On Solitude

My live-in partner has been gone for almost a month. Now before we go assuming the absolute worst, let me clarify ““ when I say gone, I mean gone to a few weddings, a sister visit and some babying from the parents in beautiful, sunny California. Rough, I know. Meanwhile, I’m still back in my hot, grimy city, working the grind and enjoying every minute I have of my time alone.

Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t a confession from a resentful woman about to go wrong or a red flag. I just enjoy being alone. Solitude is one of my favorite states of being and the times I am able to enjoy such, while rare, are like miniature vacations where I can indulge in myself.

 “With a rubber duck, one’s never alone.” – Ernie

There’s something very stigmatizing about women and the act of choosing solitude. Perhaps it’s the cultural fear instilled in us of the consequences of choosing such: the idea of “settling,” the possibility that you’ll never get married or have kids, dying from choking on a meatball, alone in your apartment. These fears regulate solitude as something to be wary of, a possible fault in one’s personality that obviously just needs to be fixed with just some good companions.  One can instantly project the hyper-manic cat lady personas or clingy, desperate stereotypes, even Virginia Woolf-like suspicions on any woman who declares her value of being “okay” with being alone. “Don’t you get lonely?” “Don’t you need more friends?” “Maybe you should join a support group.”

While these kind-hearted, yet misplaced suggestions can be helpful in other situations, being alone– by choice– can be a relief, a time to collect one’s self. A meditative period, no matter how long. The loving suggestions above imply that if one is alone, it is by force and that loneliness is somehow connected with solitude, each somewhat pathetic in its own way.

 “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”  – Audre Lorde

One of the amazing things about solitude is that it gives one a space of one’s own. Yes, it’s a completely selfish and involved space, but sometimes, we need to be able to give that to ourselves. I won’t get too granola on everybody, but even as much work that needs to go into creating “good” or bettering one’s surroundings, one actually has to be emotionally ready to do that in the first place. As stated in Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters, “Wholeness is no triflin matter.” One has to have the emotional and mental foundation ““ the inner gut feeling that says, “Actually…” when everyone else around you is screaming at the top of their lungs that it’s otherwise. It becomes a way for us to ease into ourselves, however uncomfortable we may be with seeing what happens when we are just confronted with who we are, faults and all. Sometimes, we need to just explore who that person actually is without all the external noise to realize what exactly it is that we have inside of us that is worthy of sharing.

I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: that each protects the solitude of the other.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Solitude is a time of settling. In all that we have to give out in every day, whether it be of work, relationships, just the daily haul, sometimes we become emotionally drained. The empty space that solitude is allows for reflection and decompression– for stepping back from everything that is demanded of you and knowing when to give and when not to.

Being alone allows me to heal from all the anxieties I have experienced throughout my week. There are days where it feels like I am guarded by absolute fear, full of naysaying demons; every action and sentence is forced into a bout of second-guessing or heavy criticism. While all these thoughts can be helpful sometimes in checking myself before wrecking myself, other times they are just overwhelming and only serve to create a cycle of self-hatred and doubt. Solitude allows me to attempt to see what parts of my behavior are actually worthy of criticism and what parts are just easy targets. I can hear myself again.

Where do you carve out empty pockets to have for yourself? Is solitude getting a bad rap with the ladies?  What are the things that benefit you in having that quiet, alone time?

11 thoughts on “On Solitude”

  1. I have always been a true lover of solitude. I have to have a chance each day to be quiet in my own head. Sometimes, its only the five extra minutes I can grab in the shower. I have three small children and my husband works long hours, so if I have a really ‘noisy’ week, I will take 3 or 4 hours for my elf on the weekend and go somewhere quite to just be by myself. I will say one thing, I abhor the idea that women taking time for themselves is ‘selfish’ – however that time is spent. Women-as-nurturers are expected to take care of everyone else before themselves. But, if wedon’t take care of ourselves, who will?

  2. Very timely for me. My boyfriend has been away (family stuff) for a few weeks and will be for a few weeks more, and as much as I miss him, I also do so much more stuff when he’s not around to cuddle with. I’m writing for here; I’m doing music lessons; working out; much more socialising with friends… I miss him, too, and I wish he was here, but I’d like to say I’m not pining for him. I’m a born introvert (who can do a pretty good extrovert impression when needed), and I need my alone time too. It helps centre me.

  3. I love my alone time and when I don’t get any for a while I get uber cranky. During the school year I get some every day because I work at home and the Mister doesn’t. During the summer it is a little more challenging to find times when I am completely alone, sometimes I have to settle for ‘quiet time’. Quiet time is when the kids are in bed and the man is occupied with his neverending quest to read the whole internet and no one needs to talk to me about anything. It’s wonderful.

  4. I am firmly in the introverted camp. I loves me my alone time. I’ll usually keep it quiet, too, no music or background TV. When I taught, it was urgent that I had half an hour of dead silence when I got home so I didn’t crack into a million playdough scented pieces.

    I love being around people, too, but I like small gatherings. Crowds make me tetchy, small talk with people I don’t know makes me tetchy, the older I get the harder it is to socialize with real life people I don’t know very well. (Online is another story, I’m Miss Congeni-f’ing-ality online, wish that translated…)

  5. I couldn’t agree more. My Dh and I have “days off” where we go and do the things we enjoy doing without the other (or our child) there.

    My favorite are the days he takes our son out for a few hours and I am able to relish in the silence of an empty house. I’ll sit for hours reading in the quiet stillness in absolute bliss.

    I traveled extensively last year for work and coming home was always bittersweet. I was so glad to see my family, but it always took a day or two to adjust to living with other people again.

  6. This is interesting to me because I *hate* solitude. I always have. You describe it as a time to reflect and decompress, in effect to recharge, whereas I find solitude draining and exhausting. After a day on my own, I’m miserable. I just love people. I don’t even have to interact with them – I just like to know they’re around. I’m fascinated by people who actually feel relaxed when they’re alone.

    I had never really lived ‘alone’ until earlier this year, having gone straight from home to college housing to living with RahBoy. But then I spent three months in Paris in a teeny little studio, all on my own, and I have to say it somewhat confirmed my sense that I hate being alone. If I was stuck there all day (which I was on occasion due to sickness *cough*hangovers*cough*), I felt exhausted by the end. It cheered me up even just to go outside to do laundry or grab something to eat, just to see people on the street!

    Though there were some benefits. My flat was the best ‘single working woman’ flat ever. At one point I realised that the items on my desk included six books, three empty bottles of wine, a pair of knickers, assorted jewellery and about seven empty boxes of takeaway sushi. I genuinely used to eat my dinner (takeaway sushi or a baguette with cheese) on my bed because I was too lazy to make space on the desk. Now that I’m back home I can’t be such a degenerate slob anymore…

    1. I think the article and your preference are great examples of what makes someone an introvert vs extrovert. As a prof once explained to me, it doesn’t have anything to do with shyness (or lack thereof), but with how we prefer to recharge our batteries. He said that introverts need to be alone to recharge, where as having people around recharges extroverts.

      I’m about as far to the I as you can get on that spectrum, so I’m like the author and prefer solitude. My roommate is an E, and has a hard time understanding that when I don’t want to talk to her right away when I get home, it’s not personal. Its that I am surrounded by people all day, and other than when I’m in my car, I’m never alone. Its exhausting and I need time to recover before I can engage again.

      1. That’s just so interesting to me. I have a few friends like that as well, who just really need some alone time to chill out and relax and refresh. I think I try really hard to respect that, but I confess I’ll never understand it. My sister is the same way; being in houses alone is right up there for both of us in the ‘most hated’ column.

        It’s funny because I keep thinking I need alone time. I don’t know why, but it feels like something I’m supposed to want, if that makes sense. Invariably 20 minutes into my carefully-scheduled ‘me time’ I’m frantically texting/messaging/skyping everyone I know complaining of my terrible loneliness.

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