When I was a travel agent, we used to have these ‘fam’ (short for ‘familiarization’) trips that resorts would invite us to go on to, you guessed it, familiarize ourselves with their properties, the room categories, quality of food, ambiance, basically anything that they wanted to highlight so that when we returned full of free food and booze, we would do anything to promote them to our clients. Aside from a spirited propaganda talk from an overly cheerful representative on the first day and an excruciatingly detailed site tour the second, these four to five day trips were really about blending in and experiencing the best the resort had to offer (plus the surprise goodies and occasional room upgrades).
Often times though there was one very important caveat. These fam trips were always small groups of no more than five or six agents, and we were always bound by terms that under no circumstances could we let guests know we were agents visiting by invitation. For the others, this was never really a problem. Salespeople are often pretty sociable by default, so other agents would quickly bond and spend the entire week together and no one would ever be the wiser. But, being the loner (outcast) that I am, I’d rather explore and experience the resorts on my own. Answer to no one, eat where and when I wanted, drink where and when I wanted, and all that. This would often raise some eyebrows or elicit some good-natured but inquisitive questions from the staff. ‘Table for one’ sounds a bit…strange when you’re at a resort surrounded by couples, too lost in each others eyes’ to appreciate the all-inclusive grub.
Usually I’d just take take this opportunity to have some fun with strangers, see what kind of reaction I’d get. Maybe I’d give them a mild reason, like my girlfriend was jetlagged or feeling sick and resting in our room. I almost always used the ‘bedridden girlfriend’ excuse to explain why I was getting three or four plates of food wrapped up to bring back to my room. (It was just for late night snacking. It was always just for late night snacking.) If I felt up for it, sometimes I’d go overboard, and tell them how my ex-fiancee left me at the altar but the honeymoon was non-refundable. What seems the most strange and most significant to me though is that, regardless of what the excuse actually was, the fact that I could at least give them some context to my alone-ness seemed to make them feel…relieved. I seemed to realize that, at a certain point, people wanted to know why I was alone not for my benefit, but for their peace of mind.
Even on my most recent trip to Canada, I can distinctly remember certain encounters that revolved around the enigma of a lone traveler. At one restaurant, the waitress was absolutely flustered and confused when I told her she didn’t need to place the other setting. I felt so bad, she seemed really intent on using the second set of fork and knife and glass too. She must really not be used to us lone wanderers. With all earnestness, the poor woman actually looked me in the eye and actually asked me if I would like her to remove the second seat. Bless her heart. No, that’s alright, I can handle the empty seat and constant reminder. I’m dining alone, not a lonely diner.
Humans are social creatures. There’s no denying a simple, foundational, universal trait. Humans are stronger, and happier, when in communities. We were designed to hunt and farm and travel in packs. In a way, I can understand that instinctual, biological, primal reaction to solitude. But to be fair, I think we also used to hunt, skin, and carve every wild animal we ran into so…we can outgrow certain things. Could it be though, that this desire to contextualize or investigate why someone would be by themselves, is because we are still harboring that fear of solitude? When you see someone by themselves, what goes through your mind? When I tell my mother of how I always eat by myself when I travel, or go to the movies by myself, or do anything really, she says how she’d be too afraid to do this ‘because it seems sad’. I know what she means. She doesn’t mean doing things alone seems sad. She means doing things alone would make her seem sad to those who saw her.
I used to feel that way, and I won’t deny that sometimes when I look out into a crowd somewhere and see those few lone figures I might still wonder and try to place them into some sort of fitting context. Maybe it’s a work meal, or their SO has just stepped out. There are a few places I try not to go because of what I think might be perceived. I try not to eat at cheap Chinese buffets alone. I don’t know, maybe that sounds weird, but in my mind I perceive it like, here’s someone who is alone, has no one, and so has decided better to grab some cheap simple grub and stuff himself than cook a meal for one. Again, that might just be because of personal context, but I do wonder if maybe we all have those certain things we’re too hesitant to try and take on on our own not because we can’t, but because of the context of others.
I really think being alone isn’t anyone’s default setting. I think there are definitely those who are more accustomed to, or more inclined to, it more than others, but whether it’s the company of one or a thousand, I think we all crave it in some way. But I see a lot of articles online, often times written by women, about the joys and pleasures and strengths of living alone. Always trying to legitimize and justify that lifestyle, as if any of us were in any position to judge. But we do, sometimes, don’t we. We put things, reasons, excuses, context, on these encounters. ‘S/he hasn’t found the right one yet’, ‘s/he could never live like that forever’. Whether it is out of a fear of the unknown or a personal insecurity or an honest to goodness genuine care that no soul should ever wander alone, we see the solitary figure as a standout, an anomaly. Sometimes, the world reacts positively. I’ve definitely experienced wait staff become more friendly and courteous and conversational, or people on the street be more helpful. Sometimes, the world seems repulsed, suspicious, like an ‘unwanted’. Statistically, men who post pictures of themselves with groups of friends along with solo pics in their online dating profiles receive more matches than men who post only pictures of themselves. As if to imply ‘if the world didn’t want him, why should I’.
Like how a man whose resume has a streak of unemployment lasting too long, I wonder, as the year grows closer to its end, if now, before, or after, people will have tried to contextualize why someone like me, in relationships for so long, suddenly stopped.
Man: 313 Loneliness: 33