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The Freedom of Solitude

What’s wrong with being alone these days?

Why does solitude get such a bad rep?

Why is it that when friends call and demand to know if I’m alone, I always feel an immediate sense of guilt and shame when I say that yes, yes I am alone, so help me God.

Why does that opening scene in Bridget Jones’s Diary where she’s home karaoke-ing it to “All By Myself” seem to me like quite a fun thing to do on a weekend night?

Movie still of Bridget Jones Diary opening scene of her singing All By Myself

Might have revealed a little too much there. My point is, it’s ridiculous how solitude has become synonymous with loneliness, spinsterhood, and the potential to turn into the next Unabomber. I once posited that our fear of appearing lonely evolved as a survival instinct from prehistoric days when being caught out without your tribe could result in a painful death-by-mammoth-stampede situation. But we have long since crept out of our caves, and all the mammoths are, to the best of my knowledge, gone.

My friends, we are all grown-ups here, or at least pretending mightily hard to be. It’s not a crime to actually like doing stuff alone. We’re not in high school anymore, where you might as well get the word “loser” tattooed across your chest as sit at a cafeteria table alone.

So why has it suddenly become unacceptable to be doing stuff alone? I always assumed that this was grown-up life anyway, that at some point it would become unnecessary to tote your friends around every activity of your life. It all reminds me of that episode in Gilmore Girls where Rory gets told off for sitting at a table alone and reading a book during lunch.

RORY: But I don’t understand. I get good grades, isn’t that enough?
COUNSELOR: You know, it’s not. Rory, when we make recommendations to universities on behalf of a student, that student’s social skills are a big part of it. Now, I assume you want to go to a university?
RORY: Absolutely.
COUNSELOR: Well, universities do not look kindly on loners.
RORY: But I’m not a loner.
COUNSELOR: Really? Well, what do you think a loner is?
RORY: Loners are those guys that you see walking around wearing, I don’t know, out of date clothing, bell bottoms, and they tend to carry a duffel bag with God knows what inside. That’s a loner.
COUNSELOR: Loners come in all different shapes and sizes, even pretty girls.

I’m all for the proper socialization of kids if the result is well-adjusted grown-ups with a healthy sense of empathy (i.e., if proper socialization leads to less Unabomber-type people), but not if the end result is to make someone whose nature is solitary feel like a loser for not having 500 Facebook friends or a steadily buzzing Blackberry. Not if it serves to raise a generation of kids who don’t know how to be alone and are incapable of coping with periods of loneliness.

The truth is that people need space from other people in order to create themselves and their lives. How are you supposed to even hear yourself think if all you do is surround yourself with people all the time? Solitude is a prerequisite to living a considered life.

And to me, there is a sort of elegance in independent solitude, a quiet picture rising in my mind’s eye of a glass of wine, a good book, a hand poised to turn the page – a picture that would be totally spoiled by the presence of others. There is a time to be with people and a time to be alone.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pour myself a glass of wine, change into my pajamas, and Youtube a video of “All By Myself.”

By Lylim

Lylim is a writer, reader and generally confused twenty-something living in Beijing. She writes about social media, reading, writing and the general travails of being a human being at her blog, Flyleaf (http://lylim.net)

5 replies on “The Freedom of Solitude”

The other night I had a heck of a time trying to convince one of my friends that yes, I did choose to stay in that night and just read and have a glass of wine.  In the end I still don’t think that she understood it.  I’m the type of person that needs to go out once every three months and I’ll be happy.  I’m perfectly capable of interacting with people at work and in real life (and I don’t carry around a duffel bag) but I don’t have much of an urge to spend all my time around people.  For whatever reason everyone decides that this is a negative thing and it’s annoying.

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