Walking works for me.
Today I walked a lot.
Today was Valentine’s Day. It started with the arrival of two cards from two lovely friends. (For real, though – ending up with crazy-sweet people like these in my life is something I thank my lucky stars for every day.)
I have no romantic Valentine with me today (boo-stinking-hoo). So I decided to be my own. I packed up a notepad, a pen and a book to
read gawp at, and I went off to play tube roulette with myself.
As my own Valentine, I had to treat myself to a Starbucks visit before anything else. Naturally. I adore how they went all lovey-dovey on me. (Consider me a marketer’s dream.)
I took the tube from Brixton. Highbury & Islington was the stop
fate my mind chose. I got off the train, ascended the escalator, exited the station and turned right. And I walked. I walked until I reached Angel, and then I walked some more. I meandered past estate agents with glossy photos of six-figure homes in their windows. I wandered past shops selling fanciful tea cups and greetings cards with whimsical messages. I drifted past bakeries flaunting their gluten-free wares and coffee shops competing with each other for the most ingenious and witty advertising boards.
I ended up with no clue where I was. But I was OK with that. As I said in a text to a friend who suggested I use the sat nav on my phone, I didn’t need GPS. I was wandering aimlessly – on purpose.
Eventually I recognised Tinseltown. (I had an epic milkshake with a friend there once.) Farringdon, St. Paul’s, Bank and Spitalfields were my next stops (at least, I think so… I’m still getting used to the geography of these unfamiliar parts of my adopted city).
While I was taking in my grey surroundings and watching my ill-thought-out white shoes get splattered with rainwater, I was singing down the phone to my friends. In public. I was carefree and letting it show. It wasn’t until I stopped at a restaurant to eat – alone – that my mood became more contemplative.
I suddenly became conscious of the fact that I was by myself. There was one other woman in the restaurant dining alone, too. A tourist (I presume) with a foreign accent and a wide-brimmed hat that she placed on the table in front of her. She was seemingly enjoying her own company. Sipping her drink, smiling to herself and to others, not busying herself with anything other than sitting at that table and enjoying her meal. I, on the other hand, was glued to my phone. Texting friends. Snapping photos of my Berry Bellini, my burger, my ice-cream. “Check out what a great time I’m having, you guys!” Reaching in my bag for my book. Trying not to make eye contact. Attempting to occupy my hands so it wouldn’t be so obvious that I was alone and painfully self-conscious.
I’ve eaten out alone plenty of times before and I intend to do so plenty of times again. People say it’s bold, liberating. Maybe. But doing the work I do, I’m used to my own company. Sitting alone in a cafe or coffee shop isn’t an out-of-the-ordinary experience for me. But today felt different. I felt like I should have had company. I felt like beady eyes were on me. I felt like I was being judged.
My tummy did little gurgly flips throughout the whole meal. My mind got to thinking about all the things I push aside from day to day. Life. Love. What the hell I’m doing with all of it.
My phone kept me occupied. Wait. Scratch that. My friends kept me occupied. I rely on them incessantly. For laughter, for support, for assurances that I’m not actually as crazy as I seem. When I’m alone (as is the case during the majority of my working week), my phone stays by my side. My friends and I swap snippets about our days, share pictures of our food, exchange music tips, make plans and then count down to them. We tell stories, seek advice, send wacky voice notes only we’d understand, and provide the validation we’re all looking for. Without all of that, when I’m forced (out of necessity or even through choice) to be in my own company, I’m not sure I always know how to make myself feel OK.
My brain eventually wore me out. It was time to hit the road. Once I left the restaurant and my legs started moving again, I felt infinitely better. (I told you – walking works.) A chill in the air prompted me to pull my jacket tighter around myself and the fog inside my head to dissipate. I headed for my favourite bridge – its views are unparalleled. I walked as far as I felt I could manage before the pull of a bus stop became too strong. Along Waterloo Road and then London Road until I reached the familiar bustle of Elephant & Castle. I made my way through the subway. A homeless man told me he liked my hair and my smile, and he loudly wished me a happy Valentine’s Day as I let my feet keep carrying me.
Tonight, I’m heading to one of my best friends’ for a sleepover, complete with the girliest of movies, the sweetest Amaretto and the most buttery popcorn. Spending Valentine’s night alone, even if it is nothing but a commercial holiday foisted upon us by Hallmark and Interflora, would be too much.
Logically, I know that it can be all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we need someone to complete us, especially today. (Thank you, Jerry Maguire.) But knowing what I know about myself and my friends, if you can’t eat out alone and let your feet span the breadth of the capital without the faintest pang of despondency… well fricking done! You’re a human being. But if we can be, at the very least, OK by ourselves and not reach for company at the slightest hint of discomfort (and trust me; I need to work on this as much as the next girl-with-insecurities), I can’t help but feel we’ll be all the better for it.
We’re in this together. Deal?