I had an unusual childhood. I am the only child of both my mother and father, but I am far from an only child. I have two parents. I have had three stepmothers. I have 5 half-sisters. I have also had, throughout the years, a total of five step-siblings. If I take it further (which I must because these members of the extended family are often included in family events) and count the half and step-siblings of my half and step-siblings, this number jumps to an additional 16. We are up to 26 now, just in case you lost track. This does not include all my aunts, uncles and cousins, which are many. I have been married twice and had a stepdaughter of my own. I have three kids.
That’s a whole bunch of people. Holidays, summer breaks, were, are… interesting.
Mostly, though, it was just my mom and I, alone in Canada, far from the maddening crowd. I would grow used to having an overwhelming crush of siblings and then as soon as I did, I was on a plane and back to stretches of being on my own. I cannot tell you if this strange childhood and adolescence is what gave me such an absolute love of solitude or if I was just born this way. Who can tell? My story is unique, but so is yours. Everyone has a story.
For all of you lovers of being alone, I’m with you. But this article is for the people that hate to be alone. I know so many people who feel that solitude is something to dread. The idea of sleeping in an empty house terrifies them and they will hang out with people they don’t actually like because the alternative (being alone) is even worse. I am so shocked when I hear others talk this way. And me, being the nosy know-it-all that I am, has to go ahead tell them that this aversion isn’t healthy. One day (and you might be 25 or 85), you will be all alone and learning the value of it, the joy of it, might mean the difference between finding yourself feeling liberated and finding yourself feeling lonely. We do stupid things, us humans, when we feel lonely.
Being alone means that your days and nights belong solely to yourself. You can do as you please. You can get up and work out. You can sleep in. You can indulge in a donut for breakfast without worrying about being judged or knowing that if you have one, your kids have to have one too. Kids can’t eat donuts for breakfast. Well, they can, but not every day. In fact you don’t have to worry about feeding anyone but yourself. If you don’t have kids or a partner, you may take this little thing for granted. Trust me when I tell you that thinking up meals for other people is one of the most grueling aspects of family life. If I had wanted to be a chef, I would have gone to culinary school. Add the pressure of “healthy” to the mix and it can be daunting. Okay, so, you can eat what you want, when you want. Bonus.
You go to work and the money you earn is yours. You can save, spend or stretch it around your own needs and wants. There is something absolutely soul crushing about taking your hard earned money to buy that skirt or those shoes that your kid just has to have, and then they turn around and treat you like crap after they’ve gotten what they wanted.
That’s the beauty of being alone. If you want to do something for someone, you do it because you want to, not because you have to. You can come home after work and watch TV all night. You can read uninterrupted. You can go out and tear it up. You don’t have to answer to anyone. You don’t have to compromise. In fact, if you are alone, you could technically pick up and go, right now, whereever you wanted, for as long as you wanted, and that is such a treasure, I can’t tell you.
I love my family. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love being a mother and a wife. I have been given so many blessings. But one of the unexpected gifts my family life has given me is perspective. When I am alone, I relish it in a way I simply could comprehend before.
Being alone means that you not only get physical space, but emotional and mental space. Perhaps this is the aspect of solitude that scares so many people, but it is wonderful! You will never know who you truly are until you spend stretches of time alone. Maybe you tend to dwell on the past when you are by yourself. Perhaps you are haunted by regrets, mistakes you’ve made or mistakes others have made that have affected you badly. Without the distractions of other people, these darker parts of who you are can loom in solitude. You cannot go around your past, under it or over it. You have to go through it to get to other side. The peace that you seek, the forgiveness you bestow towards yourself and others can only happen when you work through it alone.
You might learn something about yourself in therapy, or from a friend or in a group. It might be an aspect of yourself that needs working on. It might be an aspect of yourself that’s really amazing. Whatever it is, you cannot actually own it and fully absorb it when you are around another person. We do the hard stuff alone. It’s a running inner dialogue that cannot be maintained to its maximum extent with somebody else there, however well-meaning.
You are a complex and gifted individual. You are so much cooler than you think you are. You should enjoy your own company. You are the perfect person to hang out with – you enjoy doing the exact same things as yourself! You have all the same hobbies and interests. You are so interesting, in fact, that you should never be bored when you are alone. If you do feel bored or restless, instead of picking up your phone to make plans, ask yourself: if I could do anything, what would it be? If you had no limits, no job and all the money in the world, what would you be doing? So you can’t go to Thailand, but you can have some Thai food. You can’t buy that designer handbag, but you can go to Target and pick up something that only you would love and appreciate.
Maybe the opposite is true for you. Maybe you’ve been on your own for a long time and are sick of it. The only thing I can say about this is that settling for the wrong friend or partner because you are lonely will only lead to heartbreak later on. You can do poor all by yourself. You can do pissed off and pity and depressed, too. Bringing another person into your sadness may momentarily alleviate it but in the long run, it will heighten your loneliness. When you learn to love your own company, when you are totally cool with where you are at and who you are, you will attract the same types of people to you. Your ability to love others will only extend as far as you can love yourself.
Solitude can be tough. It can make you feel singled out and somehow undeserving of all the togetherness you see around you. It can force you to spend too much time in your own head, dwelling on things you’d rather not think about. But the up side is that you get unbridled access to the one person who will always be there for you. The one person that knows you better than anyone. You will never have to worry about offending this person or letting this person down or not paying enough attention to them. If you don’t like to be alone, it’s only because you haven’t gotten to know yourself well enough yet, because you are great. So if you can, shut the door. Turn of the phone. Stay away from your emails and spend the day with your greatest ally: you.
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