Samara O'Shea

The Liberation of Being Alone

A few weeks ago I was in New York City—out and about with a group of girlfriends. My friend Emma asked me, “How’s Philly?” I responded, “It’s fine.” She then said, “Don’t you get lonely? I would get lonely.”

I’m not sure if something made her associate Philadelphia specifically with loneliness or if she equated being away from New York friends or the city itself with being lonely. I didn’t ask her to clarify her question, I simply answered, “No, I don’t get lonely.” That answer is tried and true no matter what she meant. Loneliness is not an emotion I feel, and I don’t think it’s an emotion anyone has to feel and certainly not one anyone has to suffer.

I’m not sure when I overcame loneliness, but I am endlessly grateful that I did. I can trace an early lesson in being alone back to my cousin Kate. Right before I left for college, my family was gathered and going around the room offering me advice. Kate advised, “Never be afraid to do anything alone. If you want to go to a lecture or a play and none of your friends want to go, go anyway.” I followed her suggestion frequently when I got to school. I also assume it’s my craft that insists I be okay for hours, sometimes days by myself. Writing is not a group activity. One must endure the silence and the blank page for as long as it takes.

For someone who isn’t used to being alone, I imagine it’s difficult at first. Figuring out why it’s difficult and working through it, however, is an essential way to get to know yourself.

I am not afraid to be alone literally—as in by myself in a room—nor am I afraid to be alone in the grander scheme of things—as in not in a relationship. They both feel like freedom to me. The former grants me the freedom to do what I want when I want, and the latter means if and when I end up in a relationship I know I’m there because I want to be and not because I’m afraid not to be.

I’ll go so far as to say being able to be alone can help a relationship. There will be plenty of times when your significant other can’t pay that much attention to you whether it’s due to work, child rearing, a death in the family, or any number of other things. If you’ve already learned to enjoy your own company, then this can happen without necessarily being a problem. Your being able to be alone becomes a form of silent support. Author Ester Buchholz emphasizes how good solitude can be not only for the soul but also for intimacy.

What sparked this entry is the following video that I caught on Feministing earlier today. Well done Tanya! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Enjoy:

ADDENDUM: Was reading the book Practicing the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and came across this quote:

“If you cannot be at ease with yourself when you are alone, you will seek a relationship to cover up your unease. You can be sure that the unease will then reappear in some other form within the relationship, and you will probably hold your partner responsible for it.”