Time Alone Versus Loneliness

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

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.

~Kevin

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.

12 comments

  1. Great post, Kevin! I have been thinking recently about the distinction between loneliness and being alone. I have reflected on my own experience when I have felt lonely in a group of people and completely secure when being alone or in solitude. I related to your anecdote about being alone in a crowded airport; expect I have that sort of experience when I eat alone in a crowded restaurant. I find my mind calms down and explores a particular line of thought in more direct manner. Many of my blog posts have started under those conditions. It’s interesting.

    Roger

    1. Yes, definitely true about restaurants. The activity goes on around us, yet we feel calm and alone and sometimes the crowd somehow dissipates into the distance, allowing us to think. That you for reading, Roger!

  2. This post is great and so true. I am an only child. I grew up where I had a ton of time alone and had to play by myself/entertain myself–I would just read and read and read. I honestly loved it, and growing up, I learned to be resourceful, independent, and appreciate me time. I feel like today, we are constantly surrounded by people and social media. I get in a lot less me time. And even with all of that connection, we can still feel alone or we find people getting lost in the noise. With the internet, though, I also rarely feel alone since I can actively seek out like minded and supportive people. I love being social and spending time with friends IRL too. I do carve out more time as I get older to stay at home, binge on Netflix, read, and chill with family or alone. Plus, I do a lot of yoga.

    1. It’s great that you can keep perspective. I was not an only child, however my sister moved in with my father when I was young, so it felt that way sometimes. I didn’t really think about that until you just related to this post and your time alone with that perspective. Thanks for helping me to realize that!

  3. I agree with what you discuss here! My hubby is an introvert very different than extrovert! When you don’t know him in Person his lonely but honestly his not! Yea he enjoys reading and he reads a lot!

    I love talking to people but so often I love my space too!

    Great post!

  4. I travel solo all the time and constantly get asked if I ever get lonely. I always reply with, “No, I love my above time!”

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