there is being alone in private, and there is being alone in public

If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.
~ Jean-Paul Sartre

Naxos, Greece

I get crazy anxiety watching my phone battery slowly drift off to battery heaven, especially when I have zero access to an electronic lifeline. I find myself checking it every three minutes just to see how many percentage points it’s dropped since I last checked, as if I could catch the battery thief in action. I have friends who carelessly use their phone, even after the percentage turns red, and I observe in part amazement, mostly horror, until the inevitable “oops! my phone just died.”

Am I so directionally challenged, I can’t get anywhere without Google Maps (yes)? Am I so addicted to my phone I can’t bear to be without it? What if I need to know the weather!!! Does the thought of not being a couple of finger taps away from the world scare the crap out of me? Maybe. Or maybe I’m empathetic toward my slowly dying cell phone. I too, know what it’s like to slowly drain of energy. I know I’m perceived as a social person, and externally, I am. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m a butterfly, because that term is stupid and I do less fluttering and more sticking around the same people. But social situations tend to suck the energy right out of me. And when I don’t get enough me time, people start taking the shape of little pop ups notifying me I have 20% of Social Battery Remaining. I panic and look for the nearest outlet to recharge, which in my case, is tosh-time.

I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers.
~ Henry David Thoreau

Some people hate to be alone. Some people literally can’t be alone. I am not that person. I love being alone. I love where my mind travels; I love the creativity that gains the courage to reveal itself to an audience of one (special note: alcohol triples the sober amount of creativity and revelation); I love not talking; I love being the only one I have to let down.

But there is being alone in private, and there is being alone in public, two very different things.

I love being alone with myself, but I am just learning how to be alone amongst other people, most of whom are not also alone. This is a valuable skill I wish to acquire before I leave (March 2014!) the comforts of my home, my city, my friends, everything I’ve learned to love. I imagine I will spend a great deal of time alone when I travel the world next year, and often the company you want you can’t have, while sometimes the company available isn’t worth the trade-off for your solitude.

A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.
Arthur Schopenhauer

My first real experience being alone in public was in 2001 when I spent the entire summer virtually alone in a small, distant suburb of Minneapolis, with only my feet for transportation and a movie theater up the street. It took me days to muster up the courage to go see a movie by myself. Terrified people would see me as a friendless loser, my mind generated stranger observations of me, sitting in my seat so obviously alone. They are probably laughing and pointing at me, if not outwardly, then certainly inwardly, patting themselves smugly on the back for having friends. Who goes to see a movie aloneI focused on the pre-preview movie garbage, as if the only thing I cared about was what year Jurassic Park was released. But after the first few previews, it dawned on me: it wasn’t so bad after my mind became preoccupied with something other than irrational, fictional fears.

The past eight years I’ve been traveling all over the country for my job, and for those who travel for work, you know you inevitably find yourself alone. Airport bars and restaurants are the gateway drug for eating alone in public. Lots of people are alone in airports, so it’s not uncommon to see loners lining the bar or occupying tables of one. The first time I tried eating alone outside the socially acceptable walls of an airport was in downtown Denver. “Will it be just you today?” You can cut the just, but yes. I am not hiding or meeting any friends, and I walked proudly outside to my table. I forced myself to sit and take in my surroundings, not dive into the comforts of a book or my phone or computer. People-watching is my favorite and the pedestrian mall activity combined with beer proved entertaining for hours. While I loved the experience, the table for one can still be awkward. I now prefer to belly up to the bar and chat with fellow patrons or the bartender, which has actually resulted in some seriously awesome conversations. It also avoids the dreaded, “Will you be dining alone?” asked in that are-you-sure-you-really-wanna-do-that tone.

Many people suffer from the fear of finding oneself alone, and so they don’t find themselves at all.
~ Rollo May

So I am learning. There is a certain power I feel after a successful solo outing; a sense of freedom, of peace. I’ve started a list of other things I want to do alone in the world at some point: attend a baseball game, take a snowboarding trip, take a road trip, go camping somewhere other than my bedroom (yes, I have sent my tent up in my room, don’t judge), go to some sort of live music gig, etc. And I will.

Whenever I meet people out alone in the wild world, I find myself in awe. I don’t pity them for having no friends, I envy their courage. My friend is over in Glacier National Park right now, alone-ing the crap out of his hiking trip, and I am inspired. I don’t think he knows it, but he’s given me a ton of courage to forge ahead in my own alone endeavors. He views it very simply: Good company is often preferred, but he won’t let the lack of it keep him from doing what he wants to do. It gets old doing stuff alone, but the experiences make it worth it.

I’ll get there.

Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.
May Sarton

2 Comments on “there is being alone in private, and there is being alone in public

    • Thank you, kindly. I have no problem being honest with others, but being honest with myself has proved to be more tricky. Slowly getting there…

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