“You don’t own me, I’m not one of your many toys… You don’t own me, don’t say I can’t go with other boys…”
I’m singing along with Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton, to one of my favourite songs from a true 90’s classic (First Wives Club, anyone?)
“DUH NUH NUH NUH NUH NUH NUHHHHH… AND DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO, DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO SAY… AND PLEASE, WHEN I GO OUT WITH YOU – DON’T PUT ME ON DISPLAY!”
I’m belting it out at the top of my lungs now, complete with shimmies, twirls, and jazz hands (of course). My impromptu dance recital is taking place at 4am in the living room at the Rock Hostel in Buenos Aires. The night had started with a packed house, but now in the early hours there were only 4 of us left, taking turns playing songs from our respective countries on Youtube. Watching me across the room are Antoine from France, and Olaf and Nick from Holland. I had just witnessed their epic rapping skills, and when they put on another Dutch classic I couldn’t help but think, Why do I know this song!? Nick explained it was a Dutch version of a famous American song, You Don’t Own Me.
Now, sometimes things are just coincidence – but I’m a big believer that things tend to happen for a reason. What no one else in that room could know is how much I needed to hear that song, and its lyrics, in that moment. Fueled by a little too much Fernet, I danced away while singing terribly, and for the first time in over a week I knew I would be okay; that I’d be able to put all the broken pieces of myself back together again.
You don’t own me, don’t try to change me in any way
You don’t own me, don’t tie me down ’cause I’d never stay
When I arrived at the Rock Hostel, I may have looked normal on the outside – but I was a complete mess on the inside. Hours earlier on my flight from Lima to Buenos Aires I was that girl – you know – the one sitting in her seat crying, having some kind of emotional breakdown in public. The one everyone is slightly embarrassed for, Jees, pull it together.
Yeah, that was me.
My 5 and-a-half year long relationship had ended two days earlier, and after walking around in a daze of shock for the rest of my time in Lima, my emotions decided to hit me full force while I was trapped on an airplane. Isn’t that always the way? By the time I landed in BA I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. For three days, I slept 14 hours a day, and only left my bed to eat and shower. I didn’t speak to anyone except Christian and Sabrina who were in my dorm, and anytime they invited me out I said no, rolled over, and slept some more.
So just let me be myself, that’s all I ask of you
Eventually I came out of my hibernation, rubbed my eyes, and actually left my room. I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror. You, Sunny, are single. You’re single. In my mind I felt like I was at a 12-step meeting, like I was admitting some shameful secret. You’re 27, you’re single, you’re in Buenos Aires. Just focus on you.
When something that was a large part of your identity is suddenly gone, you have to remind yourself of who you are. Over the next few days exploring the city, meeting new people, I kept catching myself off guard mentally tallying my personality traits as if I’d never noticed them before. I’m loud. Hey, I’m funny! I’m optimistic – all the time, about everything. I laugh – a lot. People seem to like me – I’m likable. That was a pretty ballsy thing to say! Am I flirting? Holy shit, I’m flirting. I remember how to flirt! Go me!
Slowly, I started to feel like myself again, and I remembered that a) I’m still young b) I can still have fun and c) I should have as much of it as possible. For the next few days I was the Goldilocks of blowing off steam; first night I drank too much, the second night I didn’t drink enough, but by the third night – I got it just right.
I’m young and I love to be young
I’m free and I love to be free
So there I was in the living room, feeling completely free, unashamedly dancing like an idiot, singing off key in front three strangers who did nothing but completely support my weird exuberance. I was so comfortable being a completely unfiltered version of myself that I knew I would be okay.
My confidence was coming back but there was still one hurdle left to jump.
“I mean relationships are so easy. I should just get back into one,” said the Brit nonchalantly, as 5 of us stood on the hostel balcony overlooking Plaza del Congreso.
“You think relationships are easier than being single?” I ask incredulously.
“Yeah, relationships are soooo easy.”
“Sorry, how old are you? What’s your longest relationship?”
“24, and like, a year and a half.”
“Yeah, I just got out of a 5 year long relationship, and we lived together for 3 years. So trust me – relationships are not easier.”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I went silent. The conversation continued along, as everyone else stepped in with their own opinions, but I was having an internal monologue. Oh my god, I said it. I said it out loud. It was real now.
It’s an incredible part of travelling that when something life altering happens – and your best friends are thousands of kilometres away – the people around you can become exactly what you need to help put you back together. From quiet confessional conversations, to laughing and watching stupid videos, to dancing away in drum circles, everyone at that hostel helped me just by being there, whether they realize it or not.
I was in Buenos Aires for 11 days. If you use a tourist checklist, it would seem like I didn’t see much in that time. But I learned to see myself in a completely new way.
To live my life the way that I want
To say and do whatever I please