ON BEING ALONE
Can you talk about solitude. How much time do you spend alone? What made you realize that it’s important to know how to walk alone? To fight battles alone in life?– Anonymous
I write this from my New York apartment, in the midst of the 2016 election day hiding from all the chaos; currently alone.
Recently I have been alone a lot. Living alone, eating alone, wandering through the streets of New York (and 6 countries over the summer) alone. I wake up alone, go to sleep alone, decorate my apartment alone. Despite living in a city populated by millions it is actually quite easy to feel entirely alone. But alone does not mean lonely. At least not always.
Growing up, I lived in a house with my sibling and parents, but emotionally all three were very absent. I was never alone but I always felt alone. The house was akin to a museum, impeccably spotless. Most people that visited were aghast to learn 4 people lived there. Not a loud bustling household by any means. We never ate dinner together. Ships in the night. I began creating many alternate realities to live in. I began drawing, writing constantly (mostly on my furniture and walls!) I read a lot. Yet nothing made the loneliness dissipate. As I grew older I began leaning toward destructive patterns to alleviate the pain. During my teen years I spent as much time as possible surrounded by others, always in a crowd. I never realized how much I actually enjoyed being alone. The house I grew up in felt dead. Like a tomb, or a prison with pretty walls. There was no life there. Constantly being around others was a way for me to never feel the loneliness I so often felt.
Yet as I grew older and financially independent, I began to realize that time alone is essential. At 23, I encountered my first night in my own apartment. I was scared. I noticed that repressed thoughts flooded each time I was in my own company. At first it was frightening, and I often avoided it. At the time I was unused to digesting what I had experienced. Yet the more time I spent alone, the more I began to thoroughly enjoy it. Everyone has always labeled me an extrovert, but I am truly more of an ambivert. I am outgoing when around others, but I require a substantial amount of alone time to recharge and reflect.
Being alone aids in the understanding of ourselves. I’m weary of those who can’t be alone. I used to be one of them. It seems to me they are turbulent on the inside. Unsettled, unresolved. I think they must not like themselves too much. Who you are shouldn’t frighten you. For me, being alone is like coming home. A return of sorts. In the words of mathematician Blaise Pascal, “All man’s miseries come from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” I’m assuming the same goes for women.
Traveling to Morocco, Portugal, Czech Republic, Turkey and Russia alone was significantly challenging. These countries housed individuals that were self conscious of their English, and even if they did know my tongue, they didn't speak it willingly. Oh, and I also don’t speak a lick of French, Arabic, Portuguese, Czech, Turkish or Russian. Here was I again, surrounded by millions of people, but again alone.
We are always alone. I’d say I came to that realization over the last 3 years. The love from friends and family is unmatchable, but at the end of the day it’s you and you. You’re all you’ve really got. Eventually everyone has to go home, everyone has to hang up the phone and you are left with yourself. In the words of Orson Welles, “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.” But it is only an illusion. Beneath the illusion, we are in fact alone.
Both of my parents are alone. Despite being married, the only way I can describe their relationship is cold. They require lots of time alone. They often travel without the other and essentially live separate lives. Perhaps it’s genetic? But maybe not. You can take The Myers Briggs personality assessment to learn which you are. Although, you likely already know. Not surprisingly Myers-Briggs is a binary, labeling me an extrovert. Like sexuality, it’s not that simple. People are too fluid to be either or, like sexuality it is very much a spectrum. Truly, I am more of an ambivert because the following things are true about me:
“ – During conversations I know when to be quiet and when to talk, and I do both relatively easily
– I am emotionally stable during a concert, a yoga session and everything in between
– Spending too much time with other people can be exhausting
– I can often go out and have hours of fun being the life of the party, but suddenly find that my energy as dropped, and all I really want to do is go home
– Small talk is something that annoys me, because while I can do it, there are instances where it feels a bit insincere”
If you agree with these statements, you might be an ambivert too.
While being abroad for 2 months this summer I felt something I do not often feel in New York. I felt the deep, primal need to connect with others. A tug, or a thirst. A hunger. And it was magnified, or perhaps evident at all, because of how difficult it was to speak with people. I naively assumed the solitude of travel in a foreign place would be refreshing, and it was, but after the first month I was exhausted from not being understood. I began to miss my country, and mostly people that spoke English. I missed being touched.
Perhaps I have gotten too good at being alone. It is too comfortable, too essential. So as important as it is to be alone I would say to you that what you gain from solitude should only then enhance your relationships with others. By being alone we gain a depth of understanding and compassion for ourselves – what is that worth unless it blossoms into a depth of understanding and compassion for others? Because, in the words of John Joseph Powell, “It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until is has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.”