I think anyone who has tried it will tell you that moving to a new place by yourself can be very, very lonely. As obvious as this is, it was probably the scariest thing about moving to Madrid. Though I've typically been one to enjoy my downtime, the last year has been somewhat atypical and I've constantly and purposefully surrounded myself with wonderful people. If we're talking, my personal growth here (and hey, I'm Eat, Pray, Loving it in Spain so what else would we be talking about?), I would have told you that learning to enjoy time spent by myself was a top-five goal before leaving for this trip; which is to say that, before I left, I expected I would continue to default to relying on the company of others and anticipated having to really push myself to accept the challenge of loneliness.
Well as it happens, and lucky for my personal growth, I guess, there are no others to rely on. Making time for just me is no longer a concern since I don't know anyone in this country and there are about a thousand hours in a day when you don't have people, a job, or any productive purpose to occupy your time. These days I easily spend time by myself because quite frankly I don't have any other choice. Fortunately, I've quickly learn that doing things alone, at my own pace, isn't actually that bad. I spend my time half-assedly studying, reading fantasy fiction, doing yoga and, when I want to disengage from even my own company, watching select and sophisticated television programs. And when I'm not doing my best to hide from this beautiful city, I've started to do some brave person things on my own too.
I'll start with what's been easy and what I'm sure it's obvious: I go out to eat alone, and eat alone I do well. Most food in Spain is meant to be shared, so going out alone means that I end up stuffing my gob with at least two peoples' worth of food and probably about six peoples' worth of olive oil.
Whatever. I do what I want!
My life has been delicious and eating out alone has quickly moved from the thing I practiced a few times before leaving Toronto so I wouldn't feel awkward about it, to something that feels comfortable. While sometimes I have my iPhone keep me company, most of the time I stare at my plate or the walls or, if I'm lucky enough to be sitting on a terraza, the people walking by.
Like eating out, it has been really easy to do things on my own during the daytime and I've particularly enjoyed plunking myself down by the sunbathers in Parque del Retiro or at a couple of Madrid's public pools.
A particularly quiet day at Retiro
Francos Rodriguez Pool
Though the days have been no-brainers, being alone at night has been slightly more of a challenge. Last week, for example, I read about a music event happening in an area of Madrid called Matadero. It was formerly the city's meat slaughtering district but they converted a bunch of buildings into a multidisciplinary art complex. I only walked around a bit when I was there but it seems to have a real Toronto-Distillery-District feel to it and I'm going to go back in the daytime soon to do some more exploring. Madrid's summer city guide mentioned that there were concerts happening on the Matadero terrace every Thursday night and, after spending a few hours internally debating leaving my apartment alone after 10 p.m., I decided to go.
Now, as comfortable as I'm becoming when I'm alone in the day, I've done a fair bit of observing Madrid at night and have discovered that it is an extremely social (and by social I mean people socializing with people they know) city. So I knew that going to this event alone would mean I would necessarily stand out like a sore thumb. Nevertheless, it seemed like the event was going to be live music followed by a DJ and dancing, so I told myself I would stay for the show, which wouldn't be weird at all (going to shows alone is cool, you guys, it makes you seem like you love music) and then planned to leave when the dancing started. You know when you go out dancing and there are a few stray mustachioed 40 or 50-something-year-old men who come to the party just to stand on the side and watch drunk girls and maybe, if they're lucky, to buy a couple of those drunk girls some vodka sodas? This is my vision of people who go to dance parties by themselves. I didn't want to be one of those people.
I got to Matadero around 10 p.m., an hour after the music was supposed to have started. I assumed this would be fine as nothing in Madrid actually happens at 9:00p.m.. Nope. Whatever the show had been it was no more and I arrived right smack dab in the middle of a '60s Spanish pop dance party.
Based on my initial plan, this would have been my cue to get out of there. There were, however, a few things keeping me at Matadero:
A) it was a long bus ride home
B) the scene was totally and completely intoxicating. Picture Shake-a-tail (Older folks, just picture your childhoods; non-Torontonians, thanks for reading my blog!), but it's outside, and there are maybe some kids around for a while, the music is in Spanish, and there's room to move your butt like it is actually the 60's. Yeah, basically it was Lauren-dance-party heaven. And I was NOT going to be too much of a coward to enjoy it.
So I lingered. I got a beer. And then I lingered some more. I watched people dancing for a good hour and in between watching people dancing, I watched other people (and their friends) watch other people dancing. I decided that my "purpose" at this party was to people-watch which, in my own head, effectively exonerated me from "creeper" status.
The party was local and pretty great. I felt proud of myself for sticking it out. A hour felt like a good enough amount of time to observe a dance party so I was ready to exit full of integrity when this unbelievable, wonderful thing happened. Just as I was about to leave, a girl ran up to me and asked me something in Spanish. I've graduated from "No hablo Espanol" (I don't speak Spanish) to "Perdona, Hablo solo un poco Espanol" (Sorry, I only speak a little Spanish) when people approach me. She asked me in English if I wanted to join her friends and dance. DID. I. EVER.
I couldn't believe how nice this person was! Had she seen me standing quietly on the sidelines and thought I could use a friend? It was so genuine of her to invite me, I was shocked and totally grateful. The girl brought me to a group of completely non-intimidating strangers who were laughing and cheering and seemed to be having a blast. They kindly introduced themselves, welcomed me their circle and, in a fit of laughter, suggested that since I was there, I now "had to play" with them.
It turns out the supremely empathic girl who just happened to notice a lonely bystander was actually a girl playing Truth or Dare and had been DARED to ask me to dance. She hadn't really felt sorry for the girl who came to the party alone, but this group of completely non-intimidating strangers had sure as hell noticed the mustachioed 25-year-old Canadian girl creepily watching the drunk girls, hoping to buy them some vodka sodas. In other words, it appears that watching a dance party without participating is creepy business no matter who you are.
Despite the circumstances of my invite, their little game of truth or dare -- it was actually a truth or dare/spin the bottle hybrid -- was one of the best things that has happened to me since moving to Madrid. I did end up joining their game, and ultimately had a fantastic night with what turned out to be a bunch of really cool and friendly people. They were all Spanish, but spoke to me in both Spanish and English, and welcomed me to their fiesta as if taking in stray friends was the most natural thing in the world. I don't know, but it certainly isn't something I do easily, so it felt like a big deal to me.
We left when the dancing was done, and I left Matadero with a totally embarrassing grin on my face. I grinned because I was proud of forcing myself to do something outside of my comfort zone, and because it was a success, and because in the end I was genuinely struck by how kind this group of people had been to me.
The hallmark version of this story would end with us all become best friends and me living in Madrid forever all thanks to my one night of trusting myself, and pushing my boundaries. In reality I have no idea if I will see these people again. Sure, it would be lovely but even if I don't, I still sincerely appreciate the strange invitation and the reminder that I have it in me to both do it on my own AND make friends through this adventure.