Photos and essay by Jessica Porter
It was a 5 o’clock on a Sunday, and I was sitting criss-cross applesauce on the linoleum kitchen floor of a completely empty apartment. In Washington, D.C.
My spring semester had been a carousel of events, each deadline and dead end spinning closer and then becoming distantly blurred. When the music faded and the lights flickered, it was early May and I was in the nation’s capital, completely alone.
Sitting on that cold floor, I was transported back to when I was 17-years-old, driving away from the airport with my father in the passenger seat. I could feel the air flow from my window and brush my face. I could see the double doors at the terminal close my mother in and take her from me.
My mom never went easily. Guilt nagged at her, causing her to become quiet and impatient in the days before she left. But, she knew that work was calling, and so she went.
I saw this in my mother growing up, and I see it in myself today. It seems harder for women to go out alone into the world to pursue our career goals. It is harder for us to justify being alone.
Maybe this is based on the historical premise of women being homemakers — I know my mother carried insurmountable guilt for leaving my brother and I three states away. Or maybe it is because of our desire for deep connections with those who surround us — how I felt straying from my group of friends at college.
Either way, it leaves working women to feel like we are constantly doing something wrong.
On my morning Metro rides or weekend walks through the zoo, questions rushed through my head: Was I doing a disservice to my loved ones by being far away? (I was only four hours away from most of them.) Was I putting too much financial pressure on my family? (I was not — I had made sure of it through scholarship applications.)
Was I making the wrong choice being in D.C.? (No.)
I was the first intern selected for my representative’s office, in one the most competitive applicant pools in the state. Not to mention, I had been working my entire college career (and childhood, if you count making political memes in Microsoft Paint as practice for political communication) for this moment.
It would have been ridiculous to turn this opportunity down.
What I came to realize over the summer is that, sometimes, being independent is ubiquitous with being alone. And once you become comfortable with being alone, the guilt fades away.
That is not to say that knowing that I was in the right place doing the right things made it easier. I was still lonely.
So lonely that some nights I would feel so bad for myself that I would lay on the couch in my apartment eating boxed mac and cheese. I missed my friends so much that I would cry over happy episodes of “New Girl.” I hated closing my laptop after Skyping my parents.
And the whole time I was in our nation’s capitol — a place that presented endless numbers of activities.
There were things that I did to make myself feel less lonely. I talked a lot to my support systems, sent cheesy postcards and packages to my friends, and tried to take care of myself. I got my nails done a lot while I was in D.C., which gave me time to reflect and relax.
At the end of the day, I cannot tell you that being lonely is ever going to be fun. But it gets easier over time.
Jessica Porter poses with her family on the steps of the Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, D.C.
Jessica Porter is a senior at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill. Driven Media is excited to have her as the first contributor in the Fall 2016 self-acceptance essay series. To view more of her work, visit her website at www.jessicacporter.com.