a·lone [əˈlōn] adjective & adverb 1. having no one else present; on one’s own.
lone·ly [ˈlōnlē] adjective 1. sad because one has no friends or company.
These two words are talked about a lot. People keep on talking about how millennials are not getting married or buying houses. People are just starting to figure out the value of introverts. We talk about how more and more, people spend time in front of a screen instead of in front of a person. We blame acts of violence on “loners.” But, for what it is worth, I have more or less enjoyed my solitude.
I loved my roommates in college, it was great. It was like having siblings for the first time, something I had always wanted. But once I was done with grad school, I was also thrilled to live by myself. People have asked: “aren’t you lonely? don’t you get bored?” And the simple answer is “no.” Eighteen years of being an only child conditioned me to spending time alone, finding ways to keep myself entertained. I don’t have to share a remote. I can organize my cabinets the way I want. I don’t have to live life by anyone’s rules but my own. Now, that is not to say that I wouldn’t mind company every once and while. Or that I am not interested in eventually sharing my life with another person. I am. Not gonna lie though, it will probably take some time before I am willing to give up my own space.
It is the not the act of being alone that necessarily makes a person lonely. I feel lonely in crowded places all the time. I have chosen to attend concerts and musicals alone because I refuse to allow my single-ness and small friend circle prevent me from doing things that I want to do. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t lonely while doing these things. As I walked up the steps to my balcony seat at the Providence Performing Arts Center through crowds of people, I felt so lonely. I had chosen to do this; and, I wanted to see the show, but I also felt so judged. Other people’s judgment, in fact, may be a significant source of the feeling of loneliness.
Particularly around the holidays, “all of the things” have a way making people (specifically me) feel less than if we are not paired up in order to attend parties and holiday events. I wish I could say this was all in my head, it might be easier to deal with if that were the case. But I feel confident that I am not the only person experiencing this. Between the jewelry ads and the “first tree together” photos there is a remarkable amount of messaging that indicates: “you better find the one or your holiday will be incomplete.”
This post is wandering, but to bring it back to the most important point, I just need to remind myself and everyone else that being alone is not the worst thing a person can be. To summarize Robin Williams, the worst thing is to be surrounded by people and still feel lonely. So choose your people carefully. Choose people who will show up for you when you are least deserving. I have a fear that I will choose a person to be my partner simply because they showed up once. I need to be sure that this person will show up repeatedly so that I don’t feel lonely in a crowded room.
Until then, do not judge or pity me because I am alone. I am not lonely until I feel your judgement.
*disclaimer: It took me over a year from start to finally finish this post. It was too difficult/painful for me to finish it when I first started managing this idea of alone v. lonely. I think I’ve finally got a handle on it. 🙂