I have been traveling solo since I was 25.
Like many others, I felt a deep longing to put my life’s essentials into a backpack and venture out into the unknown, with a trembling heart and a troubled, clouded mind.
I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I needed to be as far away as possible from the very things that broke me: an oppressive environment I didn’t belong to, a troubled family infested with secrets, a passionless job, and unfulfilling romance stories that were like a mirage in the middle of the Sahara Desert—ever fleeting the harder I chased them.
Through travelling alone, I fell in love with the idea of the warrior woman who was strong, independent, indestructible, and was able to give endlessly without needing anyone to fill her own cup.
She was my alter ego.
A lone wolf is what I believed I was: a fierce warrior, a free-spirited dervish, an everlasting wanderer, a truth seeker, and an adventure junkie—you name it!
I wholeheartedly embraced the idea that traveling alone is what I was destined to do for the rest my life, always seeking, but never fully arriving nor belonging to a destination or a person.
I was the embodiment of the strong, independent women whom we constantly admire in our films and read about in our modern feminist literature. Perhaps, most of us secretly wished to be like her—a true warrior goddess.
But as I continue to unravel the layers of my own trauma, and gradually leave the confines of my dark cocoon, I grow certain of one truth: keeping up with the image of the strong independent woman is exhausting as f*ck.
In my own attempt to find the meaning of my life as a person and as a woman, I may have gone too far in forcing myself to love my own company, whilst ignoring our natural needs as humans to be loved, supported, and uplifted by the people in our lives. In other words, I may have rid certain friends, family members, and even lovers of the responsibility of doing their part in helping me understand myself better.
Back then, I believed I was doing them a favour by saving them all the drama, headache, and heartache that are a natural unfolding of any healthy relationship as it continues to grow. But without conflicts, how can we ever learn how to be vulnerable, open, validated, and receptive before one another?
I realize now that my attempt to embody the warrior woman’s spirit was a subconscious mask to shield what psychology refers to as the avoidant personality; beneath all the smiles, train tickets, adventures, and music festivals was a deep sadness that longed to be recognized, touched, healed, and transformed.
In trauma literature, it is said that trauma is a relational disorder. In others words, we break in relationships and we heal in relationships—not alone.
While the introspection that unfolds as a result of being alone in meditation or by travelling solo is crucial to touching our own bottomless wounds, being loved, held, and nurtured by a safe person can liberate us from the shackles of our anxiety, fears, and loneliness. There is a special kind of magic that happens when we allow people into the deep pits of our secrets, infested with shame, judgment, and depression; when we give our safe people permission to listen to our pain, without judging ourselves for being humans who experience normal human emotions.
Safe relationships are a transformative healing power.
It is as the great poet Maya Angelou once said: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
As women, we are born with an enormous capacity to give, nurture, heal, hold, and transform, whether as daughters, sisters, lovers, mothers, housewives, businesswomen, political leaders, or whatever role we choose to rightfully pursue in our world.
So, when we feel stuck in our own wounds, it can be easy to doubt our own role as women to deliver what is expected of us without needing to be nurtured in return. What’s worse, we can easily down spiral into shame when we compare ourselves to the idealistic image of the strong independent woman who is all encompassing, and is able to hold space for the gazillion things in her life, without breaking down or ever needing support from anyone.
But, perhaps, the strong independent woman who never breaks is a mirage. Perhaps, she is yet another product of our media and fast consumerist culture that sells us what, how, and who we should be—without much regard to the unique individual stories of each of our own lives.
And, don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed all of the trips I have embarked on, from the monsoon seasons of southern India to the magical scenic train of Sri Lanka. Part of me will always look up to the image of the strong independent woman as my inspiration to grow, heal, and give. Perhaps, this explains my fascination with women who embody the role of an elder, wiser sister or mother—the way it was revered in ancient indigenous cultures.
I realized that the strong independent woman is not a black-or-white construct as I had initially thought; it is a concept that keeps revisiting and redefining itself as we continue to grow as humans, and as women, in this ever-changing world.
As our roles as women continue to get complicated, we must reinvent what it means to be a woman based on a concept that is inclusive to the unique history, circumstances, and ideas that women embody, instead of one that is defined by a consumerist culture that places all women into a single-fitted box.
In other words, we need to start normalizing the idea that, as women, we can be both strong independents and emotional; that we can be fierce business leaders or powerful politicians and break down and cry; that we can enjoy going on our solo trips and still crave intimacy with another human being.
We need to accept that human emotions mostly exist in contrast to one another, and that doesn’t make us less than the image we hold ourselves to be.
We can be both happy being alone on Valentine’s Day and still wish someone to remember us with a cheesy romantic card and a delicious box of chocolate.
So, to the strong independent woman who is spending Valentine’s Day alone, is craving intimacy, and is questioning her own self-fulfillment, you are not alone. We see you.
Happy Valentine’s Day!