was nice knowing I wasn’t completely alone across the pond. But it afforded me enough freedom to explore as I wanted to. As I needed to.
I came home from that internship nervous to begin again in another new place — Birmingham, Ala. — but ready, too. Ready to fully begin my publishing career. Ready to continue breaking out of that shell and continue discovering who I am.
Since my move to Birmingham, I can truly say that I’ve become my own best friend in a lot of ways. I stopped being so shy about dating and eventually met my husband. I stopped worrying about surrounding myself with friends constantly and grew to like my own solitude at times. To actually choose to stay in on a Friday night and be happy with that choice. And I grew to become comfortable with what I need from other people. I learned that I don’t need them to feel fulfilled, but their presence simply makes me happy.
I’ve had ups and downs since I moved here. I’ve lost my job, and had to steel myself against feeling like a failure. I started new jobs, learning to navigate new workplaces. Over and over again, through tears and anger, I’ve had to motivate myself to try again. Try harder. At love. At my career. At being OK with myself.
And that’s where I still have work to do. While I may be OK with depending on my own friendship, I’m still not always my best cheerleader. I still look to others for validation. And whereas I can give pep talks to my friends, tell them how wonderful they are — especially when they doubt their looks or their body image or their abilities — I still have a hard time doing that for myself. I try to talk myself up on the inside. I list my good qualities. I list the reasons why I’m worthy, why I’m good at what I do or what makes me special. But many times it feels as though it’s pretend. I’m going through what I’m “supposed” to say, but not really believing it.
This is where being your own best friend is hard. Because we can also be our own worst enemy. It’s a battle that must be fought, though, for true acceptance of yourself. To love yourself fully. So, this journey that has taken me many places is still a road I’m traveling down. But at least I can hold my own hand now and notice when I’m not being kind to myself. And I can give myself a stern talking to. And learn to be my own best friend.