How to Be Alone

21 Jul

I needed this poem today. Single or coupled, you can still feel lonely. Sometimes it’s because your other half is 800 miles away, but sometimes it’s just noon on a Tuesday.

I feel like there are so many different ways to be alone, and I’m okay with some of them and not so okay with others. Alone in public is a specialty of mine. Shopping, dining, seeing a movie, going to the zoo – I find such wonderful moments of contentment in these places, alone. I am never unhappy to take a yoga class, try a new restaurant, buy someone a birthday gift, alone.

But being at home alone is a special kind of tyranny to me.

Being in bed alone is the loneliest of the lonely. Waking up in the morning is quite nice – you get to stretch and roll about and move freely without fear of disturbing anyone; you can fart loudly and often…without fear of disturbing anyone. You can sleep in as late as you like without anyone judging you, or at the very least waiting on you. But falling asleep alone is so lonely it almost eclipses all the morning-after benefits. My heart grows heavy at night thinking of, well, everything – and it seems the only thing that makes it lighter is sleeping next to someone you love who loves you, too. He becomes a living, breathing reminder that perhaps things are not so bleak after all – how could they be, now, here, with him?

Watching tv alone is similarly lonely yet freeing. After all, no one is there to argue with you over what to watch. Or care if you want to watch Father of the Bride for the 1200th time. But, again, the mind wanders.

It turns out wandering minds are the very worst thing for loneliness. That’s why being somewhere novel, experiencing some new food, focusing on a very particular task – these are easy things to do alone, they even lend themselves to being done alone. Sitting in your room on a Sunday night, hours off from anything remotely resembling bedtime, with nothing but Pinterest and some maudlin songs to keep you company – the mind wanders. The dreaded Ifs begin.

They start seemingly out of nowhere, out of nothing. They start small and reasonable and grow large and ridiculous. One minute you are wondering what will happen IF you ask for next Friday off and the next minute you are wondering what IF you lose this job. What IF you can’t pay your car insurance this month becomes what IF I can’t pay ANY of my bills next month. What IF he doesn’t miss me as much as I miss him becomes what IF this has been an elaborate scheme or a dream or I’ve been bamboozled in some way and for some inscrutable reason into actually believing I might actually be happy for once. You see what I mean.

The only success I have had with holding these thoughts at bay has been to a.) be doing something sufficiently distracting and contentment-inducing or b.) be near to the person with whom I am madly in love because, see, that in itself is quite distracting and contentment-inducing, too.

I suspect this need for some outside force to provide security and reassurance is a failing of sorts – a giant character flaw. But it’s a flaw I unfortunately have – and have had for some time now. I’ve thought I found solutions, thought I was improving, only to find again and again on the first hint of a test that, after all, I have not. The only thing I can think to try next is to uproot myself completely and start working on a dairy farm somewhere – and yet, unfortunately, I will still be there. In the words of Ben Folds: “Everywhere I go, damn, there I am – and I just want to walk away, sometimes”.

Anecdotally and in my personal frame of reference, I feel like being alone in this way is harder for women than for men, and I wonder why that is. I have any number of theories – most of them involving the ways in which we raise our boys to be self-sufficient, independent, and free-thinking, and our girls to be dependent, to ask permission, to seek approval. Where men assume, women ask. Could it also be that where men simply find a new hobby, women write long blog posts about the crisis of self they are having when they find it impossible to be alone?

Sometimes I rather like to hang up my feminist, politically-correct hat for a moment and say it is probably because men just aren’t thinking this deeply with this frequency. What do they need distraction from? They are single-minded creatures and the task at hand is the only one that enters their brain except for when they are listening to you tell a story, in which case everything but what you are saying to them is interesting and of note.

Ahem. *Hat back on*

Anyway, writing this blog post has killed at least an hour and I find now that it is nearly time for bed. Mission accomplished.

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