Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Can You Do "Alone"?

by KAK  
  Onyx & "Onyxina" 

For those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know I spent this past week in the company of my four year old #weeniece. Yep, my sister thought it'd be hilarious to let me be the lone caretaker of miniature her.

Best. Birth Control. Ever.

This morning I woke without the aid of a small hand on my cheek. I had my first cup of coffee without being handed a very wet diaper by a half-naked boing-boing. The beastie made it outside without enduring a game of Which Foot Goes In Which Shoe. I write this blog post without a forty pound squirmy blanket pleading to play princess/doctor/puppy/mommy.

I am alone with my silence. 

Okay, okay, the beastie and I are alone in our silence. Some of you may think, "erf, poor girl" and others of you may think "woohoo!" For me, solitude is a good thing. It's more than good.

Solitude is necessary.

Being comfortable in one's skin to the extent of being content in the company of self is a milestone to be celebrated. It's also a private accomplishment very contrary to our hive society. Everyday we're bombarded with messages demanding we interact, contribute, participate, be among the pack. Those without a dependency on others are regarded as broken. Maladjusted. Odd.

I'm happy being odd.

Put me in a room filled with ancillary loved ones, friends of friends, or the second-degree intimacy group and a strange thing happens -- I get pitiful glances, sympathetic pats, and hushed words of concern thinly masking chastisements for my preference for solitude.

I pity those who can't be happy alone. 

How miserable it must be to depend on others for joy, peace, or contentment. We all know it's very possible to be alone in a crowd. We all know "that person" who stays in an unhappy relationship out of fear of being alone. We all know someone so desperate for acceptance that their decision-making is compromised. I'm referring to adults here.

You can't make good choices if you're afraid of being alone with yourself.

I asked my wee niece why she needed my constant attention. Her answer? "I don't like being alone."  My gut reaction? "You need to learn to like it." Not being a child development expert, I didn't push the issue. I don't want her to confuse independence with abandonment. I'm not sure at what point in a person's life the natural survival instinct to be dependent on protectors and providers should change. I am certain that it ought to change.

Language... has created the word "loneliness" to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word "solitude" to express the glory of being alone. ~Paul Johannes Tillich, The Eternal Now

Do you remember when you became comfortable with you? Are you still working towards private contentment? What steps did you take / are you taking to achieve it?


  1. "You can't make good choices if you're afraid of being alone with yourself."

    I love this - loved the whole post.

    My mom tells me that I was always playing by myself as a kid, that I got easily overwhelmed by overbearing family members and boisterous gatherings. She understood, and didn't force the issue. When I got worn out, she would scoop me up to let me play with my dolls or take a nap in a room by myself.

    That's a skill that I'm still learning to apply...retreating to my room and closing the door against the demands to be social-social-social. I find that, despite my mom's enforcing of my introvert boundaries, I still tend to feel guilty if I'm not out doing the social butterfly thing.

    But I ain't a butterfly. I'm a snail. And it's good to remember that every once in awhile.

  2. Brilliant post, I have always needed regular solitude. Being alone doesn't equate to being lonely for me, in fact it feeds my soul and recharges my batteries. I always find it surprising how few people I know seem to agree with or understand that and I was made to feel like I was just plain unsociable because of my love of alone time in the past. Of course I now realise there's nothing wrong with me (in this respect at least!), I am self reliant rather than detatched and it feels good!

  3. What a great post!
    I need my solitude. If I'm surrounded by people for too long, I get really edgy. I suppose that's because we're expected to interact and talk about things that are of no great interest or importance to us. I love my solitude. Being alone with my thoughts is as necessary as food and oxygen.

  4. I loved your post and could not agree more that people need to enjoy solitude even at a young age. I have been allowing my elementary school age daughter to practice solitude since she was a toddler. There are times she needs to play by herself or relax without constant companionship. I have let her know it is alright that she does not want to play with her friends all the time when she asks. I am enjoying my solitude while she is in school right now, and I need this time to be the kind of mom I strive for daily. I am an educational psychologist, but after working with children for many years, it is how the parents foster this need for solitude as positive or negative that will make a difference in how a person relates to the concept in my opinion.

  5. Ha! I totally knew that your week of wee-niece constant companionship would figure into your post today! As an only child, I played alone a lot by default. Knowing myself now, I think I would have done it anyway. Hopefully your niece will find the glory of being alone, too.

  6. ~opens arms for virtual group love~

    It's interesting that all five of you found your personal comfort at an early age. I wonder how many of us "practiced solitude" when we were little, as Lara (whom I suspect is behind the gibberish by-line)suggests. It poses the classic nature versus nurture question. I'm fascinated by parental POV playing a heavy role in whether "me time" is a guilty pleasure or a proud necessity.

    Ghost, I totally understand being penalized for others' misconstruing "alone time" as being unsociable. I used to be grounded out of the house.

    Laura, I think we need T-shirts that have a lovely were-beast crushing a flirty whimsical butterfly with a caption of, "I'm not a social butterfly."

    Shirley, I love your line about being alone with your thoughts is as necessary as food and water. It is so very true. Once upon a time when I had a long daily commute, that was the only time I had to be alone with me. It was the lone reason I didn't shy away from living so far from work.

    Jeffe, little kitten prowling the wilds away from the fire, you know me so well!

  7. Okay - another take on this topic, which is a day late and may never be read.

    I, personally, require solitude. It recharges my batteries. But, I think this is because I am an introvert, not because it's healthier than somebody who prefers to be around people.

    Being the sort of person who prefers to be around people, who is charged and energized by being around people, can be equally healthy. The trouble is when you become totally dependent on other people and are incapable of being alone.

    I, the introvert have two sons. One of them has a few friends, and is perfectly happy to spend long periods of time by himself, reading, writing, making music, or just thinking. The other is almost constantly interacting with people. He cannot understand our need for solitude, although he has been taught to honor it. He can be alone at times and is perfectly comfortable with this, he simply prefers to be in the company of other people.

    I think the real definition of Introvert/Extrovert lies in what recharges your batteries - being alone, or being with people.

  8. Aw, Kerry, I always read your comments!

    While recharging my batteries among others is a total anathema to me, I think you're right. There are those folks who seem to feed on social interaction, the more-the-merrier folks. The important part is -- as your extroverted son demonstrates -- the well-adapted are still comfortable with being alone.