by MIA FREEDMAN
This week I flew interstate for a meeting and accidentally stayed for three days. How very rockstar of me. But as much as I’d like to think myself capable of such behaviour, I wasn’t on a bender. I haven’t done that since 1998 when I had such a big weekend with two girlfriends, I can only dimly recall it. Something, something, tequila, laughing, something, dancing to Kylie, tequila, something, the end. HEADACHE.
When I went AWOL this week, the only illicit substance involved was solitude. Great delicious chunks of it. Since starting a family, being alone has become a precious commodity. The less solo time I have, the more I crave. And that’s how I came to run away from home. If you’re in any position to do so, I highly recommend it. Each day I’d call my husband and say “I think I want to stay another night”. And I did.
That first night, I slept ridiculously well. It was the kind of sleep people should write poems about. Songs should be sung. Gold medals awarded. That good.
I now understand why some people try to buy beds from hotels. ‘If I could just take this magic bed home, I could sleep that well every night!’ they think.
Fools. It’s not the bed. It’s your head. There’s a level of relaxation I inhabit when I’m away – even on work trips – that’s just not possible at home. Here, every moment alone feels like I’m stealing time from my family. First I feel guilty. Next, resentful about the guilt. As my husband would say “Lord, it’s complicated being you.” He’s not wrong.
A few years ago, I went to one of those lifestyle forecasting presentations where they predicted bathrooms would become the new lounge room. Instead of merely a place to ablute, people will soon begin to congregate while we do all those bathroomy things. Mothers are way ahead of the curve on this one. Our kids walk in and out indiscriminately and the shower and toilet are seen as a perfectly legitimate places for a chat.
Time to yourself after you have kids becomes something snatched, furtive. I know some women who find their fix in running, late night baths or grabbing their iPod and doing the supermarket shopping late at night. Alone. Because for some of us, that’s the key to filling up your tank.
I’ve always been happy in my own company. I was a latch-key kid in the 80s with an older brother so I grew up pottering around with my dog a fair bit. As a result, my alone policy as an adult is very liberal. I’m comfortable dining out, traveling, shopping and going to the movies by myself. I used to hate flying but I now consider it a luxury to drive myself to the airport and board a plane where I can write and read uninterrupted.
With the luxury of space this week, I found myself striking up friendly conversations with hotel staff (here’s where I was staying) when we passed in the corridor. I had the headspace for chit chat, something that never happens in my real life where I will go to absurd lengths to avoid it.
Refreshed and perky, I checked out at the end of 72 hours away and the concierge asked how my stay was. ‘Fantastic!’ I beamed. He smiled and shook his head in wonderment. “You know, you’re one of our favourite guests because you always seem so happy.” Dude, duh. I’m in a lovely, spotless room by myself. A cleaning fairy comes every day when I’m out. There are fancy cardio machines in the gym, chocolate in the bar fridge, a fluffy bathrobe, wireless, and nobody’s needs to meet except my own. Food comes when I call for it. WHAT PART OF THIS COULD MAKE ME ANYTHING LESS THAN ECSTATIC? It’s a bloody miracle I’m not doing victory laps around the lobby while high fiving strangers.
I think the key to enjoying solitude and distinguishing it from loneliness is control. Choice. Several of my friends are divorced and due to custody arrangements, they have nights, weekends and even weeks alone. “I hated it at first,” admitted one single mother. “Nobody ever plans to be a part-time parent and I was bereft. But now I’m in the rhythm. I’ve stopped moping around every second weekend and started to use the time to recharge mentally, have long lunches or read a book.”
One of my single friends who chooses to live alone sometimes goes 48hrs without talking to anyone but her dog. Occasionally she’s lonely but she’s mostly content. “I don’t know how you do it” she says when I mention I haven’t been able to close my bathroom door in 15 years.
Forget 50 Shades, my porn is Eat, Pray, Love, the memoir about one woman’s 12 months of narcissistic solitude. Sometimes I read the blogs of single women like others might read a travel magazine. It’s escapism. I once found myself totally absorbed in a post by one woman who was trying to decide which side of her bed to sleep on. Of course, one of my favourite things about being away is coming home. In the glorious cluster of cuddles and catching up, I was reminded how much I love a reunion. You just need to go away sometimes to have one.
Do you enjoy being alone? Do you ever get alone time?