By: Lily Carlson
How an old dude in a pub taught me about self-love
Yup, there it is folks. My 9 weeks abroad culminated to a night in the oldest pub in Dublin, alone, drinking a Guinness only to be enlightened by a 65-year-old white man awaiting his drink order. Don’t get too excited. This was not some spiritually enlightened guru sent from the yoga gods as the messiah of self-love. To be honest, he was quite literally the opposite. I think it’s time for some context. Here’s the scene: I’m sitting alone at the Brazen Head (the oldest pub in Dublin), sipping on my second drink of the night, starting to feel buzzed. Of course, the airy sensations of alcohol coursing through my veins was a feeling kept only to myself, as everyone else around me was engaged in conversation—friends, couples, families…and then me. Tipsy and alone. I sat there sipping my beer, silently observing, eyes darting from person to person. Thoughts pulsing from memory to memory. I was starting to grow comfortable in this place of silence, despite my blatant divergence from the social norms that informed behavior in the 820-year-old dark, musty room.
My contemplative, tipsy haze was jarringly snapped back to reality as the bellowing voice of the old man rung through my ear.
“Getting over a boyfriend?” The white-haired, slightly rotund man uttered, in a really odd attempt at starting conversation.
“What?” I responded quickly. The clamor of surrounding conversation had muffled his words and for a moment, I was sure he was a creepy daddy asking me if I had a boyfriend. Yuck.
“Are you getting over a boy?” He repeated, as he gestured at my three-quarters empty mug and my apparent solitude.
I laughed. At first in relief that he was not the aforementioned daddy in pursuit of a sugar baby, but also in discomfort at the sheer honesty of his question.
“No, I’m getting over a city.”
Ok, EW. I literally hate that I blurted out the most cliché, Emma-Roberts-in-Aquamarine-level-immature response. But talking about any sort of past romance was perhaps the last thing I wanted to do.
Apparently confused by my odd and socially awkward response, this old man proceeded to inquire more. I told him that I had just spent two months in Barcelona and I was really sad to leave. He then laughed, presumably at my dramatic reply, and continued to tell me about his recent trip to Croatia. Thankfully, the bar tender brought over the last pints of his order before he could get into any more detail about his last three weeks spent gallivanting through the eastern European country. As he parted, he wished me luck, with the same heir of pity that characterized his initial inquiry.
At first, I didn’t think much of the interaction. But as the minutes passed by and I slipped back into my tipsy contemplation, I was struck.
Why was my solitude mistaken for sadness?
And why couldn’t I be alone in a bar, having a drink because I enjoy spending time with myself? Why was my aloneness immediately attributed to heartbreak and not strength?
Why was I seen as fragile, when I was epitomizing independence?
I immediately regretted my response. I wished I hadn’t shied away in the face of his patronizing remark and instead met it with the sassy and witty response it deserved.
The irony was that I had, in fact, spent the last year trying to get over an ex. But that was not why I was at the bar. I wasn’t there to sit and drink away my sorrows, my aches, my confusion about it all.
I was sitting at that bar, drinking my beer because I had faced all that shit. In some ways, I was there to celebrate myself. I was there because instead of numbing the pain of heartbreak with pints of poison, I had chosen to face all of it. I had agonized over the feelings of inadequacy, of never feeling enough for anyone. I faced the fear of forever being alone by forcing myself into nine weeks of not knowing anyone. I cried when I needed to cry, allowing each tear to be a cathartic manifestation of letting go. And through it all, I managed to fall in love with the life where I only had myself. Where my shortcomings turned into opportunities for growth and my strengths blossomed into moments of self-made bliss. I finally got to the place where my perfectionist expectations of myself were softened to good enough—that I didn’t need to be perfectly over this guy or my dysfunctional family or some of the haunting memories from when I was younger. Where I was was more than good enough, it was pretty damn good.
So, in my 9th week of this adventure, I was damn well strong and independent enough to go to the pub alone. I was confident enough in who I had become that I didn’t need anyone else there to accompany me. Further, I was actually happy to just be there alone and observe.
I think our culture has always hinged on the idea that women need someone else to make them happy. And that our default is to not be alone…that if we are alone, it’s not by choice, but because something went wrong. I spent my entire life until this point somewhat believing that. If I wasn’t in a relationship (which has been like 98.9% of my life), then I needed my friends. I had succumbed to the false perception that I need other people to make me happy.
I just needed to learn to love myself a little more first.
So, thank you to that presumptuous old man. Thank you for your naively honest question that demanded a response this visceral. I am truly and genuinely grateful for you.
You can find more of Lily at lilyrcarlson on Instagram.