Recently I went out to dinner by myself. Perhaps it was cheating a bit, to pick a restaurant where I filed through a line to pick up my food, filled my own paper cup with Diet Coke, and had no waiter or waitress to notice my aloneness. But it was at least a start in learning how to be alone. So I sat, and ate, and occasionally glanced at the people around me and wondered if they saw me, by myself, with my pile of nachos and my Diet Coke.
I don’t know what I expected. It was an ordinary evening, a fairly ordinary activity (just not for me).
The earth didn’t move, or even quiver. No one stopped, pointed, and laughed at me. Small children didn’t ask their parents what was wrong with the girl by herself.
None of those.
Sure, I felt a bit awkward. I wanted to check my phone a few times to have something to do. I wondered if people thought it odd that the chairs around me were empty. But really, if I were to ask all the people who were in the restaurant that night if they noticed anything strange, I’d almost guarantee they’d say no.
Increasingly I am realizing the importance of learning to be alone, but not lonely. I see the importance of learning to occupy my space with calm and confidence, to know that the people who may or may not be with me do not define me.
Though I am quick to lament it, my singleness almost gives me a slight advantage in learning to be comfortable alone (and perhaps fuels my recognition that it is something I need to work on). It forces me to do things alone, but the choice to be okay with that is my own. It’s not just a single person thing though, it’s a human thing; to be comfortable in our own skin, wherever we are, whoever we’re around, to not be so quick to notice or care about the people who may see and wonder, but more likely, will never notice at all.
It’s easy for me to blame my aversion to aloneness on my nearly-off-the-charts extroversion, but preferring to be with people doesn’t mean I will always have that option–and I shouldn’t always need to be with them. I don’t think eating nachos in a restaurant by myself will become my new favorite activity, but it doesn’t have to be. I can be comfortable with alone without loving it.
Not lonely, just alone.
Til next time…
p.s. How are you at being alone?
9 thoughts on “Learning to be Alone”
Being alone has always been a challenge for me. I discovered it when I was between roommates. I just always feel like I’m missing out. Yet, I consider myself a “shy extrovert.” 🙂
Yes, the feeling of missing out–I absolutely get that (and fear it myself). Even when I lived with people and they were all gone just for the weekend, by Saturday afternoon I usually ended up going to the store or coffee shop just to be around people. Thanks for stopping by, Matt!
It reminded me of a time a few years ago when I was on a business trip. It was a small job, so I didn’t have a team with me, but it did require staying away from home in a small town overnight. After work, I headed out to a small fish restaurant, still wearing my suit. There was an older couple on the table next door who kept looking at me, as I ate alone and occasionally fiddled with my phone. The couple finished their meal before I did, but the chap came over and, thinking I’d been stood up on a date, said something like, “I’m sure she’ll turn up one day.” I can’t remember the precise words. But I was just perplexed that he’d made the assumption.
For me, there’s a difference between being happy and being content. Being alone is something I am perfectly content with, although it is rare that I would say it is a source of happiness. It is accepting one’s situation and being satisfied with it. It might be nice to live in a bigger house, have a larger income, but I can equally be content with what I have.
So the difference between simply being alone and being lonely is that in the latter, one has not come to peace with the former.
Great differentiation between contentment and happiness–they can go hand in hand, but don’t always.
And your story of eating out alone illustrates one of my biggest pet peeves. Why do most people seem to assume that if you’re by yourself, you’re waiting for someone else? It simply perpetuates the idea that alone=bad.
Thanks for reading and following along!
After years of roommates, I’ve lived alone for the past two. And I don’t know that I could ever go back. But while I may embrace my circumstance, I still sit, after working late, wishing I had company. I’ve never eaten alone, and rarely go to an event or festival or even shopping without a friend by my side. So your post was especially salient, and I appreciate it for that. While single for two years, I learned how to be single. I learned how to get more comfortable in my own skin, becoming more outspoken and sure of who I am. But literally being alone is still something I need to figure out sometimes. You’re right, though, a lot of it is a mental game. If you maintain happy thoughts and positive outlooks, being alone isn’t lonely. It’s when the mood goes south that the experience creeps in and grows into something more overwhelming.
I like your point about how our mindset really comes into play. Had I been in a bad mood when I went out to eat by myself, it likely wouldn’t have gone well. Since I was in a decent mood to start out, it didn’t seem so bad. And there are definitely things I still wouldn’t feel comfortable doing by myself, like going to an event or festival (though shopping I don’t mind). I suppose it’s all just a process. Thanks for reading!
Wow. Great post!! So encouraging because it points to something beyond singleness/relationships. It points to the importance of being comfortable in your skin, to being still. I’m terrible at it, but my gut longs for it.
Keep it up, deary!
Being comfortable in your skin is not an easy thing, to be sure. I wonder if it’s one of those lessons you have to repeatedly learn throughout your lifetime, in whatever phase of you happen to be in.
Thanks much for your kinds words, Chelsea. =)