Better Humaning

Being Alone Isn’t the Same as Being Lonely

‚ÄúSolitude is fine but you need someone to tell you that solitude is fine.‚ÄĚ - Honor√© de Balzac

Being Alone Isn’t the Same as Being Lonely

My post about going to see a movie by yourself has stirred up some wonderful conversations. And the title of this post is the most interesting thought that’s come from it, and I want to dive right in.

Being alone isn’t a bad thing. It’s a good, necessary, healthy thing. It’s a time to reflect, to appreciate, to think, to create, to process your life. Reflection and synthesis of ideas is crucial to learning and growing, and for many people this can only be done when they are alone. Kierkegaard nails this with one of my favorite quotes:¬†‚ÄúLife can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.‚ÄĚ Damn, Kierkegaard, I bet you spent a ton of time alone.

So why are we so damned afraid of being alone?

Because we’re afraid others will think we’re lonely. There’s something wrong with lonely people, or else why wouldn’t they have people around them? There must be something broken about them! If you learn someone is lonely, you best stay away from them. Leave them to their cats. Loneliness results in more loneliness; it’s a beast that feeds itself. (Please know that I don’t believe any of this — or at least I don’t want to, but these are thoughts that I hear in my head, because Society)

I’m not lonely!¬†I have 2200 facebook friends. Look at all the things I share. Look at all those likes! I have all the likes! And retweets. Don’t even get me started on retweets. I have to call them RTs because I get so many I don’t even have time for all those other letters. Look at me on Instagram! Follow me! #TeamFollowBack¬†Connect with me! Please, please, connect with me. How am I so damned lonely?! Nobody else feels this lonely. Look at all the friends they have on Facebook. Look at all those likes they’re getting…

We are living in a time when it’s easy to feel uncomfortable being alone, because there are so many ways you can “be” with other people. So we’re never truly alone. And that makes it ever more uncomfortable when we feel lonely.

I saw someone post a photo on Facebook last Friday night of themselves with a glass of wine and the caption “Relaxing into a much-needed quiet Friday night date with myself. #DontHate” The irony hurt.¬†If you really want to be alone, WHY ARE YOU TELLING THE WHOLE WORLD, my brain yelled. Then I realized I knew the answer:¬†this person is uncomfortable being alone on a Friday night, and this is how they are trying to mitigate that discomfort.¬†

They are seeing all of their friends posting photos of their fun nights out with dozens of people and having so much fun and internalizing all of this as something being wrong with them. Maybe they chose to be alone tonight, or maybe they got ditched by a friend, or maybe they wanted to go out and don’t really have any friends who wanted to go out with them, but, whatever the case, they were probably terrified they would slip from enjoying a night alone into being lonely on a Friday night. The first is good. The second is bad. And maybe a “like” or a reassuring comment would stave that off.

I knew the answer because I have been that person.

I spend a lot of time on the road traveling alone. And during the day, when I’m performing, or visiting a campus, or flying, eating, writing — keeping my mind busy — I’m on the road traveling alone; I’m not lonely on the road. And I enjoy it. I enjoy the aloneness. I thrive in it. But at night, when I get back to my hotel room and plop down on the bed, I regularly toe the line between being alone and being lonely.

I am usually good at landing on the¬†enjoying a night alone side of the line, but sometimes, usually after a particularly long stretch on the road, of if a show doesn’t go as well as I want it to, I’ll find myself stumbling onto the lonely side.¬†It probably doesn’t help that I have this disgusting and self-body-destroying habit of having a huge pizza delivered to my hotel room and eating it by myself in my underwear. And, as I am typing that, I am reminded of this:

That was at some hotel in some town on the east coast several weeks ago. I spent a ton of time on the road this fall, and was likely sharing that to stave off the internal perception of loneliness that night. Don’t get me wrong, I was also sharing it because I think it’s hilarious how disgusting I am. I don’t really eat animal stuff, and only rarely (once a month or so) eat cheese, but when I do,¬†I do. And it’s also worth pointing out that when someone “likes” something on Instagram they give you a heart. How perfect. But ultimately, I didn’t want to feel lonely. I never want to feel lonely.

I’ve found aloneness to be one of the most powerful influences in getting to the point where I’m at right now, doing what I’m doing, living the life I’m living. By finding a way to enjoy and embrace aloneness I’ve created things and had experiences I would have never had otherwise. Loneliness is a poison, but aloneness is a catalyst. The difficult part is infusing the latter into your life without inadvertently dosing yourself with the former.

Can we stop equating being alone with being lonely? Yes. And we should. Because it’s one of the many ways we’re fabricating unhappiness, and doing ourselves a major disservice. I have been on a long journey that started many years ago into embracing and enjoying aloneness, and I’ve come a long way, but (as I greasily depicted above) still struggle.

I’ve found progress through being mindful of when I’m feeling lonely, intentional in how I allow myself to react to that feeling, and focusing on appreciating the experience I’m having instead of missing the experiences I’m not having.

Better Humaning

Go See a Movie By Yourself

Because the opposite of how you're supposed to do something is often one of the best ways to do it, like breakfast for dinner.

Go See a Movie By Yourself

I just got back from watching the new¬†Hunger Games¬†flick. I cried 15+ times in 146 minutes and left the theatre fired up to burn down the establishment. You should see it. I also went alone. And that’s not how you’re supposed to do that thing. But if you’ve never done it, do it. Even if just once.

It’s an important experience, even if it seems silly.¬†Here’re my tips for making the most out of it.

  • The teller who sells you your ticket “for one” will give you a look like she’s never seen someone seen a movie alone. She has, she’s just having the same knee-jerk judgmental reaction to you being alone that your subconscious is having to you being alone: it’s wrong. Throw them both off with a big grin and by saying “Yep, just the one. I’m the one. No friends with me, no fam, not meeting anyone inside. I’m alone. All by myself. And I’m going to watch the sh*t out of this movie.”
  • Then get popcorn. Not because you’re alone, or for any special reason. Just because popcorn is awesome.
  • Get there early enough to get the absolute best seat in the theatre. About a third of the way up the main section, dead center, just you and your popcorn. You own that space. People are going to ask if you’re saving the seats beside you. You’re welcome to save one for your popcorn.
  • Everyone will start filtering in and the lights are on and they’ll all see you and you’ll start to feel like your own little Truman Show.¬†You will be tempted to whip your phone out and keep your mind busy. Don’t do that. No! I said don’t. Turn on airplane mode and put it away. Search your feelings, Luke.
  • The lights will dim for the previews and you’ll start to feel anonymous. There will likely be some trailers for movies where they show all the super hilarious parts. This is when you’ll have two options: (1) sink into that anonymity in the dark, enjoy the movie in silence, and roll out, not particularly stoked; or (2) fulfill that promise to yourself and watch the sh*t out of this movie, starting by giving into the hilarity of the “show all the funny parts” movie trailers. LOL, but for reals.
  • The movie is about to start. Shhh!
  • Laugh, groan, shriek, and watch the sh*t out of the movie. If there’s one of those “nuh uh!” moments where you’d normally turn to your fellow movie goer and be all “nuh uhhh!” do that. Just, to a stranger. Or your popcorn. “That snack isn’t the best.” Nuh uhhhhh!
  • Every time you laugh, you’ll be more aware of your laughter than you’re generally aware of your laughter. This is great.¬†Give¬†in to your¬†anger. With each passing moment you¬†make¬†yourself more my servant¬†(sorry, Luke, that quote may not have worked here).
  • The movie is over! Congrats! Give your popcorn bucket a greasy high-five.
  • Don’t stick around through the entire credits or anyone else who sticks around through the entire credits will think you’re there to murder them. Haha! Kidding. We’re past that, aren’t we!
  • Hold the door for a few strangers on the way out. It’s polite.
  • Then write a Facebook status about the movie and leave out the part where you were alone and then add that in a comment and experience the judgment all over. But now you’re okay with that, aren’t you?

  • Then go home and blog about it.

Boom. You just experienced some life. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed eating popcorn tonight.