A conversation with an especially curious fellow NTU Mandarin learner this past week made me reflect on one of my lifestyle choices that comprises mostly of solo adventures. What do I do in my spare time? Have I found an internship yet? What am I working on outside of classes? Have I joined any student clubs? Frankly put, she could sense that I choose a life of relative solitude, compared to other, more extroverted folks who seem to be constantly making and meeting new friends. Another classmate went so far as to add something about how she spends her time making friends, not-so-subtly implying that I do not and therefore have none. Keep in mind we were attempting to use only Mandarin, so perhaps the bluntness of such comments and questions actually would have been worse and more obvious in English.
And to an extent, it’s all true. To them, I am a private, even enigmatic person. We met early in the semester, along with other students who belong to the same program but generally take different classes. Although I initially thought I would thoroughly enjoy hanging out with this group of ambitious, like-minded friends, I soon realized that perhaps we were not so similar after all; that my introverted self, who happens to be unavailable on weekends due to outings with the partner, not only rarely contributes to our LINE group chat, but also is hardly seen lingering on campus after classes.
Out of politeness, they told me that this way of spending my time, holed up in cafés or otherwise off exploring the streets of Taipei, is something they “admire,” wishing themselves that they could cherish some more alone time.
Is that what it is? Valuing alone time? Or is it the fear of revealing the fact that I had cancer? I often wonder if this cautious, standoffish aura that I apparently emit is due to the fact that I have gone through such a tough period earlier this year and feel that if I were to “get close” to anyone here, it would involve telling them about it, something I so far have managed to avoid.
Or is that just yet another excuse to justify my lifestyle choice? Because if I am being honest, each period of my life started and ended either without having made or without having maintained strong relationships, whether everyday platonic ones or the messier romantic ones. Whether in high school, college, or China, in terms of human connections, every chapter has started and stopped rather abruptly. Forever floating in impermanence, adapting to each new environment but choosing to do so in my own way, I find myself knowing no other way to spend my time.
This is partly why I find it a miracle that I met Hsuan and that we get along together so well, despite our differences. (I am sure my parents think the same way). Sure, my inability to be social is made particularly more apparent and uncomfortable with his circle of friends and family, but in the end, I honestly can’t imagine going through life, especially over this past year, without him. That much is certain.
So here’s the thing: given how the chapters in my life have consistently failed in keeping serious human connections, I fear how my lifestyle choice to live contently alone will affect our relationship. I think it’s because I let my insecurities take over and some inability to accept flaws in both myself and others dictate such connections. Of course, it tends to be easier to live with myself, literally.
But as I have told myself repeatedly, I am trying to improve so that not all chapters end by having people fall off a cliff, never to be bothered again.
As we age, such relationships will only get more difficult to make and maintain, since life just gets in the way. I guess it only makes the relationships we do keep that much more important.
Returning to what I do in my spare time: As much as we want to be changing the world and doing Big Things, can we just be content with mediocrity? I mean, is being on a year-long fellowship to study Mandarin between studying for a Master’s degree not enough? Do I also need to be curing cancer in my spare time? Like, damn, I didn’t realize how sensitive I was to such a question until poked and prodded about my lifestyle choices. Sorry, under-the-table English teaching jobs aren’t my cup of tea, but an actual cup of tea sounds pretty nice. As for making new friends, I am content with occasionally chatting with my classmates and language partner. As important as human connections are, being able to think that I am enough is equally so.
So yes, I may come off as a private person, perhaps not doing “enough” for others, but living in a different country, studying its language, and loving a man who accepts me and my flaws, are more than enough for me.
I am enough. We are enough.