Author’s Note: Dedicated to the memory of Bill B., an important person in my life who, I believe, fell victim to loneliness.
For me, time alone is an emotional sanctuary that occurs internally. It need not take place in a location separate from other people. Often, my most important times spent alone were in crowded cities, in an airport, or even in a hidden nook at a large gathering.
Everyone Has Different Needs
Since getting married and having two children, time alone has been something I have prioritized. Meanwhile, I am also a social person who thrives on meaningful conversations. It is difficult to explain this to others, and that is because we all have different needs based on our backgrounds. Some flourish being surrounded by friends and family. Others are introverted in ways that are confounding to the people in their lives. The one constant is that everyone’s alone time requirements are unique.
Solitude Is Different Than Time Alone
I have always felt that my time alone had little to do with solitude. At times, I have sought solitude as something very specific. Namely, finding a place, with nobody nearby, to ponder life for long periods of time without distraction. My time alone, on the other hand, is more of an internal respite from day-to-day life. Simply put, a mental break from the world.
When researching the two terms, a thesaurus search provided clarity. Two of the top five results for solitude were seclusion and silence. When using the same search tool for the word ‘alone,’ solo and only were towards the top of the list. This simple synonym search made so much sense! Many of my favorite times alone are when flying solo, or only going for a short drive. Conversely, times of solitude have required silence and seclusion.
Loneliness, in my way of thinking, is the opposite of time alone. It is a desperate feeling of not even being in touch with one’s inner self, let alone other people. It is often intensified by anxiety and it is by no means a good feeling. Loneliness feels desperate. It carries a stigma. The emotion can be so strong as to render one paralyzed and hopeless.
In my loneliest times, and I am not ashamed to admit this, life seems meaningless. Ironically, these times can occur when surrounded by friends, colleagues, and family. Loneliness is an insidious emotion that creeps into one’s life unexpectedly and without notice. Its onset can be gradual or sudden, as can the release from its grip.
Why Write About This?
It is my belief, and even more so in this digital age, that we need time alone. People seem to be spending inordinate amounts of time taking selfies and making bucket lists. There is nothing wrong with either of these in and of themselves. However, my experience is that those who do this the most seem to be the most lonely. On the other hand, the people I have met and spoken to who are spending time alone are amongst the happiest individuals. Whether reading, enjoying a beverage, spending time in nature, or even making small talk with a stranger, there is a contentedness to people who spend time alone.
It is my hope that people might read this little post and make a conscious decision to feel less guilty about carving out time for themselves, whatever that looks like to them. Perhaps, that time alone will make even one person who reads this feel a little less lonely.
In My Unexpected Life, I share stories, thoughts, and simple ideas to entertain and possibly inspire others to become more connected with each other in conversation, food, travel, and more…no matter how big or small those experiences may be.