W hen I applied for housing last year, I automatically opted for the single option. Like every new freshman, I wondered whether having a roommate would enable me to attain the social scene of Penn more easily, but I rapidly gave up on that moment of hesitation upon reassessing the fact that I like being on my own. I enjoy meeting people, discovering new surroundings and new personalities, but at the end of the day, I also enjoy my own company. People have the right to vote, to eat in public, to embrace, to marry, to make art, to observe art. I have the right to be alone.
Our campus is so pulsating with thousands of wanderers that it is hard sometimes to not feel guilty about simply wanting a moment alone. The other day, a friend complained that people always saw me for dinner or coffee, but I never made the time for him. After telling him I was always busy, he mentioned the notion of “double-booking” people and asked me if I did it too. When I replied that I never took on that notion because I would much prefer not seeing anyone, he simply said, jokingly, that I was the worst. It struck me that my preferences would cause such bad judgments of me.
Edith Bouvier Beale and Edith Ewing Bouvier chose to take shelter in their Long Island summer estate Grey Gardens to escape their busy New York City life. They quickly became the highly eccentric neighbors of the block, partly because of their reclusive nature. My behavior and that of others who choose one-on-one intimacy from time to time does not come as close to the craziness the Eddies were put through at the end of their lives.
Yet, their lifestyle proves that society considers chosen loneliness outside of the norm. The Eddies simply chose reclusiveness to avoid whatever unnecessary trouble, drama and boredom the city pressed upon them. For the society and the Penn community, doing mundane things such as eating, going to the theater, walking or going to a museum or a coffee shop alone is mostly considered uncommon.
Society makes it awkward. At Penn, we’re always rushing to make plans for lunch or dinner because no one wants to eat alone - not because we don’t want to be alone while eating, but because we know that the next time we tell people that we ate on our own, their first reaction will be to frown and then ask why. For me, getting out of Penn and walking to Clark Park or down to Center City alone does not make me a loner or an antisocial person. It just shows that I am a functional member of society who needs to do things on her own to keep everything else in her life normally balanced.
Speaking about this to a friend the other day made me realize that my needs might be due to the fact that I am an only child. I did not grow up amidst a huge family with vacations occupying all of our days or dinners every night. Sunday was our family day, but all the other days were spent separately.
Then, of course, going to Chinatown or Reading Terminal Market on a solo trip makes me feel happier at times. It enables me to breathe, think of something else, walk aimlessly or so. Other friends feel the same way, perhaps because there is a common feeling on campus that people at Penn do not especially wander in the city that much. Not that many people would eat in Old City or in Fishtown on a Friday. Most of the restaurants around 40th Street will be occupied, and if some are adventurous, maybe Baltimore Avenue will be walked on. So next time none of your friends want to give up on laziness and comfort and you need to walk out of University City to feel you’re part of the world, go on your own. Do not hesitate because of unfounded and unnecessary moments. You have the right to be alone.
Diane Bayeux is a College freshman from Paris studying English. Email her at dbayeux@ sas.upenn.edu or follow her @dianebayeux