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March 20, 2011 11:47 AM   Subscribe

Being Alone. A good discussion on the upside of solitude, including cites to some research experiments. It's even on a single page.
posted by not_that_epiphanius (68 comments total) 71 users marked this as a favorite

 
Solitude is highly under-rated -- there is a certain bliss that comes with knowing you can stand alone without ever feeling lonely...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 12:21 PM on March 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's even on a single page.

Surely, printing each word--each letter, even--on a separate page would be more apropos?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:21 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good article. I'll have a better opinion after I ask a few people what they think about it.
posted by nickrussell at 12:25 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Waaaay ahead of you on this one, Boston Herald.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:26 PM on March 20, 2011


It's even on a single page.

Flagged as awesome.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:27 PM on March 20, 2011


Wish this could be picked up as a huge news story by our mainstream media, perhaps leading to an ultimate headline of "Americans discover they can actually think for themselves - realization spreads that healthy self-centerdness and inner quiet reflection can reduce fear, enhance sense of self-worth, and increase altruistic tendancies."

Oh wait - self-defeating act for the media. Never gonna happen. Sigh.............
posted by cdalight at 12:32 PM on March 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Read it a few days ago. As someone who likes to be alone a lot, many of the things said in it resonated strongly with me.

I thought I was a freak who liked experiencing movies or museums alone but it's nice to know there are others.
posted by special-k at 12:36 PM on March 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


OH GOD NO ONE LOVES ME AND ALL I HAVE IS THIS FUCKING WEBSITE
posted by the quidnunc kid at 12:37 PM on March 20, 2011 [14 favorites]


We are always alone...trapped deep within and behind our brains and autonomic nervous systems. The fact that we have this illusion of connectedness via abstract communication and gestural inference only highlights the utter isolation we are confined in the moment we are misunderstood.

Still, though, having a partner is an unmitigated advantage if you do it right. *hugs wife*
posted by Burhanistan at 12:38 PM on March 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Sorry - that just slipped out. Uh ... nice post.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 12:38 PM on March 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Once a month, on the day I received my monthly equivalent of pocket money during undergrad days (it had to pay for rent/food as well) I would splurge on a meal, alone, at one of my favourite terrace restaurants. I knew I'd have to be frugal and tight the whole month, and that would be the case regardless of whether I had this meal or not. So it was the highlight of the month. That was when the rhythms of a solitary life began.
posted by infini at 12:41 PM on March 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


"I'm alone, not lonely" sometimes
posted by emhutchinson at 12:43 PM on March 20, 2011


Tanya Davis explains How To Be Alone.
posted by ts;dr at 12:48 PM on March 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


The great thing about being alone is having the space to truly "be yourself," and to masturbate.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 12:48 PM on March 20, 2011 [24 favorites]


Next up after "people who live in New York City surrounded by millions of people talk about how great it is to be alone," stay tuned for perennial favorite "rich people talk about how awesome peasant life must be!"
posted by enn at 12:51 PM on March 20, 2011 [11 favorites]


ALL THIS STUFF IS EXACTLY WHAT I'VE BEEN SAYING YING ING ing
posted by Ritchie at 12:57 PM on March 20, 2011


This thread will probably attract like-minded people, but I'd still get this off my chest:
I've lived alone (in the sense of self-reliant) for most of my adult life, starting at about age 23 when I moved out of my dysfuncional family's home (that would be a total of 12 years of solitude). I remember I got so used to it that the most fabulous Christmases and New Year's I can remember are those I spent on my own, ignoring all the social routines and customs. I usually cleaned the whole flat, did some work (I used to translate in those times), had a good exercise and played some piano. I'd usually cook a nice meal, a fried trout or sauerkraut soup, and I usually woke up the next morning incredibly energized and happy.
The most memorable New Year's, however, was different - we had some communal pot, went to the crowded city centre, watched fireworks in a big group, drank lots of fizzy and I personally got thrown out of a 5star hotel when I (drunk as a skunk) attempted to lure my then-employers who stayed there to join us in the main square. I don't remember how I got home and felt miserable for days afterwards.

Later on I began to realize I was probably a miser and my most sincere belief was in the quote that Hell are Others. I never felt relaxed in groups of people and even when travelling I travelled mostly alone. Or on a motorbike, which amounts to the same thing. Yet, I still enjoyed meeting new people - and I concluded I was an extroverted introvert.

Then came the years with my solid girlfriend (i.e. the one I'm dating now and it looks serious) and probably with them the great depressions and unhappiness, and a general loss of passion for anything.

I look for the cure and sometimes the best solutions I find are those obtained by a good measure of solitary thinking, but today I read a list of things posted in a discussion about what makes one happy and it is this:
# Cultivate a passion
# Be part of something bigger than yourself
# Avoid introspection
# Don't resist change
# Live for the moment
# Audit your happiness
# Play the part and be happy!

The first one I pretty much second, but the second one is something I haven't given much thought - until now.

Is it possible, that happiness is not obtained so much by being with others, or being alone, as being a part of something bigger, of some greater Idea, Plan, Scheme?
posted by Laotic at 12:57 PM on March 20, 2011 [17 favorites]


what are you even talking about, enn? You can not be alone if you live in a city?
YOU CALL THIS BEING ALONE? LOOK AT THIS HERMIT, HE HASN'T TALKED TO ANYONE IN 8 YEARS, YOU PRIVILEGED BASTARDS!
posted by ts;dr at 1:00 PM on March 20, 2011


Oh dear. I clearly have too much of 'a good thing', as I spend achingly endless time to myself pondering over the thin veneer of the few letters parasitically clinging onto the notion of one burdening alone and lonely alike. And all this extra empathy...desperate, desperate empathy. You need a hug...here, hold me...
posted by iamkimiam at 1:07 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Related previous FPP: The End of Solitude.
posted by ericb at 1:08 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


>when travelling I travelled mostly alone. Or on a motorbike, which amounts to the same thing.

I had a bike for a few years as well. I wonder what the venn diagram of motorcycle owners + loners (solitaries?) looks like. Is anyone else who posted above a current or former motorcyclist?
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 1:09 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can not be alone if you live in a city?

Previous FPP: Life and death of an urban recluse
posted by ericb at 1:11 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]




Why do we treat "social anxiety" as a disorder, but not "solitude anxiety," which is also painful and distorting to life?

And if "agoraphobia" is a sense of horror at the thought of going out into the world beyond your house, what do we call the equally desperate panic that so many people feel at the prospect of ever spending time at home, alone, with "nothing" "to do"?

It seems that many (most?) people are desperately afraid of dying alone, and entangle themselves in all sorts of unfortunate relationships as insurance against that possibility. I'm a little afraid of dying unAlone--that some compassionate person will be there and hold my hand and talk at me and mess up the whole experience. It's a good thing that circumstances will probably make that decision for me, one way or the other. But I'm glad the "aloneness" part of it doesn't terrify me.
posted by Corvid at 1:19 PM on March 20, 2011 [15 favorites]


# Avoid introspection
...
# Audit your happiness


Aren't these two contradictory? Or am I misunderstanding what you mean by "audit your happiness"?
posted by indubitable at 1:23 PM on March 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Previous FPP: Life and death of an urban recluse

Interestingly enough this previous similar link was met with a lot of scorn: Why I'm Alone
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:26 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I spent plenty of my youth fetishizing being alone as if it made me somehow superior or more intellectual. I was too eager to accept myself as an introvert. I analyzed everything too much. This led to some good things but it also crippled me. It was a big revelation to learn how to shut down my constantly-working brain, to stop questioning and caring so much, to just say 'yes' to anything remotely social, to relax, to learn how to be with other people and to enjoy other people. At this point I feel like I'm okay whether I'm alone or with other people, and I suppose that's the ideal state, right? I'm thinking lots of people on the internet are going to come out and say "introverts are so much better than extroverts" but I haven't found the extreme version of either to be healthy. This article is pretty on target though. Opting to spend time alone once in a while should never be seen as pathetic or weird.
posted by naju at 1:29 PM on March 20, 2011 [22 favorites]


naju, it is how I feel right now - doing something for the benefit of a group makes me feel very energetic afterwards.

But deep down I believe I'll end up as a recluse in my little mountain house 4 km from the town, doing passionate, solitary activities.

And, indubitable, I didn't understand
# Play the part and be happy!
either. It's probably aimed at employees or slaves or such, and I'm not one, so I just ignored it : )
posted by Laotic at 1:34 PM on March 20, 2011


Oh god I love being alone. When the last person leaves the house or I am in my car alone heading for a long drive I get this thrill that starts somewhere in my chest and rises until it fills my face with a smile.

...sharing an experience with someone is inherently distracting, because it compels us to expend energy on imagining what the other person is going through and how they’re reacting to it.

This is absolutely fucking true in my case. When I am with other people especially close people like my partner, my mind is filled with thoughts about his experience of the shared time, rather than just a clear headed comprehension of my own experience. And it's tiring! I love this man with all of my big big heart - being with him fills me with a cloud of happiness and comfort - but there is a lightness, a singular joy that steals upon me when he leaves the property for a day and I am left alone with nature, the animals and no near neighbours. It feels like a day-trip to heaven.

I read this article a couple of days ago and have been thinking on it since. There is a great book called Intimacy and Solitude which talks a lot about how solitude is an important, nay vital component of our ability to be really intimate and close with others.

Most people think I'm an extrovert because I can work a room, do public speaking and quickly turn strangers into friends. But they're wrong. I am a gregarious introvert and spending quality time alone is the only way I can maintain my attraction to the human race.
posted by Kerasia at 1:57 PM on March 20, 2011 [18 favorites]


I find it much easier to be alone when I am not in the presence of other people than when I'm in a group.

That is, it would be much easier to be alone in the middle of nowhere than in the middle of NYC. In the middle of nowhere, there is no possibility for human contact. In the middle of NYC there are thousands of people, but none of them will talk to you.
posted by 47triple2 at 2:05 PM on March 20, 2011


This strikes a chord with me, because it's something I've tried hard to articulate over the years. I'm a pretty solitary person, when it comes down to it, and have lived alone for all but two of the last twenty-six years. I love other people, and I'm charismatic and make friends easily, for the most part, but what I've learned in the quarter century of my semi-official independent adulthood is that if you can't be content on your own, and comfortable in those moments of solitude, you're not going to be content with people around, either. There will always be that little electrical buzz of fear tickling the tips of your neurons that says "I have to be with someone, or I have to receive constant stimulation, or else I'll face into the void."

Our whole culture is now geared to blaring over the gentle pull of the void, plastering over the undefined spaces with TV and radio and music and the internet and text messages and phone calls and errands and video games and shopping and noise and noise and noise and when it's all gotten to me in the past, when I've been won over by the jittery satisfaction of cramming everpresent media into my craw, something as minor as having the internet go down would panic me. We're fearful of that moment, and of what we falsely label boredom, which is really the ugly moment where we have to confront the terrifying reality of the small voice in the silent spaces, where we suddenly caught alone with ourselves.

Will we have anything to say? Will we like who we see there?

We all know those people that, at the end of a relationship, can't get into another one fast enough, and some of us can tut-tut, but we're the lucky ones, I suspect. Society probably wouldn't agree, and every family gathering is a reinforcement of the "so, honey, are you seeing someone?" mindset, which is a giant lump of conversation-stopping lead orbited by the heavy moon (for straight people) of "so, honey, have you thought about having kids?" Being queer saves me from the heavy moon, but there's always the little pursed lips when I say I'll see someone when the right someone comes along.

There are a lot of things that are just worlds better when it's just me. Movies are better, museums are better, concerts are better, because I can surrender there, and let the lines open up between me and the medium without the mitigation of the social. There's a clarity that comes from that silence, and it's the place where you can distill who you are and what you need into a form that's easier to access when you're around other people—a space where you transmute your experiences into wisdom.

I rolled my scooter out of the basement yesterday, parked it on the grass, and laid out my tools on a towel there, and went through the meticulous process of flushing out trapped bubbles in the hydraulics of the brakes and replacing old brake fluid with new. For me, this is a sort of monastic tea ceremony, a quiet observance of the pleasure of doing something, and my reward was to put on all my gear, put a gallon of gas in the tank, and go for a two hour aimless ramble. I tore around the little hidden places still left in my area, letting the moment carry me, and ended up riding through the enormous campus of the prison, until I found a place I'd seen in just a flicker in the corner of my eye with the trees bare. I pulled in, drove up a long, long driveway, and pulled the bike up on its center stand to have a walk around the monstrous abandoned italianate mansion there, finding strange signs that made it look an awful lot like the place was being used as a mental hospital before it was abandoned. I took a few pictures, roamed the grounds, and set off again, and it was an adventure.

I've got a riding buddy who started off as dating material and then gradually turned into just a sparring partner of the best kind, and he's been desperate for me to get my old Triumph going so we can go on rides where he's not stuck idling behind my scooter the whole time, but the fact is that I prefer riding solo most of the time. The waves and nods from other riders are enough, enough to remind me that I'm both on my own and among a fraternity of seemingly like minds, and I love the ability that a tiny, nimble bike gives me to just hit the brakes and go somewhere else.

Sometimes, though, I wonder. I wonder if I'm too acclimated to solitude, and I wonder if it's a direction that'll send me down the primrose path to being a one-man Collyer brother. I have my stretches where I know I've been a little too comfortable away from the world, and the redeeming thing is that I've increasingly trained those who know and love me to be my tenders, to call me up and tell me it's time for me to get out and do something. I usually respond with a snarl, but it's fun to do stuff with other people, too. Besides, I've been in my current apartment for twenty-three years, and I've developed little warning lights that go off to tell me when the solitude is too much in the same way that happy stoners know that they're smoking too much.

For me, the little signs and wonders clue me in. If I spend more than a few hours a day obsessively researching mixtures and methods for building with cob or repeatedly rewired the racks in my studio to get the wiring harness just right, it's time to go out. If I've baked more than three complicated baked goods in a day, or masturbated more than eleven times to 1930s Civilian Conservation Corp amateur gay porn in less than 36 hours, or reread one of John Varley's Gaean Trilogy books in less than a week, it's time to call up some friends for a road trip.

Different people have different needs, though. My mother, widowed fourteen years ago, occasionally drives me crazy complaining that she's got nothing to do.

"Why don't you go see The Illusionist?"

"It's not showing anywhere around here."

"It's showing at the Charles. That's just a thirty minute drive, Ma."

"I just don't like doing things alone."

"What, do you have to talk through the whole movie?"

"No, but it's nice to be there with someone."

I get pissed, because it feels needy to me, but I've got a different make-up, and I've lived alone longer than she has, and I'm clever enough and motivated enough to just be where I am when I'm on my own. She also feels like she was cheated out of her retirement with my dad, and that's true, so I have to cut her some slack, but I keep trying to show her that there are lots of ways to be content when you're not with someone else.

I have the nagging worry, sometimes, that I'm so comfortable with this, but that I'll hit my sixties and suddenly realize that I'm absolutely desperate for a mate, or even just basic company, and it'll be too late, but fortunately that feeling fades quickly.

I've also already got my mountain hermitage, a little wreck of a cabin in the Eastern panhandle of West Virginia that squats lopsidedly on the side of a mountain with the train running through my front yard and the Potomac just beyond. When my dog died in 2009, I was actually afraid to go up there, to be that much on my own, but I drove the hundred and some miles and spent a couple weekends in sequence there, pondering if I'd end up there. One of these days, I like to think all this writing I do might amount to something, and I could live up there pretty cheaply, with a satellite dish for TCM and the internet, and maybe I'd just fall into that place, a mountain man with FTP and a work in progress.

I got up one morning, just before dawn, when it was warm and the kind of noisy quiet you get up there, with the whole landscape singing naturalistic symphonies at you, slipped on my river shoes and grabbed a towel. It gets darker there than any place I know, and it's not on any regular flight paths, so you're pretty much just looking at a million years' worth of stars up there. I followed the pathetic spot of my flashlight and padded my way across the tracks and down over the broad, grassy floodplain, then scrabbled down the steep bank onto the rocky shore. I undressed, laid out my folded towel on my river shoes, and wallowed into the black water in the shallows, paddling out to where the river is about two feet deep. It's choked with waving fronds of river grass in August, and the current's concentrated further out, in the deeper channel, so you can just float there.

I laid back, feeling the tendrils of the grass on my back and the gentle breath of the valley breeze on whatever cleared the water, and time just became this amorphous thing, fast and slow all at once, just marked by nothing, signifying nothing. The sky turns indigo as the stars go out, and I just hung there, suspended, as it drifted through shades of blue. The morning haze lies right on the water that early, and if you're patient, you can actually feel it as it lifts, the composition of each breath changing like dishes in an elaborate meal. As the sky lightened, I reached that perfect moment, the one where your thoughts stop being made of words in that incessant interior conversation we all have, and if you could translate the formless flow of my thinking, it'd be as simple as "oh my, oh my, oh my" as I took in every little thing.

The first freight of daylight called from the other side of the mountain, around the big bend there, and its voice was a mournful, gorgeously desolate music that just rose as the train got closer and closer, until you heard the sound transition from reflected, refracted sound to the actual thunder of steel on rails, and I lifted my head just a bit to see it moving through the distant trees and then stomping through like a magnificent dragon, the low rumble of the rails accompanied by the shrill of steel against steel and the sequential thumps of couplings pulling tight as the train picked up speed on the straight stretch past my place.

It's that, really—that moment. You just can't find that with other people, or at least I can't. The slinky-resonant way the time flows, the way the voice fades, the way it's all just so beautiful, and something you can only hamfistedly explain in words—that's the reward for singing that high lonesome song, sometimes. Back at the cabin, I know when I feel like being home again, and I feel like I'm always getting better at mastering that balancing act, and so I pack up, and head for the manic pleasures of my little town and my job and everything else.

I don't always do the best job, trying to be an evangelist for emptiness, but I try.

Right now, though, I've got hours of sunlight left and I think my scooter is calling me.
posted by sonascope at 2:15 PM on March 20, 2011 [60 favorites]


Quirkyalone.
posted by davel at 2:16 PM on March 20, 2011


I thought I was a freak who liked experiencing movies or museums alone but it's nice to know there are others.

Same here. We should all have a meet-up.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 2:24 PM on March 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Playing solitaire is a zen thing; a processing time. Its going to be interesting to see what happens when solitude is shared with an understanding other.
posted by infini at 2:33 PM on March 20, 2011


I've found there is great solace and a deep, still dignity in being alone. So thank God my conjoined twin didn't survive.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 2:54 PM on March 20, 2011


I always thought of myself as a loner but if I'm alone for any length of time my brain gets weird and inward and depressed so I always go out and stay online.
I eat by myself at restaurants every night because it's less lonely than eating in my apartment.
I do need some time alone to recharge my social batteries but not much.
I'm afraid of being introverted again.
It's also impossible for me to go to movies or shows alone. Sydney is a very small city
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:08 PM on March 20, 2011


I used to be more ok being alone. Then I started grad school with an awesome group of extroverted people and two of them live with me in this apartment.

They all just left for break and I'm going nutso in this apartment! It's like Lovecraft in Brooklyn says... weird and inward and depressed (without this online distraction at least).

But that's where having a significant other is awesome :D

I guess now I get to fear being widowed, but by then I'd ideally have family anyway. :/
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 3:20 PM on March 20, 2011


I feel like I have an invisible Social Health Bar, like the health bars in videogames. When it gets depleted from too much socialization I start hating people and need to spend time alone.
Oddly enough I've talked to others who think the same way
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:30 PM on March 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


Lovecraft in Brookly, we should totally hang out.

But not for too long, ok?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:32 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've got to say it, this fetish of "being alone" is BS of the highest magnitude. People say they are 'alone', but have plenty of friends, go out in public, talk to people. That's not alone, especially when you live in a large city. Being alone sucks. I know.

After a bad break up, after having moved to a small town hours from anyone i knew and not having met anyone here, (and i must have had crap friends there, as only three ever visited in seven years since) i had a nervous breakdown to the point of several suicide attempts. Afterwards, i didn't leave the house for months for anything more than to deposit a check and get groceries (if i could have gotten that direct deposited and groceries online, i would have in an instant). I had essentially become a hermit or hikikomori, for several years. A couple years later, i started auditing classes at the local university to try and break out of it, one the anxiety got too much and dropped out of, the others not so bad, although some days just couldn't do it. Met one person my age in one and have been going to movie nights with, but still sometimes the anxiety gets to me.

The years of being a hermit though, truly alone, has ruined my social skills, i never know what to say or talk too quietly as during that time i've only talked to myself and my pet rabbits. My house is a disaster area, as the depression and the true thought will be "no one else will ever see it, why clean?" Hygiene? Only if i knew i was going out and more than just a quick trip. You don't even want to know what my opinion of other people is from the little contact i had then. Stopped going out to decent restaurants that didn't have take out.

I'm still fighting the effects of this period being really alone. It's not romantic, intellectual, or something to aspire to. The thing that kicked me the most out of it was when i fell down the stairs carrying my laundry and hurt my back badly. Laying there, knowing that it would be weeks or months at least before anyone found my body. It wasn't even a "poor me" moment, as i didn't care about that, but instead my pet rabbits who would end up starving to death because of me. That's what it is really like to be alone. Not fun at all.
posted by usagizero at 3:43 PM on March 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


i think the trick/problem for me is that i can be alone in my own headspace even when i'm out with people. you can also create little 'bubbles' of alone time in the middle of a long night through pinball, concentrating on a song, or even just finding a space at a festival to zone out for a bit. the experimental cinemas i've seen at Aussie fests are good for this
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:44 PM on March 20, 2011


The strangest thing for me about living alone is that it's made me much more sociable - I'm not drained from badly-timed interactions, and if I've free time I'll spend it with people, or if I'm working alone, I'll do it in a place with other people when I can. I don't mind being in public/at something alone, though, and feel good enough friends-wise that it's only the first few minutes or some weird delay at a gig that makes me feel like a a bit of a weirdo loser.

I never felt like this when I lived with other people. Back then, I'd spend my free time out alone or in my room, and absolutely crave it, totally bristling when someone else would come into a room and start talking when I was trying to recharge. Really no fun, and I'm hoping it doesn't set back in when I'm living with people again in a few months.
posted by carbide at 3:45 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Quirkyalone.

I prefer the less smugly twee variant, "snarkyalone".
posted by acb at 4:16 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


@uzagizero – I want to favorite your comment, but really I'm more inclined to sympathize with you and offer some kind of digital compassion. I haven't been to as bad a place as you've been, but my current school program had me relocate 3k miles from my life-long home, in a rather barren and inhospitable northern suburb of Chicago. Add to that the ridiculous stress due to the nature of my program (weird post-pre-med, pre-med deal), and the long hours of studying, and I can definitely sympathize. I feel for you man (or woman), I really do, and I'm glad you're slowly getting out of it. The worst part about being in such a rut is knowing that the longer you're in it, the more difficult it is to break out from.
posted by kurosawa's pal at 4:25 PM on March 20, 2011


I feel like I have an invisible Social Health Bar, like the health bars in videogames. When it gets depleted from too much socialization I start hating people and need to spend time alone.

Yes. Yes! I have this exactly! Some interactions boost the bar (viz. flirting, jokes going over well, drunken literary analysis, Sudden Realizations of Common Opinions, & c.) other interactions drain it (long, dull anecdotes, arguments, jokes failing, dudes who don't get that they're third wheels while I'm trying to flirt, celebrity gossip, sanctimony, sexism, noisy, opinionated speechifiers, & c.) - as in any quality game, my Social Points stash faces far more threats than power-ups. It's dangerous out there!

Another thing is how many folks don't seem to understand which times are for talking and which times are not - in line for the men's room? Talking. Inside the men's room? No talking. Ten yards from the dance floor? Talking. On the dance floor? Fucking SHUT UP. Scrolling through my mp3 player? Talking. Headphones on? Fuck off. Book in my lap? Talking. Book in my hands? No goddamn talking. Previews? Talking. Movie? Quiet, please. These don't seem like difficult concepts, but I encounter daily people who do not seem to grasp them.

At times, I find myself faking extroversion just to deflect people who won't stop fucking with my introversion. At parties, I always seem to wind up with a couple dudes who lock on to me and won't let me get loose and work the room or fade into the background like I prefer. In order to disengage with one person who WON'T GO AWAY or let our conversation end, I wind up trying to engage huge groups of people in the hopes that the resulting conversation will draw in the dudes who won't give me my space, thus enabling me to quietly slip away. It doesn't always work. Last party we had at our place, I had to purposely spill something on my shirt just so I could get loose of this one dude who refused to mingle with anyone else.

I love my friends, I really do, but sometimes some of them don't get that I'm doing just fine sitting on the periphery of the party, quietly sipping my drink and enjoying the music. They try to drag me back into the social churn and force me to interact, as if silent observation isn't a kind of interaction. I get that this is done out of concern and the assumption that my silence means I'm miserable (and honestly, sometimes this is accurate) - but the interventions aren't always needed. Sometimes when I want to just hole up in my room for awhile, they seem offended that I'm not jumping at all chances to hang out. Only my very closest friends are coming to understand that it's not at all anything personal in the slightest that makes me need some solo time - that, in fact, I'll be a better companion to them if I get the time I need to recharge. It'd be nice if quiet wasn't pathologized so often.

Sometimes I'm not saying anything because I haven't got anything to say. There's no malice involved, I just don't wanna fill my friend's ears with empty vocal calories. To me, it'd be really cool if this practice was more widespread. Not everything requires discussion, and the people I wind up trusting the most and being the closest to are those who are willing to experience some moments together in silence, who don't feel compelled to perpetually shore up our personal connection with constant, needless conversation - people who understand that certain silences are more significant hallmarks of trust and closeness are the best sorts of friends for a guy like me to have.
posted by EatTheWeak at 4:28 PM on March 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


I just want you all to know that I'm alone right now.
posted by Elmore at 4:39 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I moved to a new city, and due to health problems/physical disabilities, it has been quite hard for me to get out and make friends.

I definitely need some alone time. I deeply value having some alone time, to read a book, watch a DVD, listen to music, look at the ocean, potter around the house.

But not having talked to anyone face-to-face except shop assistants and a doctor for six days sucks. Especially when you're feeling vulnerable from illness and physical pain.

There is such a thing as too much alone time.
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 4:40 PM on March 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


back when I was really depressed my psychologist gave me some advice: 'accept every invitation'. if you take that too literally though there's a problem
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:41 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Not alone, 'Lone'. Alone is an unfortunate predicament, lone is an aesthetic choice." — Batmanuel, The Tick (live action series)
posted by terrortubby at 4:44 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Captain Liberty: Manuel, we're not lonely, are we?
Batmanuel: We? No. No, no, no, no. We're too attractive to be lonely.
Capt. Liberty: Yeah, but we are alone.
Batmanuel: I'm not alone. Uh, spinsters, shut-ins, toll booth attendants — these are alone people. Batmanuel is lone — as in Lone Ranger, or, uh, lone wolf. Alone is an unfortunate predicament. Lone is an aesthetic choice. - from The Tick (live action series)
posted by terrortubby at 4:47 PM on March 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hahaha, geez, case in point - I popped up to my room for a minute, got caught up in this FPP, typed the above comment and my friend and roommate just knocked on my door, asking me to come be sociable because a number of mutual friends are here by her invitation. Ohwells ... let's go interact with people for a minute ...
posted by EatTheWeak at 4:48 PM on March 20, 2011


Since moving to London (6½ years ago), I've been spending more time alone. Partly it's because London's the sort of city where, if you ask someone if they'd be up for a drink or whatever, chances are they've got something better to do, and a circle of friends they've known for longer than you to do that with. And when you do meet up with a group of others, their conversation, with its injokes and references to mutual acquaintances, goes over your head, and you end up tuning out. Of course, the downside to that is that, when your interactions with other human beings are mostly limited to being stuck behind them walking too slowly in Tube stations, it reinforces a misanthropic agreement with Sartre's famous dictum about Hell. (Or, as Josie Long said, in London, other people fall into two categories: obstacles and cunts.)
posted by acb at 5:17 PM on March 20, 2011


I drink alone, yeah
With nobody else
I drink alone, yeah
With nobody else
You know when I drink alone
I prefer to be by myself
posted by bwg at 5:18 PM on March 20, 2011


I built my hut
beside a road
yet hear no noise of passing carts and horses
with mind detached
ones place becomes remote
posted by sfts2 at 5:25 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


"back when I was really depressed my psychologist gave me some advice: 'accept every invitation'. if you take that too literally though there's a problem"

Shit! That's what happened. My therapist told me to get out there and hang out with guys. Man it turned out terribly and I wound up telling her "fuck you". You go hang out with the guys. She's fucking single by the way what does she know?

Sorry was I supposed to make sense? All this random speech has got me in the spirit.

Anything I could say beyond that would be indulgence of the disturbing nature of my life. (I know why should I suddenly show restraint now? LOL)

Because I'm funny like that. Get it? No?

This is what too much alone time does. Or perhaps what causes too much alone time. Or maybe it was the drugs. Or the drugs in the womb with me. Things to ponder. I like to sit with my chin resting on my fist cross legged and thinking really hard. I'm doing so right now. Hmmmm. Brow furrowed. Brood.

No but seriously I could post a whole slew of studies on aloneness, rejection, and inflammation. Because you know, I sit around reading research that no one cares about all alone because it's like artistic and profound and I'm so connected to the universe that I breath feelings of companionship and never need see a soul to feel true happiness.

(Social isolation that involves rejection or abuse from other human beings is harmful to people. Voluntary social isolation is completely different. Let's not get confused. We need to feel connected.)
posted by xarnop at 6:45 PM on March 20, 2011


It's not being alone that's the problem, it's what you do with it and whether you make it all that there is. Edward Gibbon wrote that he thought that he had "drawn a high prize in the lottery of life" because he had a "natural disposition to repose rather than to activity," but by all accounts that were not his own, he had a vicious temperament and was something of a curmudgeon. He discarded his betrothed, spent the remainder of his life alone, and dedicated most of it to writing The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. You decide whether that makes him a sociopath or not.

I know that I am a better person when I am around other people and am glad that I have had enough progress in my own self-worth to be able to have drawn some people to me instead of pushing them away. But as Montaigne put it: "We must reserve a little back-shop, all our own, entirely free, wherein to establish our true liberty and principal retreat and solitude." Other than the fact that I wouldn't relegate it to a backshop, I couldn't agree more.
posted by blucevalo at 8:00 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a teacher, so that makes me value my alone time highly.

According to my sister, I'm pretty much the definition of "quirkyalone" or what have you.

But really, I like my job. When I work by definition it's with (a lot of different) people. In a given week I'm dealing with about 300 different souls, and that's before things like faculty meetings or lunch with my boss or co-workers.

If the right person ever comes along, great. If not, I'm not going to waste my time when there's a bunch of other cool stuff I could be doing.

And travelling alone is the only way to do it. Sorry, but the thought of having to adjust my schedule according to somebody's subjective quirks just makes me want to stay home. On the flip-side, I wouldn't want to inflict my subjective quirks on anybody else. That would be fucking rude, IMO, and I hate fucking rude people.
posted by bardic at 9:08 PM on March 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


I am a gregarious introvert and spending quality time alone is the only way I can maintain my attraction to the human race.
Kerasia - I am stealing "gregarious introvert" as this completely applies to me. I like being social, but I can go whole days/weeks when there is nothing better than sitting reading with the cat and not seeing other people.
posted by arcticseal at 11:07 PM on March 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is pretty interesting to read as today is my third anniversary with someone who gives me the alone time I need (gregarious introvert here!) without making me feel bad for needing it.

I never knew there was a way to be content with being with someone while being able to get needed downtime. And to still have that person be there with the pudding and the endless Futurama episodes when I'm sick. It's like the best thing ever.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 4:05 AM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've always loved being alone. For years I spent big chunks of time camping alone, in a very remote forest setting. It was heaven.

I expected more folks to comment on the issue of others' perceptions... I've always avoided mentioning my penchant for solitude as others invariably interpret this as my way of saying I don't like people or that I don't like to socialize. Which really isn't true. However, when something important requires attention, I need to be alone with it. Otherwise, juggling others' expectations/reactions/emotions becomes too stressful and will distract from the task at hand.

The only problem I've had is with others' opinions, which are rarely positive. Comments are loaded with resentment and envy, if only because I apparently enjoy the solitude too much. Glad to hear folks are finally seeing value in it; folks who cannot bear to be alone, ever, make me nervous.
posted by kinnakeet at 9:21 AM on March 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have my own little house, out back of the bigger house, where I research, read, meditate, dance, work out, write, and sleep. This is essential to my well-being.

For years, this is what I've needed--a loving partner who knows how to leave me alone, and I have it. I resent the job where I have to interact with hundreds of people in a given day, but I go. Someday I won't have to.

When I moved here sixteen years ago, it was about moving away from the city, from my whirlwind social life, where I had something to do every single night, living alone but nearly never getting time alone. I loved what I was doing, but I was not getting what I wanted. And so I moved north, hoping for isolation. But my new girlfriend--she was freaked out that I didn't want to go out and make new friends in my new place. Couldn't deal with my need for meditation time in the yard, gardening, walking in the woods.

After that relationship, after falling back into activism and obligation after obligation, social and civic, I was exhausted. Profoundly so. Spiraling a bit out of control. There were two years, just before this present expanse of solitude-when-I-want-it, where I went out to "the bar" every single night, flirting with alcohol abuse myself, worrying about my health and the risks I was taking. And then I just stopped. I met my current partner, I went home, and I stayed there. Then I sold the house where I had roommates, moved into my partner's home with his two children, and spent two years feeling cramped and oppressed by too much togetherness, until we fixed up the carriage house into something livable.

So here I am, finally, in my little house behind the big house, and it is heavenly. I love walking in the woods alone, going for day long tromps in the wilderness. And traveling alone! I went to England by myself years ago, and though there was one incident (being sick in a place where you know no one in several time zones was tough), I adored it, often meeting people along the way. And then there was my three-week road trip to Los Angeles, doing research for a book, where I talked to nearly no one (just campsite and hotel managers, waitresses, and library clerks... and one homeless woman named Rita Brown, which ended up being tremendously profound in that great silence). Witnessing the Grand Canyon alone in Spring, when the crowds are not yet there, the desert expanses, the great prairies and highways, it was a depth of experience I imagine are rare. It was scary, but it was awesome too.

I think a lot about solitude. I am struggling mightily with my guilt over my need for it. I don't have my own children, and the step-kids I have don't need me hovering (though I am present, they are in their later teens now). I have wondered about social anxiety, but I actually think it entered my vocabulary because I needed an excuse for the fact that I hate answering my phone. I have been thinking mostly about leaving the guilt behind, thinking about the women I have always admired most--those women who are strong in their solitude (Justine Kerfoot, May Sarton...), those women who went into the wilderness and came back with a deep understanding and trust in their own abilities. I have always fantasized about that little cabin in the woods, far away from anyone else. And perhaps someday there will be some time in a place like that, but I need to celebrate what I *do* have, which is solitude whenever I would like it, every day, and so happily, when I'm not feeling bad about the friends I have neglected and left behind.

They don't need me anymore, I think. I need me. It took me a long time to get here.
posted by RedEmma at 9:58 AM on March 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Red Emma, that's an interesting experience. There is absolutely no reason to feel guilt over liking a lot of solitude, even "more than others think is ok".

Others judging something like that is as annoying to me as people who put down social people who "don't like to be alone ever."

As long as you know you feel whole and connected and the the kind of relationships you need are available, that's what is important.

Of course, because relationships do involve more than ourselves--- I do think it would matter if your friends felt like you wouldn't be there if they needed. However if you know for sure you don't need anyone to be there for you ever, than there is no reason to create relationships where you have to be there for others when you don't even need the same things in return.

I'm glad you worked your way to a place you feel very happy. That is a good thing!
posted by xarnop at 11:23 AM on March 21, 2011


If this thread does nothing else but offer each participant a sense of 'you're ok, i'm ok' ;p / permission/ acceptance to each of us who follows the rhythms of our own drummers, however long it may take our feets (and sometimes our hearts and our minds) to find the beat, then it deserves a trophy cup (or a sidebar or some such)
posted by infini at 11:37 AM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hate hate hate the term "alone time." Why are we saying "I need some alone time" instead of "I need some time alone?" I feel like it's a relatively new term. It sounds wrong to my ear and I find it incredibly irritating. It sounds kind of posh and pompous or new age-y.

I love spending time alone, but alone time sucks.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 4:23 PM on March 21, 2011


Social isolation that involves rejection or abuse from other human beings is harmful to people. Voluntary social isolation is completely different. Let's not get confused. We need to feel connected.

This is a critical distinction, and one that is too often overlooked. A simplified but helpful way to describe the difference between the two is that solitude brings joy, while loneliness brings pain. The element of choice is important.

As a lifelong introvert who values connection but is easily overwhelmed by social situations, I'm always happy to hear about others - particularly other women - who have found spouses and partners who respect their introvert tendencies. I can't imagine myself being happy in a relationship with anyone who treated my need - and yes, it IS a need - for regenerative solitude as some sort of aberration. Having large blocks of alone time for leisure, contemplation, reading, writing, creative pursuits, exploring the forest, and just enjoying my own company is so essential for me that I don't even think I could be a good spouse at all without it. How many women are fortunate enough to have this? How might relationships be improved if more women did? Virginia Woolf was absolutely right about the need for a room of one's own. And even women who have it are too often forced to fight to keep their space free of outside intrusions, or denounced as "selfish" for having the audacity to even want such a thing, let alone insist upon it.

One of the things that I struggled with most during my emotionally devastating divorce was the way it robbed me of my natural ability to take deep joy, comfort and solace in solitude. It terrified me beyond words to think that I might never be able to regain this ability - that the divorce might have broken me forever in a way that was so intimately tied to my self-perception. I cherish my ability to enjoy solitude. I wondered: Who would I be without it? Would I even be able to like the person I had become?

Turns out the damage done was temporary, and I am more resilient than I thought. But I only learned this in hindsight. My divorce made me very, very lonely for a long time...and even worse, I found I couldn't heal all of the damage completely on my own or through friendships and family relationships, no matter how loving and accepting they were. It was only after I became involved in another intimate dating relationship - with someone who not only accepted my driving need for solitude without question, but had the same need himself - that I felt my ability to take joy in solitude return in full.

Now I am single again, and I have no regrets. Interestingly enough, that short-term post-divorce relationship left behind some amazing gifts. It left me feeling solidly grounded in myself again, and happier than ever. My confidence is gradually returning, and I'm finally in that lovely place where I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can be happy alone, if that's in the cards, and I also know I can be happy in a relationship - if, and only if, it's with someone who truly respects my introversion just as I would respect theirs.

The dynamic relationship between healthy intimacy and healthy solitude is complex and paradoxical. I don't understand it, and I probably never will. But it's fascinating to explore.
posted by velvet winter at 4:41 PM on March 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've always been very comfortable alone, growing up with my closest sibling being 12 years older than me. I do think that only children are more likely to prefer solitude and enjoy it more. I have certainly observed a sometimes worrying need for others to never be alone. I always noticed it most strongly when I was in college. I was almost always walking alone, but I was in the minority. Other students moved in pairs or herds, almost exclusively. I never understood it. The chances that someone I'm friends with would be attended the same classes on the same schedule and needing to visit the same places was really low. So people actually arranged to meet up just to walk across campus together, which I thought was crazy.

I left my job last year due to disability and everyone kept asking me (and still does) "Won't you get lonely?" And it's been a year and a half almost and the answer is "no." I'm home all day by myself, but I have lots and lots of projects to work on, I'm gaining new skills, creating things. Ok, maybe I talk to my cats more than the average individual. And sometimes I get stir crazy and want to get out of the house and go somewhere, but I don't feel the need to be surrounded by people at all. Of course I'm able to keep in touch with people online and over the phone. If I didn't have that, I'm sure I would crave more socialization. But I still get the feeling that many people are desperately afraid of being alone, probably because they've never actually spent much time alone.
posted by threeturtles at 3:01 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love solitude. It's one of the reasons I gave up my cell phone.

I regularly ignore the phone when it rings, because it's usually one of my girlfriends calling from her car just to chat, which results in the inevitable fade in-and-out, followed by the call dropping. Drives me krazy. Now they have learned to contact me via email if they need to reach me.

I also found that once I had kids, I valued my solitude much more.
posted by sundrop at 6:22 AM on April 1, 2011


Sonascope - I registered with MetaFilter for the sole purpose of telling you that your post was absolutely exquisite. You captured the intangible beauty and freedom of solitude. Having spent time working in the eastern panhandle of WV, I can appreciate the physical place you describe. Being someone who loves to be alone, I revel in your evening under the stars. Sigh...
posted by ReginaHart at 1:02 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


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