“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”
― Gautama Buddha
It’s a primal fear—being alone.
There are good reasons for this. Belonging means survival. Not just in nature. Even in civilized life. It’s such a deep, primal fear that many of us choose being miserable in a group, in a relationship, in a family, merely to avoid that dark chasm known as being alone.
But is it really so bad?
Some might argue I come to this “alone” business from a decidedly prejudiced angle. After all, I grew up an only child in a rural community 30 miles away from my closest friend. It wasn’t like I could run down the street to find someone with whom to play. My parents both worked, often long hours. I learned, from very young, to be comfortable spending time unto myself. As I grew older, there were plenty of times I preferred it even. After all, a 24-year-old single woman does not move to the least populated and most isolated county in Virginia because she is fond of lots of regular company.
But here’s the thing: I actually didn’t learn to be alone until quite recently.
Because learning to be alone isn’t about being able to pay the bills all by yourself, taking care of a household, a farm, a child, whatever it is one has to do in life…all by yourself. No….
It’s about being enough, as you are, where you are, whether you’re with someone or not.
And frankly, most of us are not very good at this.
Sometimes we say it’s because we just don’t have time to be alone with ourselves. That requires some self-knowledge and some self-nurturing, you know. And I get it. There have been times in my life where the most self-nurturing I could muster was locking the bathroom door, so a toddler and a dog wouldn’t stand there staring at me as I sat on the commode. And the most self-knowledge I had was doing something stupid, like walking down the aisle, with the knowledge it was stupid…but doing it anyway.
And when you fail to know yourself and nurture yourself, strangely, you have a tendency to want others to fill the gap, the void, the big empty room in your mind.
The result of that you have likely witnessed if not experienced yourself:
The couple that marries, well, because everyone else is doing it, and they don’t want to be left out.
The guy that tries to start a relationship with a new girlfriend before he ends the one with the girlfriend he’s got because he’s scared of that empty space of “having no one.”
The woman who stays in a miserable marriage because she’s scared she can’t handle life “alone.”
The person who hangs out with people she’s really not all that fond of or doesn’t relate to just because it’s less scary than sitting at home by herself on a Saturday night.
The man who spends every evening glued to the television or maybe the iPad because he doesn’t really feel connected to his wife but can’t bear sitting alone with his “loneliness.”
The woman who hops from one relationship to the next, failure after failure, because the idea of being alone terrifies her, even though she knows (perhaps) that being alone might just stop the painful cycle….
I exercise no judgment on the above. Who has not done these things or things very like them?
Heck, it wasn’t so long ago that I was dating, ultimately (when I really decided to think about it), because it seemed like a divorced, relatively young, intelligent, not terribly bad-looking woman should be dating, not sitting home alone.
And then one day it just kind of hit me that dating was mentally exhausting me, not enriching me. I’d cringe when I’d hear the bleep of a text or the ringing of my cell phone. I’d respond out of obligation, not desire. I’d sit across a dinner table smiling brightly because I was polite and gracious, not because I was actually happy to be there. I’d wince at the thought of another kiss from a middle-aged man who ought to be better at this stuff after three or four supposed decades of practice….
I found myself longing for my girl and guy friends, my daughter, a quiet night alone with a book and a glass of wine or cup of tea. I craved the nurturance of the people who already knew and loved me, not strangers. And sometimes, I just craved taking a nap alone in the sunshine.
I discovered I was enough, that my life was enough, that those I already loved were enough, and that everything was full, and rich, and good, whether I was sitting home alone in front of the fire, cloud watching with my daughter on a picnic blanket, or pulled up to a dinner table with my most intimate friends.
Likely, at some point in your life, you have heard a friend or acquaintance say something like “It was only once I became comfortable with being alone that I met the love of my life.” This is not some hokey adage that says love will only come to you when you stop looking. No. It’s really about being comfortable in your own skin and, by extension, enabling others to feel comfortable in theirs.
That is the careful art of being alone. When you relish your own company and generate your own joy, others will not only be drawn to your seemingly easy bliss, they may even begin to emulate it.