Often, I’ve felt (or just imagined?) the glare of staring, inquisitive eyes in the back of my head while taking my seat at a restaurant, alone, on Christmas day.
Or had well-meaning friends ask, incredulously, why I wasn’t spending the holidays with my family.
Coming from a family well-steeped in narcissism and disconnection, for whom nothing I did ever seemed like it was enough—particularly as I grew older—I came to recognize that the times I truly felt utterly alone were those times when I was surrounded by others. Most specifically, when I was around people who did not see me, did not understand me, and did not have the ability to connect to me on any kind of emotional level.
And so, much of my childhood was spent in a kind of undercover desperation, leaving myself behind in order to find scraps of validation or love.
That was until I discovered that I didn’t need anyone else to feel happy—that I could depend on myself, validate myself, and comfort myself. And as an artist and introvert, being alone is a necessity.
So from a proud loner, here are my suggestions on spending, and even enjoying, your alone time:
1. Accept that being alone is okay: It has taken me some time to be “okay” with my alone-ness in life: the comfort of it, the necessity of it. Popular culture has us all believe that relationships are the be-all, end-all of life and though they certainly are valuable and important—the reality is that the relationship with ourselves is the deepest, and longest-lasting, relationship we’ll have in our lives. And particularly when circumstances call for it—whether because of a pandemic or when we leave an abusive situation—being alone is, at times, a definite necessity.
In short, we need to normalize being alone. So drop the shame around being alone. It’s perfectly natural, and perfectly okay.
2. Become your own best friend: One of the best things you can learn from being alone is how to be your own best friend. Deepening your relationship with yourself, and increasing your self-understanding, is a gift that will greatly benefit you in life—as well as in your relationships.
When you’re alone, you get to find out more about the fascinating, completely unique, and complex person you are. You get to explore sides of yourself that social pressures or conditioning might have made it easy to repress. You get to be as weird, wacky, or silly as you want. Being alone, and befriending neglected parts of yourself, can help you get to know and express more of who you truly are, and in turn, bring a more authentic version of you into the world.
And the world needs your authenticity—not your catering to what everybody else thinks. Being alone can be key to the door that is your true self waiting to get out.
3. Take it as self-care time: If you’re someone who feels constant pressure to cater to the needs and desires of others, being alone and letting go of these demands can be an important aspect of self-care. And even if you don’t, self-care is something that so many of us can improve.
Look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and ask yourself: What can I do for you today?
4. Have fun in ways that only you can: Without the obligation of having to cater to another person’s desires or expectations, what would you like to do? You have the freedom to design your own adventures and do whatever pleases you. Has there been a hike you’ve always wanted to take? A certain place you’ve been interested in visiting? A movie you’ve always wanted to see?
Although many places are now closed due to COVID-19, figure out where you’d like to have an adventure and dive in. After all, you don’t have anybody to wait for!
5. Create your own new habits or traditions: Perhaps you’ve always wanted to go ice skating, or learn the guitar, or start a blog. When you don’t have the distraction of other people and their expectations, it can become much easier to focus on creating new traditions or habits for yourself. And you don’t need anyone else’s permission to do it. You can start new, better habits and become well-grounded in them, so when the world does open up more and increased social interaction is allowed, you won’t be as easily influenced if others are unsupportive.
Of course, even the most introverted among us do need regular social interaction, and the social isolation we’ve all endured this past year has been difficult on many levels. But by accepting the situation, and even recognizing some of its gifts, we can move through these challenges more smoothly, into a future when we can, hopefully, be more connected than ever.