The art of being alone

Do you ever ache to be alone? Away from prying eyes and the hustle and bustle of your day-to-day existence.  To sit in solitude and just BE.  Are you someone who can go inside and nestle comfortably in the space of who you are?

Young woman sat on a benck looking out to seaOr do you long for company? Someone – anyone – to fill the void, the emptiness of being alone, being lonely.  What’s the difference anyway?

We only invited you ‘cos you’re lonely …

This story is funny with hindsight. I was invited to tea by a couple I know, and even though they weren’t really my ‘cup of tea’ I went along out of politeness.

After a while, the rather stilted conversation stumbled amongst us until this statement came – like a bolt out of the blue – “Well, of course we only invited you because you’re lonely”. Erm, what?!

Fortunately, I’m good at holding my tongue, so I stayed a little longer, grimacing through clenched teeth and glazed eyes until an appropriate amount of time had passed to make my escape. And very relieved I was to get away!

So what’s the definition of lonely anyway?

It’s often been said that you can be lonely in a room full of people and they don’t necessarily have to be strangers either. Simply having different interests or thinking differently from the rest of the crowd can make life feel like an endurance test.

“He who does not enjoy solitude will not love freedom.” Arthur SchopenhauerSo what is it that makes people assume that to be alone means being lonely? Is it a projection of their own needs and fears, or is it merely a requirement of society that we must be one of a pair to survive?

With statistics still indicating that women generally outlive men, I guess more of us will be on our lonesome in the fullness of time.

Being forced into a state of aloneness by divorce or bereavement is considered a state of affairs to be endured, tolerated, suffered… but what then?  Are we supposed to fall into the arms of the next available he or she to fill the aching void? Is it necessarily the right course of action?

I can bring to mind a number of people who are more isolated in their relationship than many single people.

Being alone certainly has some downsides, such as:

  • No one to share our stories, our day, to hold and to cherish.
  • Being lumbered with all the bills and household maintenance.
  • Having to look after ourselves when we’re ill.

But let’s look at the positives:

  • Freedom of space to do as you please with no one to answer to.
  • Time for thought and contemplation.
  • Being responsible for yourself and your own wellbeing.

Does being alone have special rules?

You don’t have to take an oath of silence or celibacy to be alone.  You don’t have to sit Buddha-like on top of a hill to be happy.  You can be contented knowing about yourself, your likes, dislikes and what makes you happy.  You have time to be yourself, for yourself and actually come to like yourself.

And you know what, those people who invited me for tea didn’t know that being alone can make you very happy and contented.

Small steps …

Some people just don’t like being alone. And there are things you can do about this too.

Be curious about everyone you meet, strike up conversations whenever you can – rather than wait for others to always make the first move. People love talking about themselves, so give them the opportunity by being a good listener.

Moving on

Turning loneliness into simply being alone is about expanding our perspective, looking beyond what’s familiar and accepting the positives.

Nobody has to conform to an expectation from society – and we owe it to ourselves to live life on our own terms.

Sally Canning

About Sally Canning

I’m a transformational coach and mentor to women, helping them move from “What the heck is it all about?” to a place of embracing life and actually loving who they are. I can help you easily let go of the feelings, thoughts, fears and limiting beliefs that keep you from living the life you truly want for yourself. Visit my website to find out more.

  • Really enjoyed your article, Sally. Over the years I’ve learned to love being alone, and this year I’m doing some travelling alone, too – with the full support of my partner, who often does the same. I think learning to be happy and confident ‘alone’ is one of the best things I’ve discovered.

  • I love being on my own. The solitude is balm to the soul and it allows me to enjoy being around other people a little more. My mother enjoyed time to herself. The gentle song of the home and garden without anyone else to obscure it. She taught us that being alone was a thing to be cherished (and being one of four kids with less than 5 years between us you can see why). Having been in the wrong marriage I totally agree that it is more lonely to be with the wrong person than to be solo.

  • Deborah Garlick

    Love this! Like you Katherine, I love a bit me time alone but never feel lonely!

  • I love time out alone too, it gives me time to think and get myself in order. I think that getting the balance right is important – spending time alone but also making sure you spend time with others that you care about. We all need social interaction, in order to enjoy and appreciate the quiet times.