I got to the parking lot of the restaurant I had meticulously scoped out on Yelp.
I looked at myself in my rearview window, and with a deep breath and a “You’ve got this, Allie!” pep talk, I got out of the car.
My strategy: find a seat at the bar of a classy establishment, order a glass of wine along with my appetizer, and sit up tall. And make eye contact. Eye contact is important.
This is my new Friday night activity. Traveling alone has new opportunities for bravery. Like going to dinner by yourself on a Friday night. And it always leads to a good story.
I ate my potato wedges, reveling in their cheesy goodness and replaying the events of the day in my mind. I had started my morning in Orange County and made my way up Highway One, stopping at various harbor towns and sugar-sand beaches along the way. My heart was full with the turquoise Pacific views my eyes had taken in that day.
A guy with an easy smile and a driving cap (that I suspect was covering up the early stages of balding) sat down on the stool next to mine. After ordering a Guinness, he introduced himself.
When I said that I was just passing through, he asked for more explanation. I caught him up on my whirlwind of an adventure that I’d been on for a little over a week.
He was a reflective listener—in that he kept repeating things I’d say in a surprised soaking-it-in kind of way. Nodding his head, repeating phrases in a state of wonder. on
He seemed so fascinated by my current lifestyle. Or maybe the word is “wistful.” Like he wished he could be doing the same, but he had resigned himself to a life of watching movies on Netflix and working a lot.
After a moment of wrestling with this wistfulness rising up in him, he gave his excuse. “I don’t know if it’s the romantic in me, but I don’t know if I could go to all these beautiful places alone. I would want to share them with someone, you know? I mean, it’s like cooking for yourself. You get to a point where you’re making a meal, presenting it all nice, and you’re like ‘What’s the point?’ I wish I could go to these beautiful places, but, I don’t know. I guess I’ll wait till I meet someone.”
My eyes widened at this confession. I appreciated his candor. I think a lot of people feel this way. I get it. I think we are hard-wired for connection, and we long for people to share life with. Not having that can leave a constant ache that resides just behind the sternum.
I just reject the worldview that lets singleness be the excuse for living a small life.
I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over what exactly I’m aiming to do as I set out on this adventure, both trekking across the country and pushing into this world of writing. I want my life and my writing to be a piece of art reflecting what it means to pursue the things that make you feel alive.
“Living life to the fullest” isn’t a label you receive once you’ve got things all figured out.
It’s what happens in the midst of daily choosing to be intentional and diligent and brave in the small things. In other words, wholehearted.
This means that the little things matter.
Shane questioned “the point” of pursuing the art of living–the little flourishes of presenting the food in a meal you make for yourself or taking a solitary trip up the coast just because.
To know what delights our souls and to align our actions with that knowledge is important, whether it’s the way we spend a Tuesday night or the choice to pursue a new career. Being intentional in the seemingly mundane details of our lives leads to the beautiful mosaic of a life rich with joy and satisfaction.
This means that bravery is a choice.
I think we sell ourselves short when we claim that we lack the bravery to do what we really want.
Bravery is a muscle we stretch, not a genetic trait we either have or don’t have. I have yet to meet someone who wasn’t terrified to pursue the thing they most wanted. I also haven’t met many people who end up regretting that risk they took.
For me that night, bravery meant walking into a restaurant alone, getting past my shy default setting and being open to conversation. A few days later, bravery looked like pressing send on an email to pitch an article to an online magazine. The initial stages of both these acts were difficult, but I want a “life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear” as Elizabeth Gilbert would say.
This means that we can step into paradox.
Did it sting a little to be exploring Lover’s Point in the Monterey Bay alone? Yeah. Was it hard to not have someone to share the delight of vistas on Highway One with? Kind of. Somewhere between Malibu Beach and Santa Barbara, I chuckled at the realization that I was taking the trip I could imagine doing on my honeymoon. I just happened to be doing it alone.
I have had a moment every day where I feel the familiar pang of loneliness. But that didn’t diminish the beauty of the sunset I saw. The fact that I was alone did not, in any way invalidate my encounter with the beauty of the Pacific Coast.
Because I have also had a moment, every day of this trip, where I feel incredibly lucky and in awe of this opportunity to be doing this. Moments of gratitude that I am doing this alone. I think we miss out when we wait for some elusive version of perfect to pursue something.
I have felt lonely and fully content. I have felt the base tones of melancholy add to the melody of my joy. These opposing feelings can indeed coexist within. To be fully human is to accept the varying shades and nuances of our experience.