‘Oh my weekend was just about ok. I was home most of the time. I don’t really have friends here. Just one relative and I cannot keep going to their house every weekend’, Swati told me, with a forlorn look.
It’s almost a year since Swati had moved to Mumbai when she had landed an opportunity that would take her career a notch up. The price that she had to pay for this was to move out of her family nest, leave behind everything that she was familiar and take on the daunting challenge of living in a city all by herself. She had taken on the challenge no doubt, but she often experienced pangs of loneliness and despair.
I have heard Swati’s story many times, from both women and men alike. Living a single life in an unfamiliar city can be an unnerving experience for many. Many people I know have felt overwhelmed by it and have returned home within a few months. Having been in Swati’s shoes and having re-located to cities all by myself, I know that the experience of singlehood or being new in a city can in fact turn out to be one of growth and personal development.
As I listen to Swati, a part of me does understand her loneliness. Yet a part of me also wonders what inhibits her from fully enjoying her current situation! I also wonder how much more time she needs before she can accept that she needs to take concrete actions for her life condition to improve. I feel inspired to share some of my own experiences, mistakes and tips with all those people who take the plunge for their careers (or even for just adventure) and arrive into an unknown city all alone, armed only with their aspiration and a hope that they will create a more fulfilling life for themselves.
These tips may or may not work for you. However, the fact that you have the power to take action remains with you.
So here goes.
I have lived in several different cities in the country, each one on my own. When I had moved to Mumbai about 6 years ago, I had left behind a very happy life in order to pursue my career. I had no friends here, no acquaintances and no relatives. All I had was the offer letter to my dream job! Mumbai had my last choice but the career opportunity had been too good to pass up. So I landed here, bag and baggage on a Sunday afternoon.
I had been given a stay facility at the company guest house and had to find my own accommodation within a week’s time. A list of broker numbers were given to me by the admin team and then, I was pretty much left to my own. The first decision I had to make was about the location I would like to live in.
1) Picking a ‘single-friendly’ location to live in: Backed by the advice of my colleagues (whom I had met for the first time) and the scare about the traffic situation in Mumbai, I did what seemed like the most sensible thing to do at that point in time: Chose a location that was close to my workplace. I reasoned that I would not only save money but also have a lot of time to myself. I found a suitable 1BHK (Bedroom, Hall, Kitchen) and moved in. It was about 2 weeks later that I realised what a blunder that had been for 2 reasons.
The first was that the distance had been so less that no auto rickshaws were willing to travel that short distance and yet it had also been long enough that walking was not an option either. A car came much later into my life, but until then, I was still dependent on the public transport. My first experience in the city was the endless wait for a rickshaw. There were days when I was also forced to do a 40 minute walk each way! The irony was that my colleagues who stayed ‘far’ from the office, sometimes took lesser to get to work and back!
Over the years and having moved homes several times in the city, I have come to realise that each location has a culture of its own. Some cultures are just single people friendly while some are not. My first location in Mumbai was a residential area, but it offered very limited set of activities for people living on their own. Parks, coffee shops and restaurants were all family spaces, infested with children and families, making me feel extremely out of place there. Everywhere I turned there were families. In addition, there was a visible lack of activities one could engage in, except joining a gymnasium. Any activity or hobby class, such as dancing or joining reading clubs, that I was keen on signing up for, during weekdays and post working hours, required me to travel at least 1 hour, each way!
You can see why the above 2 reasons completely defeated the purpose of staying close to workplace! The valuable lesson I learnt was that researching the city is a good idea- scouting the various locations, learning about the culture of each location, the travel facilities available, learning about the hang-outs in that location would have made me take informed decisions rather than feel trapped.
Had I not determined to do something about it, my experience of Mumbai would have been quite dismal! I could have easily taken the route of returning home, but I decided to fight it out. Once I realised that it was not working out for me, I decided to move to a more lively location and take on the daily commute rather than feel trapped in a place I did not like.
2) Building a strong network and a support system: If one decides to stay on their own in a city, it is extremely important to have a strong support system of people around you. It is important to have a few friends whom you can reach out to in terms of emergency. Not having friends can also become emotionally draining and taxing. Feelings of hopelessness and despair will soon creep in. While some people may find friends in their working environment itself, sometimes, one is also required to make efforts to build a network. In my case, my colleagues were just that, colleagues. While they were great people at work, I could not see myself hanging out with any of them. I was also keen to have a broader social life.
One of the ways that worked really well for me was that I had my friends connect me to their friends and acquaintances in the city. I proactively called up these friends of friends and invited them to join me for dinner, lunch or coffee. In case we got along well, I would invite them to join me in watching a movie or a play. Of course, with time, these people started to include me in their plans and I was soon back to having an active social life! It was only then that I learnt that just taking the initiative of calling up and going out with strangers can have such a positive impact on one’s personality!
3) Use your ‘Me’ time productively: Having ‘Me’ time is a luxury for most working professionals. We, single people, however, are in the danger of having too much ‘me’ time. In case you are an introvert and really do prefer to have a lot of time to yourself, this may not apply to you. I, however, am what is called an ambivert person, who likes her own space as well as active socialising in a fair balance. I therefore, had to work on creating that balance. This is something I continue to do till date, in fact. I am constantly looking to join interesting meet-up groups that allow me to pursue my hobbies as well. There are all sorts of clubs out there- readers groups, writers groups, runners club, volunteer groups and so many others. Pick one that would be of interest to you and sign-up for it. You will find that it will not only help you learn a new skill or knowledge but also offer you a platform to meet more people and expand your network.
Above all, it is important that a single person learn to enjoy his / her own company! While you are building a network, searching for the right place to live etc. the one thing that will take you through all this is how much you enjoy your own company!
Singlehood is an opportunity for you to self-reflect and learn more about yourself. It is an opportunity for you to grow and enjoy your life on your terms and on your time. While you wait for someone to walk into your life and change it for you, keenly live up what you have today.
It is an exhilarating experience when you have only yourself to rely on and you do!
Author: Deepa Agarwal