Thoughts on Solitude: Alone vs. Lonely
Are we, humans, meant to live alone? I’ve always thought that we are pack animals, avoiding solitude as death. That we are more likely to survive by helping each other out physically and emotionally. But is it really the case? Do we need each other, a partner, family, friends? Should we avoid solitude to stay healthy or do we need some alone time to stay sane? There is truth in both.
There is a big difference between the feeling of loneliness and being alone. I have a very strange history with both and I’m genuinely scared of solitude in general. I’ve also observed that the feeling of loneliness became more profound as I grew older. When I was about 27 I rented out my first apartment, on my own. Never again did I have to share the kitchen, shelves in the fridge, cleaning chores, or awkwardly dance around the common spaces, trying to avoid contact with anyone unless absolutely necessary. (sometimes, I’m not that asocial)
A part of me was happy, but another part started to feel anxious. From now on, any social contact outside of work had to be initiated. If I wanted company for dinner, I needed to find one. If I bought a bottle of wine and open it at home to have a glass on my own, I would start to wonder if the society would consider me an alcoholic. My mind was on overdrive. I even began to wonder whether my neighbors might think that I was weird because they didn’t see me going out enough? What is enough? Why would that bother me?
Our mind is a tricky place. We start making our own conspiracy theories based on no facts just our own self-loathing, or selfishness. Because why would anyone else think of us as much as we do of ourselves?
I never felt a hundred percent satisfied with my situation back then. I never felt whole. Neither have I ever looked within myself, and I definitely had the time. We all try to find fillers, ego boosters. Pack up our calendars with activities, meetings, chores, proving to ourselves that we have friends and hobbies, instead of slowing down. I cannot blame my 27-year old self. Up until then and even until the age of 31, I was in one continuous relationship, and it was not with myself. What a mistake.
Fighting loneliness with relationships
Have you been there too? Throwing yourself into the arms of someone else, and never really being single? That’s the story of my life and I feel a little ashamed. Many of my relationships were over distance. Nevertheless, I felt there was always someone to feel connected to, to plan my next trip with, to look forward to the moment we spend together again. I needed to know that there is a person to share every single moment with. I forgot to look at how things make me feel, to enjoy the presence, the now.
When you invest yourself in building a life with someone else, you unconsciously put your partner’s needs before yours. You, and certainly me, start to care more for the well-being of the other person. What happens when you disagree with your partner but you know that starting that debate will end in a fight? What if he completely misunderstood your “Whatsapp” message? You end up being on the receiving side of anger which you didn’t try to initiate and definitely did not understand. So often, in a relationship, this happens. We use each other as punching bags for anger caused by something or someone else.
But, do we compromise instead of speaking up? Or we make ourselves heard, even at the cost of a heated conversation? So often we end up shouting or writing hurtful words. Words we don’t mean and later regret. Life in a partnership is an ongoing learning curve. But we love it. We also love the things we hate at the moment they are happening. Once we lose it, we crave those “bloody” arguments. But should we? Isn’t that a sign that we should have more conversations with ourselves, rather than focus on the behavior and reactions of others?
Yeah, sure. Easier said than done.
Think who you are before someone else tries to define you
I’m trying to reflect on the being I was, the one I am now, and the one I want to be in the future. Not always a pleasant journey..
For years I was falling into a relationship one after another. I lost track of what I truly wanted from a partner and of the person I am. It feels like I was always willing to accept almost anything just to avoid solitude. (I blow up with rage periodically) Very often mean conversations turned into internal monologues. I was asking myself if what I felt was normal. If the reactions I’m receiving are deserved. Do I listen enough? Am I not too selfish? Should I stomp my foot for some of the things we differ in opinions on? (and I do, they all come out in one go during that annual moment of rage. It’s NOT a good thing, I think.)
So often, we judge each other. Instead of listening and having a proactive discussion, a negotiation over things we disagree on. This can turn into a growing together, spiritually, emotionally, into a good base from which we grow even stronger. Instead, we turn to spite, to mean words that can hurt for so long. They can damage the person underneath the flesh and bones we see with a naked eye. Some people can get so very cruel, it brings self-doubt. We try and justify our actions, the thoughts we have of ourselves, often with another person. Someone who can tell us the exact opposite of what we just heard from the person we used to love. Before the honeymoon ended. We identify with what others say about us.
Men called so many things. I write walls of text, I ramble, I’m too demanding, I cry too easily, I am spoiled and selfish, I love drama (I don’t think I do, really). I definitely ramble, but I thought that was cute! (It is, for the first 3 months to a year apparently.) I also talk during movies, I guess you can hate me for that!
Most of my relationships ended badly. I liked to think that it was because my tolerance ran out for some aspects of the personalities I dated. Well, we’ll never know because those people don’t really want to go over the highs and low of our past relationships nowadays.
I’ve never been dumped. I wish I was. Maybe if someone broke up with me 10 years ago I would have already done the soul searching then instead of now, at the age of 32. But girls like bad boys. Bad boys with a good story, leather jacket, and an inviting smile. Then it’s often a race of who breaks who’s heart first.
Find yourself before you find the one who should love who you are.
Being alone is usually a conscious choice. Some of us are better at it than others. I suck at “sollo”. Too many evenings at home alone, solo-travel, single cooking, or self-love, not my thing. I love having company, someone to share space with, exchange thoughts with or share a meal with. I wrote all my University papers in cafes, libraries, even while working at a gym. Always in public, always exposed to people. I’m an extrovert. Yet at the same time I need the time to recuperate after a big event with many people. But half a day is usually enough.
Living in a big city, with many young people, my mind goes to dark self-pity places. There are moments when I think that I must be the only one not doing anything this evening while everyone else is having fun somewhere. Yes, they still happen in the thirties.
But, I’m the only one to blame for those feelings. Those poor young people have nothing to do with my inability to manage solitude! I’m the one in charge! I can make my evening into whatever I want, and sometimes it means a good amount of alone time.
I used to be pretty good at “being alone” when I was young. As a kid, I used to read out loud or build handwritten cookbooks out of recipe cut-outs from magazines in the kitchen of my family’s small apartment almost every evening, alone. I didn’t need nor seek the presence of other people (my sister seriously thought I was weird).
The thread of social media
So, why do I need them now? Why do I need the inner feeling of society’s approval? Is it social media that’s causing me distress now, the distress which wasn’t there when books were my best friends and I didn’t have the ability to check what my friends were doing? I still love to read, don’t get me wrong. I engage in a tremendous amount of individual activities and they bring me a lot of joy. However, they are not social and our whole society nowadays is built on the need to interact, night, and day. But the worst thing is that this social media movement started with us, Millennials, and while we are slightly better at managing our exposure to it, it’s damaging our younger generations.
Luckily, we are also recognising the issues it’s causing and pointing them out. Feelings of anxiety, isolation, envy, even hate for oneself or others may have not been a scientifically-proven effect of social media use but we probably agree that there must be some link. All this interaction between strangers, the hunger for attention, even by different country leaders!
Can we now try to minimize its influence on our lives? Will we ever be able to return to the times when we didn’t feel so much exclusion and alienation? Can we go back offline for a moment? Yes, we can, but it’s harder than ever to break this global addiction.
We didn’t know the bliss we were experiencing in the 90s until we lost it.
Solitude and health
Even after my deep self-analysis on solitude, I believe that humankind is meant to feel connected. There is this feeling of urgency to be part of a community, to create friendships, to find a partner, to build a family. The soul is hungry to be filled with the presence of not only ourselves but the lives of others.
We might sometimes feel like we are better off on our own. That we are the center of our little universe and everyone around us simply doesn’t understand the script of our lives. We get used to our own space, our own agendas, and routines. When we don’t accommodate anyone else but our own immediate needs. But in my opinion, that kind of lifestyle does not lead to a happy ending. After all, some of the most severe punishments a prisoner can receive is a long time spent in a solitary cell. It turns people mad, hostile, unkind.
We learn by interacting with others. The beautiful human exchange of words and wisdom can hardly be replaced by books or documentaries we indulge in when we are alone. We, humans, seek out debates, even if it is for self-affirmation. And once we are mature enough we surround ourselves with people of different opinions in order to truly grow, in perspective.
I love a discussion, I want to understand why you are NOT like me in every way possible. Over the past months, I have been told that I often interact with people believing they think like me. It was obvious to me that everyone can take brutal honesty. I learned that it is not true, the hard way. I have offended people, too focused on making myself heard instead of reading the situation, listening to them instead of myself.
In the times of Corona
The Corona pandemic highlighted the feelings of loneliness for many of us. That is why a part of me understands the strikes for freedom that have been raising around the globe. Too much solitude, for any generation, can be maddening. It’s been tough for me too. At one point I thought I was going to lose everything, my job, potentially my home, by that point I have already lost my love. But I quickly realized that at the same time I gained so very much. I made deeper friendships with people that have been in my life for years but whose friendships I took for granted. I spent some quality time with myself, understanding who I am and what I need. And I learned that I most definitely hate the extended time of solitude 😉
It’s so very true that in the darkest moments of our lives, we tend to learn the most important lessons.
My hope is that retrospectively many of us will look back and see these moments as the times when we allowed ourselves to grow. As the moments we found the people that were there to listen and stood by when we thought we may have lost hope of meaning, of our existence. I also hope we dedicate some time to become better listeners to those that might need us now or in the future. That we get to learn how to prioritise someone else instead of ourselves.