Being alone

Over the past month, I’ve had three or four different conversations about the problems of being alone, in one context or another.

Which got me to thinking about something I’ve gone around with before, the whole question of whether being alone is an inherently bad thing. As a society we certainly seem to assume it is.

I fully believe in the value of community, believe we don’t form close communities often enough, value my friends and their company and hope I make clear how much I appreciate the people in my life. When I began freelancing, I had to work at finding ways around the inherent isolation of being home alone all day, which really was something I had trouble dealing with, at first (somewhat to my surprise). And of course, as someone in a happily committed relationship, I’m hardly a poster child for the virtues of being alone.

And yet, I’ve never considered being alone a bad thing. If anything, I consider the fact that there’s someone I enjoy living with more than I enjoy living alone quite wondrous, something I was never expecting. I’m perfectly comfortable going most places alone if no one wants to come with me (why would I ask anyone do anything they didn’t enjoy just to keep me company?). I had a delightful time tooling around Iceland on my own for a week. I understand why people sometimes hike alone in spite of all the common-sense reasons not to, because I understand the appeal of doing so.

Being alone means having space to think; space to regain balance and a sense of one’s true self.

I suspect ultimately this is a matter of different comfort levels: everyone has a comfortable balance of alone time and people time, and has to find it and then find a way to achieve it. But I think there’s also a arger cultural assumption that any time alone is inherently bad, and that assumption seems slightly harmful.

I’ve seen people make bad life decisions simply because of the fear of being alone. When faced with a choice between a bad–or even a mediocre–relationship or being alone, the bad relationship has more appeal the more frightening an option being alone is.

Why do we assume, as a society, that being alone is automatically problematic? And why do we set up the expectation that various things ought not be done alone? (I’ve certainly felt the social awkwardness around this one–being seen as being alone can be uncomfortable in certain settings, even if one is not opposed to being alone otherwise.)

I enjoy being around people. I even crave social contact at times. I’m grateful for and care for those who are a part of my life. But I know that I’d nonetheless go mad if social contact was all there was, if I didn’t regularly get a large dose of alone time, as well.

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