Most of the critical things I’ve learned so far in my life have come to me in phases.
There was the year-long storm of chaos that whirled me up and taught me how to take responsibility for where I’d gotten myself.
Then, quite promptly after that, the chaos-tornado deposited me on the banks of the Quagmire of Suckage, where I learned to stop avoiding the difficult stuff and just … walk through it.
Most of the time I don’t even realize I’m in a new phase. I usually need to be far enough out of it to look back and see, with the benefit of hindsight, the full arc of its beginning and ending.
But that’s not what I’m experiencing right now. What’s weird is that I know I’ve been in a new phase for the past couple of months, and it’s different than anything I’ve been through so far.
THIS ONE STARTED AS SOON AS I BEGAN SPENDING MORE TIME ALONE
To be honest, I’ve rarely been truly alone for long periods of time. Like most everyone else I know, I went from living with my family in high school, to living with friends and roommates in college, back to living with my family post-graduation, and then back to living with roommates once I left home for good.
And whether or not I was actually living with them, in one way or another I’ve always had people … friends, roommates, boyfriends, family, colleagues … to spend time with (be it virtual or in person) whenever I wanted.
Except lately, the people in my life have been more occupied than usual.
It doesn’t really matter why … school, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, weddings, babies, work, whatever … but people tend to get busy, and the people in my life are no exception.
And so, though it’s happening inadvertently …
I’M FINDING MYSELF BY MYSELF MORE OFTEN THAN EVER BEFORE
Last Saturday a few different plans fell through and I found myself entirely alone for a whole day (I didn’t even have my dog around, since she was having a blast spending the day adventuring with my dad).
Honestly, it was kind of bewildering. You can often catch me (trying not to, but sometimes still) complaining about how little time I have to get things done … and here I was, wondering how in the world I was going to fill an entire Saturday with just myself as company.
So, naturally, I went shopping.
(Clichés about girls loving shopping aside … I actually can’t stand shopping, but I needed a dress for an event, so I took a deep breath and went to the mall.)
I also took myself out to lunch, read a book while I ate, cooked myself a really good dinner, and watched a movie I’d been wanting to see for a while.
AND THE WHOLE THING WAS REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE
When people want to spend time with us it makes us feel wanted, or fun, or desirable, or smart, or special, or … whatever.
Other people validate us; whether or not they intend to, just their presence can reassure us that we’re valuable and good enough.
Except when you’re alone, no one does that for you.
Which, by the way, is why so many of us are eager to distract ourselves … by reaching for our phones, or scrolling through Facebook, or compulsively refreshing our Twitter feeds … we’re scared of being alone, with no external validation, for too long.
And that’s exactly why I’m choosing to not fill this space with anyone (or anything) else:
I’M BURNING AWAY MY NEED FOR EXTERNAL VALIDATION
Fear tends to rise to the surface when we’re alone, which is why so many people hate and actively avoid being by themselves for any length of time.
When I’m alone, my fear starts mumbling things like, “This is pathetic,” and “Maybe you should get a freaking hobby,” or my personal favorite, “This is a dress rehearsal for your inevitable lifetime of loneliness.” (My fear is dramatic, like me.)
It would be easy enough, at this point, to just give in to the fear and run out to find someone (or something) to make myself feel better … to validate that “No, no, of course you’re likeable and fantastic and not at all pathetic and totally good enough!”
But instead of giving in, I question it.
I ask myself things like, “How true is that, really?” and “Do you want to choose to believe that, or not?”
The longer I’m by myself, the more opportunities I get to question my fear. The more I question it, the less true any of it feels, and the less I need anyone else to validate or distract me.
That’s why I’m calling this time of my life “the burning phase” … because being alone is slowly burning away my need for external validation.
HOW EASY IS IT FOR YOU TO BE ALONE?
All of us need to be able to believe that we’re somebody even when nobody is around. It’s imperative that we believe in our inherent worth without any outside input. We can’t be emotionally healthy, or have healthy relationships, if we rely on other people to infuse us with a sense of worth or validation. (And funnily enough, it’s the very people who are most comfortable and confident in themselves that other people want to be around most.)
So, I dare you to spend a significant chunk of time by yourself. More than you’re comfortable with.
It may not be easy. Your fear might bubble to the surface very quickly … but do it anyway.
Examine the fear, ask yourself how true any of it really has to be … and then let it burn.
How do you feel about spending time alone? Let us know in the comments!
Rachel (+ Kristen)