I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person. ~ Olivia Wilde
Someday I’d really like to see a song make it to the top 40 that celebrates alone time. As far as I can tell, it hasn’t been done. Search the Internet for songs that include being alone and all you get is a very long list of songs that bemoan being lonely.
Newsflash, music people: Being alone for long periods of time is rapidly becoming the new normal. For many people, it is a positive choice rather than a sink into loneliness. In fact, for the first time since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking it in 1976, there are more single people in America than people who are married. Currently, a little over 50 percent of American adults are single, in contrast to 1950 when only 22 percent of adults were unmarried. Most of this singleness is healthy and happy.
People are taking longer to figure out who they are, to get the education they want, to establish their careers and, in many cases, to crawl out of school debt. They are more willing to be happily single for a time and less willing to make big compromises in what they want from a relationship. They enjoy spending time with friends and family but also enjoy periods of solitude. For many singles, it’s a time to feel in control of their lives and their choices before they move into sharing a life, and therefore decisions and resources, with another person.
It’s true that humans are social animals. Most people eventually prefer being in a loving relationship with someone who truly loves them than being single. (There’s a reason that so many top 40 songs are about pursuing love.) But being comfortable being alone is a prerequisite for being comfortable with others. People who know and like themselves bring a whole person to relationships with other people. They tend to be more self-confident and more mature. Those who can sit quietly and be content, even in a crowd, are attractive to others because they are not anxious or needy or intrusive.
Being alone positively is the antidote to feeling positively alone. You can choose whether to use your alone time as a time of personal and professional growth or a time of sustained depression and loneliness. There are many ways you can enjoy and benefit from this time in your life when you are unattached and unentangled with the needs of someone else:
- Get to know yourself better.
We live in a world of constant stimulation. Unless connected by phone, email, Facebook, Twitter and Skype, we can feel naked and afraid. It’s important to take time out and to take stock of just who it is that is doing all that connecting. Being alone, sitting with yourself for an extended period of time, can surface your strengths, your desires, and your fears. All of these aspects of yourself are important to consider as you decide what (and who) you want in your life.
- Emphasize self-care.
Being alone means there are no excuses for not taking better care of yourself. You don’t have to accommodate someone else’s food habits. You can spend time at the gym, take a yoga class or go to bed early without considering a partner’s schedule. Being alone positively means laying and maintaining a foundation of health and fitness.
- Develop skills of self-sufficiency.
Being alone positively means creating and maintaining a home that reflects your self-love. Regularly doing the homely chores of making your bed, doing laundry, making good meals, paying your bills, and generally keeping order is a celebration of your own worth. Knowing how to make basic repairs on things that always seem to need repairing increases self-confidence and reduces personal stress. Whether you choose to live simply or more grandly, pleasant and peaceful surroundings say to you and others that the person who lives here is worth the trouble.
- Build meaningful alone time into your life.
Being alone positively requires some thought. It is too easy to get caught up in binge watching a TV series or playing hours of mindless solitaire. Think about what would give your life meaning. Perhaps it is exploring a spiritual path. Perhaps it is becoming more in touch with nature or the arts. Or maybe it’s time to volunteer to support a cause that is important to you.
People who commit to an activity or cause with passion and commitment tend to be healthier and happier. Since positivity and enthusiasm are contagious, they also invite more positive connections. This is your time to learn and grow.
- Value different kinds of connections.
Being alone positively doesn’t mean being always alone. All levels of social connection — friends, coworkers, family members, the barista at your local coffee shop, the guy who seems to always be at the gym when you are — have their unique value. Simply saying hello, exchanging pleasantries or having a random friendly conversation transforms isolation into being part of the social fabric of your community.
- If you are an introvert, embrace it.
Some people are by nature less social than others. They regroup and energize themselves by having some alone time. If you need to be alone in much of your down time, don’t feel guilty or odd or like you have to change it. Do take charge of it. Being alone positively means withdrawing purposefully for an afternoon or evening to enjoy the solitude. This provides a full emotional bank account for the times you are in company with others.
Being alone positively isn’t a goal in itself. It is a means for increasing self-knowledge, self-care and growth. We all do need to be connected to the social world, although there is tremendous range in how much connection is enough. Accepting and valuing who we are increases our ability to make and manage the complicated, messy, joyful, disappointing, loving, bewildering, contented but always necessary connections with others.