Alone Is Not a Four-Letter Word

Neither literally  nor figuratively. “Alone” is an experience fast disappearing from our culture.  For an entire generation who grew up in sports teams, group after-school activities, study clubs, and went from that to living in college dorms, parties and more sports teams, there is a big surprise. When you have graduated, when you are done with work, you’ll find yourself alone. I know that people now have roommates instead of a studio apartment, I know that work is now a 24/7 activity, largely to avoid being alone, but sooner or later, you will find yourself alone.

One of my friends is terrified of being alone. She will do almost everything to avoid that evening spent alone. Call friends, spend four hours on Facebook, go on a date with someone she doesn’t like. All this because it’s better than being alone.

For some of us, alone is a time to recharge and regroup. After I’ve taught for eight hours, I need to spend time alone. But I’m in the vast minority.

Food52Whether it’s divorce, or death,  a fight, or just life, at some point you will be alone. And you can love it. You don’t have to live in dread or fear, being alone can be a delicious break from having people crowded around you, talking all the time.

Some early steps to comfort yourself when you are alone:

1. What do you like to do? Read? Cook? Hike? You can do almost anything alone that you used to do with friends. Except this time you can do it your way. An activity really can be all about you. You can hike at your pace, turn on your music, cook what you like. Take a deep breath and think–do you remember your preferences? Or are they blurred by what all your friends told you was right?

2. Quit looking at the clock. Instead, choose an activity and plan how to savor it. Decide which book to read. Spend some time choosing it. Decide where you want to read it. Outside? Inside on the couch, stretched out? Decide what is best for you. Then do it. Read till you are tired. Fall asleep. Wake up and keep reading. What did you like about the book? What didn’t you like?

3. Decide what you will eat. No more junk, on the run. Choose something you like that’s good for you. Make a grocery list. Go buy groceries. Cook it thoughtfully. Set the table. Sit at a table with candlelight. Play music if you like. You choose. The joy of preparing food and choosing what will nourish you deliberately is a deeply refreshing experience.

Those three are enough for now. Life alone is not something to be rushed, or avoided. There is much to learn when the journey has only your footprints along the path.

Note: When I searched for photos for this blog, all I could find was people alone, crying at dinner, or eating out of cans. Not even Google sees the joy of alone-ness.

–Quinn McDonald loves people, but she also loves being alone. Particularly after spending 12 hours on airplanes with 560 strangers this week.

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35 responses to “Alone Is Not a Four-Letter Word

  1. Pingback: Three Great But Very Different Bloggers

  2. Quinn,
    I love your focus on your own preferences; what do YOU like? What do YOU want to do. It’s a great way to honor Who You Are and spend quality time with yourself. It’s a great way to love yourself from the inside out and appreciate yourself. I love your suggestions. I’ve been playing some older music on cassette from my younger years and it’s been wonderful. :) I like being alone, since it rarely happens. I find the quiet refreshing and restorative.

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn

    • All day long we are told what our boss wants, what our spouse wants, what our families wish we would do. Unless we start without ourselves, nothing else will really fall into place.

  3. Alone time is great time. Silence is something that is disappearing from our lives, too, and most people see it as something to be avoided. I love being alone as much as I love being with people.

  4. I think it might be the transition time from being with people to being alone that is the most difficult and sometimes uncomfortable time. Once one is the other side of that, being alone can be bliss!

  5. Bingo! I have a friend who remains in a tragically disfunctional marriage because “alone” is a worse fate, in her mind. I just cannot relate to that on any level. And I so enjoy your posts! Loved seeing you on that video. You are delightful!!!

  6. I’ve always found being surrounded by strangers in airplanes and airports an excellent permutation of aloneness. It’s never occurred to me that being alone would require any sort of comforting though.

  7. I’m a foodie. I like to try really unusual foods. My daughter does too, but she often spends weekends with her father. My friends are more burger and chicken tender types. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but they’re just not as adventurous as I am. So if I find myself on my own on a Friday or Saturday night, I’ll take myself out to dinner, where I can eat whatever I please. I’ll bring a book or magazine sometimes; other times, I’ll people watch. It depends on the setting. I always get good service and never feel self-conscious. Would I prefer a companion? Sometimes the answer is yes. But other times, I’m perfectly delighted to enjoy the time with me. I’m good company!

    • When you are good company, spending time by yourself puts you in the best of company. And a foodie is never alone when they are at dinner–there is so much history going on!

  8. Lonely in a crowded room… That made me feel very sad,i knew i was in the wrong place….I love my new life alone…different culture,new friends and work….but at the moment I am happiest by myself with no one else telling me what to do in my little flat staring out at nature ,river,birds and skies.The only thing I miss….my cats. Rather a common thread in these posts!! Quinn…always apt always resonates.x

  9. Jessica Havens

    Hello Sweet Friend!!

    I think I might need to invest in a book or two of Miss Quinn McDonald. Her thoughts almost always cause me to pause. This one in particular resonated today. I remember as an early bride putting myself in a foul mood when realizing that I was at home alone and Joel was out somewhere. It dawned on me after a few lovers quarrel that I hated being alone with my thoughts. This has NOT changed. I recall a few weeks back texting you that my family was gone for a few hours and the house was SOO quiet. You wrote me some positive words to challenge me to spend the time wisely. I felt guilty when I turned on the television to drawn out the silence I was in. This has also carried on into my walk with God. I attempt to spend time reading and/or reflecting but the time is often cut short by ME. I find something else to preoccupy my mind. Not sure what I am afraid of but I’m hoping I can figure that out soon so I can start enjoying alone time…….those are my prompted thoughts. I have others but those are for another day.

    Happy Monday!!

    J

  10. This post resonated with me because I’ve always had a love for solitude as long as I can remember. I’m a new emptynester, now with my very own apartment and it is the first time I’ve ever lived alone (aside from my cat girls, Tigerlily and Fiona) I do love it!!! The recent ending of a long-term relationship has somewhat thrown a monkeywrench into it, so there is some lonliness and sadness but I have been making very conscious decisions to re-focus my attention onto positive activities. Collaging, reading, crossword puzzles, cooking nice meals for myself, the new challenges of balcony gardening…I painted a wall in my livingroom Starless Night, the deepest, darkest blue I could find…I’m writing more poetry and haiku, having fun decorating and thinking of ways to make my balcony even more special and a little exotic…I can do whatever I want!!!! I think this is the first time in my life there are no critical voices telling me what to do, how to do it, what I shouldn’t do…I’ve never been so free! When my workday is done I really look forward to getting home. I am good, silly company for myself :-D!

    • Being alone is a skill, particularly after a relationship. But we do spend many years alone–by choice or by chance–and it sounds like your aloneness has a lovely, calming color of Starless Night.

  11. I, too, treasure my alone time. Some of the best trips I’ve taken have been ones where I traveled by myself for all the reasons you listed above.

  12. There are very, very few people in my offline life that I feel comfortable interacting with, and I dislike social occasions intensely, although I’m forced to be out and about to do things that need to be done. Mostly I prefer to be home, in my apartment, with my two cats or walking by myself somewhere. For a number of reasons, some psychological, I am a loner. Whether I was born that way or created that way doesn’t matter but it is what I am. My doctor and therapist worry that I’m too isolated. Maybe so. But that’s how I am. Someone mentioned a craving for silence. Silence is something I cannot have because I deal with audio hallucinations almost all of the time. The only way I can drown them out is with noise – music or television. I do spend a lot of time online because of my art business or for contact with others as I do recognize that I do need to interact with people. But at least it’s of my choosing when and how I do it.

    • You sound like you know what you need and make sure you have it. A great knowledge of yourself and what is around you. There are times I need background noise, too. It just means that I don’t need live people around me all the time.

  13. I need and enjoy alone time. Google photos for solitude and there are some lovely images. Thanks for sharing. Art Unraveled in Phoenix, will you be there taking a class?

    • “Solitude” and “Alone” have very different connotations. “Alone” is a harsher word, “Solitude” is a graceful word. I deliberately looked up “Alone” to see if I could fine fun or comforting images–Nope. I’m not taking classes at Art Unraveled this year. I’d love to teach, but the contract for Arizona residents are pretty strict–you can’t teach the class anywhere else in Arizona for about half a year, sometimes more. I have a visiting to do at the end of July this year.

  14. I love my alone time. If I were left to my own devices I could become a hermit quite easily, venturing out only when I need supplies. I have been on my own for a few years now and am still adjusting to the fact that I truly am the captain of my own ship and I can come and go as I please. Well, except for the cat, who says she is the real captain of this ship :-)

  15. I get peopled out and love my time alone . . . and I spend a lot of time that way by choice. I love my friends, love my family coming and staying but oh, the joy of being alone again afterwards! Alone and lonely are very two very different things.

    • Completely different things. I treasure my time alone. In fact, when I’m on an airplane, it is the time I do NOT work. Because I am one of those people who attracts people to tell their stories, on some flights I put on earphones, with just the end disappearing into a pocket, so I can regroup.

  16. Oh Quinn! Yes! Alone! I love the brief moments when I am alone. However, there is also another important factor as far as I’m concerned – and that is silence. My best moments are when I’m alone and everything is still and quiet. No talking….. no radio or tv…… no background noise except nature….. bliss.

  17. I’m with you, alone, 100%, Quinn. We’ve got enough together time and I treasure my time alone. Doesn’t matter what I’m doing.

    I so enjoyed watching you on the clip making the monsoon paper. It was fun. Wish I could learn from you IRL. Truthfully, I’m into fabric and threads and haven’t yet been able to feel any excitement about paper.

    • Almost all the people in my Monsoon Paper class this past weekend were fiber people. And they loved the experience. Monsoon Paper technique works with canvas and muslin too. In slightly different ways, but with lots of color!

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