As much as I would like to pretend that I am a Romantic-era poet, lingering in vast fields and haunting pastoral landscapes, I have always been more comfortable in the city. Whether it’s the steady hum of car engines or the distant chatter of people on their daily commute, I find that being in the city and breathing in polluted air is more comforting than walking through acres of silent and mysterious grasslands.
As someone who is drawn to places where everything feels familiar, I know that this attraction to densely populated spaces filled with strangers is an anomaly. Spurred by a coming-of-age arc that featured several revelations, I could only appreciate my solitude after shedding the need to compare myself to social butterflies and embracing the reassuring presence of busy crosswalks and fluorescent lights.
After spending a lot of time with myself, I have come to realize that Thoreau wasn’t lying about the healing power of solitude—especially for a university student in an urban jungle. While I love what I study, it can be mentally draining to be in class for an entire day and interact with the sheer complexity of comments about the novel that we’re reading that week. Juggling the demands of maintaining social connections with the constant hustle of university life can make even the simplest of interactions harder.
I happened upon the key to gaining some of that lost energy back when I took the longer route home from an evening class and arrived with a sense of renewed ease. As I struck a balance between spending time with people and recharging through routines such as walking home, it became obvious that participating in a social gathering did not have to ruin my day. Decorated by the fast-paced background of the city and its rushed inhabitants, returning to myself became a subtle exercise in slowing down and appreciating fleeting relationships like that between me and the person rushing past me on the sidewalk.
I learned to welcome the thrill of being part of a crowd without forcing myself to break the wall of anonymity that thrives in the city. The sheer amount of buildings surrounding and separating me from other city dwellers should feel lonely, but instead, I feel like my body would stop its clockwork motions if it were forced into a space where I knew the names of the people who lived above me. Armed with a newfound realization about redefining alone time, I found myself going to markets, cinemas, and malls alone, sinking into namelessness, and becoming another figure in the crowd. More importantly, though, I learned not to feel guilty about my preference for being a people-watching observer and accept that—contrary to the advice of a dozen high school teachers—I do not always have to push myself outside of my comfort zone to gain a valuable experience.
I admit that this preference for quietness does not always work to my benefit. Sometimes, being alone with my thoughts can lead to all-consuming existentialist spirals rather than pleasant silences. In an effort to counter the occasional breakdown, I search for my favourite distraction, like a song played on repeat or a dance just for the sake of movement, as a source of companionship rather than a way to waste time. As much as I support the occasional desire to spend time alone as an antidote for exhaustion, I would argue that indulging in the company of some healthy escapism goes a long way. Becoming a person who doesn’t dread the idea of navigating a vast city by themselves isn’t easy. Eventually, basking in small moments of silence while walking home from the last class of the day adds up to fulfill that goal, and more.