If there is something I’ve learned while being in Madrid, it’s that one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is enjoying your own company. This sounds sort of obvious-you come into the world solo and you leave the world alone, not to be morbid. You’re stuck with yourself pretty much indefinitely. But despite being your own constant companion, that doesn’t mean you are comfortable being alone, or more accurately, it doesn’t mean you are able to be alone and not lonely. I’ve fallen into the mental trap that presents my limited free time as something that should be dedicated to my friends or doing some social activity. If I need recharge time alone, it’ll be spent running or watching Netflix.
But earlier this semester, on what felt like an inordinately free day, I girded my loins, and gathered up the courage to go on my first official date with myself. I woke up at a decent hour, dressed up kind of nicely for myself, and walked through El Retiro alone. Then I went to the Thyssen to see an exhibit alone, and then finished off the date alone, taking myself to a cute cafe for coffee and a slice of cake, and took to the journal I kept back when I maintained some semblance of discipline in record keeping. My date ended abruptly, when a Snapchat of thunderstruck by AC/DC revealed that my friends and I happened to all be the same cafe. However, I did discover something: doing these active, elaborate days alone was amazing. I genuinely love spending time with my friends, and without question, being able to share exciting experiences with others enriches your life. I think too often we operate under the misconception that our schedules and activities need to be directly entwined with our friends’ or that your life should be divided into two parts: academic life and social life. We’ve all been guilty of waiting for so-and-so to be free so we can finally do that thing we’ve wanted to do for months. Or maybe it just isn’t as comfortable to do it alone. The truth is though that operating on other people’s terms and schedules is restrictive.
Going to the museum on my own means that I can be as slow and discerning as I want without worrying about holding anyone back. I can go at my own pace. I can also aimlessly explore the parts of the retiro that I haven’t been to yet. I can order the carrot cake and savor it slowly. Even though I don’t even like carrot cake, I still can order it alone and not share and enjoy it in peace. So I leave you with a piece of wisdom that I picked up in Madrid, or at least something I hope to bring back to the states with me: once in a while, forget about everybody else and ask yourself out on a self-date. You definitely don’t have to worry about being texted back after, so you avoid that whole step of a real date, but you really get to shape an experience as your own, however you will.