I’ve been living in Cape Town for almost nine months. I love your mountain and your beaches. I enjoy how you knock-off work early, and that you don’t scream at each other during rush hour traffic. I like your graffiti-sprayed trains, and your white-uniformed navy.
However, it has been a huge challenge to connect with people. And by ‘connect’ I don’t just mean you randomly adding me on Facebook. I mean real connections: the proper, face-to-face, long-lasting kind. Capetonians, you do have a reputation for being ‘cliquey’, and I thought I had come prepared. Now I know that I was woefully underprepared. Woefully. Like when you don’t bother to study for a difficult exam, even though you saw the model answers floating around somewhere.
For a while, I thought it would be reassuring to talk to other foreigners: Germans. Durbanites. Fellow Jo’burgers. But it wasn’t.
Me: “So how long did it take you to settle in here?”
Ex-Jo’burger: “Well, to be honest, it’s only recently started to feel like ‘home’. It’s been tough, hey. I got Hepatitis when I first arrived. My only friend was a hippy. We’d meet once a week, and I’d cry into my tea. For a year.”
Me: “Err…How long have you been here?”
Ex-Jo’burger: “Oh, four years.”
For the past nine months, my social circle has consisted of a German couple, my complex’s maintenance guy, my cousin, her husband, and their dog. I knew I had to change this, but wasn’t sure how. So I decided to dip my toes into the sludgy waters of online dating. It seemed like the next logical step, but you know what they say about hindsight? Something about it kicking you in the pants. Repeatedly.
I went in saying to myself, “I just want to meet other lesbians”, but my heart knew I was only fooling myself. I had been single for a year, and I really wanted – no, needed – to connect with someone. I met an amazing girl. We did, indeed, connect immediately and intensely. We had one of those whirlwind affairs. You know, the kind where there are power-surges of electricity channeling through your being, and it just feels so right. The kind where she tells you she’s just bought Wheetbix for future stay overs...but then…things suddenly change, and you’re on your own again.
I’ve since had a big reassess. I really do need to put myself out there more, even if I’m met with a brick wall, or a bruised heart. I need to eliminate my fear of rejection, and to be more confident. I’ve also realised that, although I’m looking to connect, it doesn’t necessarily have to mean sexually. I live alone and I’m an introvert, so it’s easy to simply retreat and ‘hermitise’. I’m not sure if that’s a word, but I recently met someone who used it. She also called me a ‘Johannesburgian’. She told me that it’s incredibly hard for her to connect with people too – and she’s from Cape Town. She’s friendly, interesting, and intelligent. So why is it so difficult, even for Capetonians themselves? We came to the conclusion that it’s a combination of two things: flakiness, and age.
I know this may not be a truism for everyone, but Capetonians just don’t like to step out of their comfort zone. Even visiting someone who lives 15 minutes away is pushing it. They tend to stick with who they know, and not branch out. As for our age, we’re both 29. That awkward age when most of your (gay and straight) friends are getting married – or, at the very least – are settled deeply into domestic bliss. When you’re too old for the scene, but too young for the over-30’s crowd. When you’d rather stay in on a Saturday night than venture out, while drinking beer and watching documentaries about the fall of Communism.
Oh, wait. Maybe that last one is just me.
We also spoke about ‘tribes’: how everyone has a natural desire to belong to their own group, however big or small. For her, she really wants a Radical Feminist Tribe. For me, a standard Like-Minded People Tribe would be great.
I’m also beginning to re-appreciate the difference between being alone, and being lonely. I’m an only child, so I know how to keep myself occupied, and I’m generally ok with my own company. I recently did a Google-search on the benefits of living alone. Here are some comments from a You Tube video, entitled Things that seem normal when you live alone.
“I actually chop vegetables with my teeth the way she does in this video LOL”
“I have roommates now. I miss being naked and leaving the bathroom door open. But I have seen a decrease in the amount of conversations between me, myself, and I. So…that’s good”
“Emotions pass like summer storms. Soooo true!”
“I also defrost chicken in the shower. I thought I was the only one who did that LMAO”
“I talk to myself in a Russian accent”
“The other half of my bed is a laundry pile with magazines haha”
In his recent book entitled Loneliness, John T. Cacioppo states that the quality of your social interactions – and not the quantity – is what it’s all about. I totally agree with him. I don’t want hundreds of Twitter followers or random Facebook friends. I just want a close, tight little ‘tribe’. I know I’ll find it, eventually. But for the time being, I’ll just enjoy your mountain, and my own, like-minded company.
I may have just said that last line out loud. To myself. In a Russian accent.