Wallowing in Kesepian, Navigating the Biasa of It All

“Miss tidak takut tinggal sendiri?” I get this question all the time from my neighbors, my students, the teachers at my school.  Time and time again, I respond to their worry by telling them that I am not afraid of living alone, that, in America, a woman living alone is biasa (normal).  It’s okay.  I’m not afraid of ghosts in my house, or of being robbed, or of cockroach invasion[1].  A big house all to myself?  Bring it on.  I’m not afraid.

What I don’t tell them is that, in all honesty, I am afraid.  Not of sendiri, but kesepian, loneliness.

I’m generally a pretty outgoing person.  I like people.  I smile a lot, and I’m practically a bobble-head when it comes to nodding and saying hello.  At this point, I know exactly where I need to look on my walk to and from school to wave to the various Ibu and Bapak who might be around, and it’s not uncommon for me to chat with the neighbors as we water our plants or wash our various vehicles.

But that’s typically about as far as it goes.  I am friendly with plenty of people here, but I’m not sure yet that I actually have any friends. 

I certainly have a few budding friendships: with people from my neighborhood, people from my school, people I’ve met around the city.  They’re fabulous people, and I’m excited to get to know them better throughout the year.

But they’re not that kind of friends yet.  The kind I update about all the funny things that happen throughout the day.  The kind of friend I go to when I’m frustrated with how my lesson went that day.  With the people I’ve met here, we’re just not there yet.

Sometimes, that makes things hard.  This past weekend, I should have had a weekend packed full of various events.  Then, for one reason or another, they all got canceled, all last minute.  This ended up leaving me with a lot of time to myself, as I waited to be picked up for various activities that simply never ended up happening.

And as I sat in my house, trying to fill the wait time that just kept getting longer and longer, I found myself feeling just so darn sendiran (lonely).

There are days when I handle the challenges of the grant with grace.  And there are days when I don’t.

I ended up sending long messages to friends all over the globe detailing just how lonely I was: friends from home, friends from the ETA cohort last year, and friends from Malang (my site last year).  I spent a good portion of my day crying, and just generally feeling miserable and sorry for myself.  Why can’t I make friends?  I have all these other friends I’m reaching out to.  Why don’t I have friends like that here?

My friends were everything I needed them to be, and in the end I was in a much better place, able to actually see my situation for what it is.

Those friendships I relied on in my loneliness did not become what they are now over the course of two months.  They took time (sometimes years) and energy to build, and they take time and energy to maintain.  And that is what makes them so beautiful.

The friendships I have begun here will probably develop into the same kind of friendships[2], and next year when I find myself frustrated and lonely as I begin graduate school, they will probably be amongst those I reach out to.  But they need time.

I was chatting with a fellow ETA over Facebook chat recently, and he admitted that there were times when he felt lonely, but that he was sure that was “just part of the process.”  And he is right.  I certainly had periods of loneliness during the first parts of my grant last year, but by the end of my grant I was distraught at having to leave so many people about whom I cared so much, the same people whom I now reach out to when I am lonely.  This loneliness is all a part of the process, a difficult, wonderful process I am so lucky to be in the middle of.

That doesn’t make it any less difficult, in the moment.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be days when I give in to the kesepian, and I find myself defeated and crying to the stray cat who is the only other occupant of my big, empty house.

And that is biasa.  It’s okay.

I just need to remember that.

[1] Okay, if I’m completely honest, I might be afraid of that last one.  Just a little bit.

[2] In fact, I will probably be able to develop more of such friendships this year, now that I have a better grasp on the language and I am able to develop relationships with people only in Indonesian.  Without a language barrier, so many more opportunities to befriend people have presented themselves to me. It’s things like this I forget when I am wallowing in loneliness.