While spending my last semester abroad, I grew accustomed to sustaining comfort in solitude. I no longer craved spending each ounce of my free time in the presence of somebody else; I could finally distinguish being "lonely" from simply being alone. I began to transcribe my moments of solitude into hours of wandering throughout the foreign Italian neighborhoods that I lived in. I would weave through centuries-old alleyways, eager to both lose and find myself to the unfamiliar cobblestones beneath my feet.
I found that while I was alone, I began to gravitate towards the other "loners" I would stumble across during my afternoon journeys. "Why is that woman sitting at a café alone? What made that man choose to visit a museum by himself?" I wanted to strike up conversation with these people; I was still searching for my own reasons behind my recent cravings of solitude, and I wanted to learn why these strangers chose being alone over human accompaniment just as I had.
However, there was one major problem. My Italian was horrendous. Now, I'm not talking slight errors within my sentence structure. I literally could not form a single sentence in the language that I was surrounded by all day, every day. It took me a full month to just memorize the basics: hello, goodbye, thank you, and of course, wine. My brain simply could not hold together a cohesive Italian sentence to save my life. And on top of that, local Italians -- at least the ones I came across throughout the upscale neighborhoods of Florence, were an intimidating bunch. I was not about to bother these ever-so-chic Italian individuals, let alone insult them with my pure butchery of their elegant, romantic language.
I decided that Florence was not the place to uncover the key to unaccompanied contentment. I was moving to Martha's Vineyard upon my return to the States, and I figured I should try my hand at interviewing "loners" in a place that was more, well, English-friendly.
Just six miles off the "mainland" of Cape Cod (I never used to consider the Cape the "mainland" until I moved here), Martha's Vineyard is is a stunningly beautiful and yet surprisingly bizarre island. This little rock is comprised of an eclectic mixture of trust-fund yuppies, organic-coffee-bean hipsters, and hardcore island locals who brave the emptiness and seclusion of the winter months. But Italy, where I would see people everywhere basking in their solitude, it seemed as though everybody on the Vineyard was constantly surrounded by friends whom they have visited with each summer since they were, well, conceived. I decided that this would not stop me in continuing my solitary soul-searching adventures. Thus, I began my summer of the breakfast counter.
Going out to breakfast has become one of my favorite pastimes, and Martha's Vineyard has its share of "famous" breakfast joints scattered across its six towns. I began to visit each spot, sometimes with the accompaniment of my newfound friends, while other times by myself. While alone, I would sit at a bar or counter alongside other lone breakfast diners who preferred the presence of strangers like myself. Some would be reading the "MV Times," while others would be dilly-dallying on their phones, but each time I have sat alongside these strangers, my morning experience would never fall short of a fulfilling, and sometimes life-altering conversation between us.
"What brings you to the Art Cliff Diner alone on this August morning?" either I, or my counter- neighbor, would turn around and ask. At first, I was shy of striking up a conversation for fear of invading the stranger's personal space. However, as I started becoming a regular countertop diner, I learned that people would dine alone for the sole purpose of spontaneous conversation, or so I figured by the amount of untouched food. The answers that I had been longing for in Italy, I was uncovering at the breakfast bars on the Vineyard. I began asking each person I conversed with about the power of solitude and the things they have learned from simply being alone. A writer from New York explained to me that being alone helped her dive deep into her psyche and envision ideas for her books and blogs. A local painter explained how solitude went hand in hand with helping him become his own best friend. A mother of two little ones laughed and exclaimed, "I really enjoy peace and quiet!"
Two years ago, I would never have been caught dead eating alone in a public place. Now, I enjoy it just as much, if not more than dining with others. There is something so pleasing, so liberating, about the absolute complacency one gains from an act so simple as dining at a breakfast counter in the presence of strangers. So next time your friends aren't trying to hang and you're in need of a fire omelette, head down to a local breakfast spot and grab a seat at the bar. The conversations you come across, as well as the self-fulfillment you will feel, will be more than worth the initial panic you may endure while you step outside of your comfort zone. Plus, it's a pretty badass thing to do.