Until I started living in Uppsala part-time a year-and-a-half ago, I had never lived by myself. I got married right out of high school, and when that relationship ended I first moved home to my mom’s, then I had roommates for a couple of months before moving in with my next boyfriend. By the time that went south, I had Lydia, so even though I was single for a couple of years, I always had her with me. Over the years I have idly wondered from time to time what it would be like to live completely on my own, but it was never an idea that held much appeal for me. As long as I can remember, I have never liked to be alone. I don’t necessarily want to engage with people all the time, but I like for them to be around. That said, I’ve never been especially social and for most of my life I’ve felt tremendously awkward in social situations. As a younger person, I never made friends easily and it generally took me a long time to get close to new people in my life.
It’s been a complete surprise to me, then, to find myself having turned into a veritable social butterfly over the past few years. People who don’t know me outside my Uppsala context usually don’t believe me if I mention that I’ve really never been a “people person” and that it’s been my habit to actively resist being at the center of any sort of social activity. Down here, I’ve been known to practically strong-arm people into friendship with me, and I can always be counted on for drinks after work or impromptu get-togethers. I’m frequently the driving force behind these kinds of activities and I’m often the life of the party, if I do say so myself. I’m pretty good at small talk these days, and, whether or not I’m seeking them, I seem to make new connections wherever I go. It’s weird.
Many times I’ve attributed this new gregariousness to age and experience. I’ve (mostly) stopped caring what other people think about me, and I don’t much worry about making a fool of myself. While I do think there’s truth to that, I think the more significant factor, by quite a large margin, is my reluctance to be alone. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my own company, because I often do, but I enjoy it more when “alone time” is something I’ve chosen (preferably in my own kitchen, while others in my family are occupied elsewhere in the house), than when it’s imposed upon me. There are plenty of times when there’s nothing going on in Uppsala and I’m left to my own devices when I’m not working. I don’t have trouble finding things to occupy me–I can, and do, read, shop, crochet, watch TV, etc.–but I would so much rather do those things with other people (or dogs, at the very least!) around me if I should feel the need for a bit of interaction.
Either which way, my life in Uppsala is much different from any other life I’ve lived. Or maybe it’s not, really … maybe it’s more that away from my large family in the haven of my own home, I’ve learned to employ other sorts of strategies to re-create the near-constant companionship and activity that I feel most comfortable with. Whatever the reasons, I find that sometimes I don’t recognize my self at all while simultaneously recognizing myself as much as I ever have. Could this be personal growth?