Happy, Alone

“Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your own presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement.”  – Alice Koller, American Writer.

I didn’t always like being alone. Immigrating to America at the age of six, I was encouraged by my mother to quickly make friends.

Since then, it’s been ingrained in my head that being social is a good thing. The more friends you have, the more popular you are, the happier you’ll be. I was fortunate to have a best friend or buddy of some sort growing up, even to this day. For that I’m thankful.

But inevitably, there are times when we have to be alone.

A childhood memory of fear

It was rainy and dark one day after school. I lived on a cul-de-sac, and coming home to an empty house scared the shit out of me. Despite my imagination that turns normal situations into horror movie beginnings, the main fear was being alone. Where the hell was my family? How long do I have to be alone in this empty house? Who’s…going to make me a sandwich?!

Beyond my childish fears, the fear of loneliness takes on different shapes growing up. It’s sometimes painfully obvious, if you just look around.

Let’s say you’re driving from out of town and arrive at a venue before your friends.

You get a last minute text saying they’re all going to be an hour late, please grab a spot in line for them? There’s hesitation getting out of your car. You get in line, and immediately feel all eyes on you. “Why’s this guy alone? Where are his friends? Is he a creep?” Questions we abuse ourselves with. So what do we do? Pull out our phones and look busy.

The stark contrast of being alone in a crowd creates immediate discomfort for most people. But take away that crowd and most of the discomfort goes away. No one is there to notice or judge that you’re alone. Much of our fear of being alone comes from the fear of being seen alone.

This is because humans are naturally social beings. Historically, the odd man out was at a huge disadvantage. Those without social standing became outcasts. Being alone was a punishment and that came with real economic and health consequences. People used to die because of this.

Luckily, there’s a difference between being alone and being ostracized. When there’s social pressure forcing you to be alone, that is much worse than being alone of your own accord. But why would anyone choose to be alone?

There are good reasons. You may need time to figure things out. You may be mourning.  You might be going through a breakup. Or just need some rest.

Despite those reasons, I think we all too often think of alone time as indicative of difficult times. What if we cherished it? What if we can be happy, alone?

Yes. It reminds me of moving into my own place after graduating college. The comfort of college cohorts nearby is gone. Yet having my own space allowed my natural eccentricities to come out. Some quirks returned, while others were created.

Walking around half naked eating peanut butter. Playing experimental music. Singing. Talking to myself. Filming myself pour wine over carpet protection from my now-defunct company. It’s interesting how self expression explodes when one is alone, with no heed to the judgment of others.

Don’t mistake solitude for loneliness

Loneliness is feeling misunderstood. Or when she doesn’t call you back. Or that nobody cares. These are all things we experience, and we persevere through them.

Solitude is a choice. If you just want to chill on a Friday night, then own it. Don’t let your impression of what should be happening on a Friday night make you feel lonely all of a sudden.

The best way to enjoy solitude is to forget about other people for a second. The funny thing is that everyone always thinks everybody else is having more fun. Really, it’s all in your head. Enjoy yourself.

I’m not an advocate of being a hikikomori and having no social life. No, in fact it’s the opposite. I felt that my alone time helped me be more natural and authentic in social settings, because I’m not (as) ashamed of being who I am.

Learning to enjoy your own company will ultimately increase your capacity to be around others. It’s the best way to ensure that your genuine self, little by little, shines through. I guarantee it.

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