How I Learnt to Be Alone
When I was a student, I spent a lot of my Saturday nights alone. A move to a new city and a deceased relationship left me completely lost.
It was isolating. At a time filled with insecurities and uncertainty, to be alone on a Saturday when it felt like everyone else was with friends and having THE BEST TIME EVER!!!1, there I was with a box set and a 10pm bedtime just because I had little choice.
On Monday morning, I’d make up elaborate stories about my weekend. “Oh yeah, I’m so hungover too” I’d say nonchalantly to my classmates. I was young, and my loneliness was a source of embarrassment.
A few years later, as I entered the world of work and all of the stresses it brings, I developed insomnia.
Not a hyperbolic tale of “I-had-insomnia-last-night” but actual, crippling insomnia. To the point that I was fearful of getting into bed and the anxiety that ensued.
One of the things it taught me is that if you can’t get to sleep for a prolonged period of time, get up. Do something. I discovered there’s something powerful about writing and simply being in the middle of the night. The air almost feels cleaner. Less people are thinking. It was just me and my thoughts tiptoeing around in the depths of the night. Again, I was alone.
When my work took me to New York unexpectedly for a summer, again there I was, lo and behold, alone. The first week was a series of eating lunch in toilet cubicles and locating restaurants where other lonesome business diners may be.
But, with time, I started walking with my head a little higher. I started to enjoy the anonymity. I started to give less fucks. The choice of restaurant was mine. I could read and bathe and sleep as long as I liked. I could take hundreds of photos of pretty buildings, and there was nobody telling me to hurry up. And as I stood on top of the Rockefeller Center, observing the lights of midtown Manhattan below, I overcame my ultimate fear: I asked a stranger to take a photo of me, in all of my solitary glory.
Afterwards, I skipped through the streets of midtown Manhattan, feeling triumphant. I had all I needed. I had myself.
It’s funny, because popular culture teaches us that being alone is a bad thing. Think of Carrie Bradshaw alone at the restaurant on her 35th birthday or Bridget Jones' entire plight . It seems negative, right? To be alone, is to be unloved, unwanted, unworthy.
Except, of course, it isn’t.
There are many other instances I could tell you about — like when I spent New Year's Eve alone in bed, or even the time I took myself on holiday because, really, why the hell not?
But the point is that being “alone” got better with time. And learning to not only accept my loneliness, but actually embrace it has made me braver in every area of my life — work, love and otherwise. Who would have thought?
Being alone is like a backbone. You have to work at it and the rewards will follow.
Don’t be afraid to be alone. To be afraid of being alone, is to be afraid of yourself.
Besides, loneliness is never about the amount of people you’re surrounded by, but how disconnected you feel from the world. In order to feel more connected to the world, your world, you need to get to know yourself better. See? The solution is so often, in fact, time spent alone.
Nowadays, I embrace the silence. My best ideas come from solitude. I've gotten to know myself better, and learnt to like myself in the process. A lot, actually. I’ve been to memorable gigs alone, watched great films and taken myself out on dates. Yes, alone. “A table for one, please” is no longer a cause of anxiety, but more a sense of pride.
It goes without saying that doing things alone isn’t always as fun. But sometimes the timing of your life means you're alone, and, when it does, actually liking your own company is an extraordinary asset.
I’m more comfortable with myself now than ever before. I’m no longer hiding behind the shadows of other people because I’ve stepped into my own light.
And you know what? I’m great company. I’m thoughtful. I'm fun. I have excellent taste in films and food and songs and books. Why wouldn’t I want to spend time with someone like that?