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)
I used to feel that way, but now I LOVE being alone. It just takes some practice. For my turning point, it’s when I decided to study abroad and leave my phone at home. It’s empowering. Thanks for sharing boldly 🙂
I love that you left your phone at home when you studied abroad! You’re right, that’s really empowering.
I love spending time on my own and it rarely happens now with a hubby and 2 kids. So when it does I absolutely cherish it and relax as much as possible. Life is hectic as a working parent so any chance I get I grab. I’ve been away for 2 nights which feels strange but it’s been lovely to actually pick up a book again that’s fiction and have some rare me time. Before the hubby and kids I would often write a journal or read/research whatever I was interested in at the time when on my own. I also used to wonder and ponder about alot of things more because I had the head space to do so with no interruption. Today alot of that doesn’t happen unless I go away on my own so it’s been great to do that again!
I totally get it, Sally! I think about that a lot … how it’s actually great to be alone now, before I have a spouse or kids, because I know one day I’ll REALLY miss it and appreciate it when the rare bit of alone time comes along. 🙂 Glad you’re getting to do it again!
It’s fascinating to explore the idea of “loneliness” or “solitude.” Sometimes we don’t have it and don’t feel like we can get it, and then other times we’re surrounded by it, so much so that after a while, interacting with a bunch of people becomes more difficult. Like you, I went from living with family to living with roommates back to living with family.. Now I live with someone but it’s in another country so we don’t speak the same language (well, we try) – she’s neither friend nor family. I live in a small village where no one else speaks English, so I feel lonely all the time. I spend a lot of time with myself. It’s been 8 months and for the first few, it was really hard to accept. But now I love it – most days I even prefer it! There’s time to read, sew, learn, think, grow.. It takes some getting used to, but solo time is definitely important for everyone – even the social butterflies (I used to be one of those, too!) among us!
Just saw this great quote recently: “Loneliness is for the spirit what food is for the body.”
Ooh I love that quote, Cat! Thanks for sharing. I think it’s incredibly brave that you moved to a village where no one speaks English! And I’m SO glad that you’ve come to love the solitude. You’re right, it gives you so much time to think, learn, and grow … time that many of us don’t get when we’re busy-busy-busy all the time.
I loved this post (especially about having a dramatic fear – I laughed out loud)!
I’ve been having the same thoughts.
A few years ago I disconnected from a lot of my friends because I was working a lot and lived farther away. I didn’t have a smart phone, so it was easy for me not to be on my phone. In these years, I did EVERYTHING by myself and I loved it. I enjoyed being by myself so much that I felt going out with friends was too much of a bother.
Now I have close friends (who live closer to me) AND a smart phone. So it’s hard for me not to be by myself. I think about those years I spent alone and I miss them. I love having my close friends I do almost everything with now. But in those years alone, I felt like I was more confident in myself, I was more productive and I wrote a lot more.
I’m trying to go back to that now, without losing my friendships. But NOW it feels uncomfortable being alone.
I think it’s a great thing that everyone should experience. It’s definitely a growing period where you learn a lot about yourself. It just takes some time getting used to it.
I love that you connected having more confidence to spending time alone … that’s so true. What’s great about your past experience is that even though spending more time alone is uncomfortable now, you have your past success as proof that it’s worth doing! 🙂 I hope you’ll get back to enjoying it like you did before!
Rachel, I’m not normally one to comment on blog posts (even though I so look forward to these weekly emails); however, I was so inspired by this weeks! I am exactly the same. I often call myself a ‘closet introvert’–the type of person who loves to be around people, go on adventures, isn’t afraid of public speaking, but really needs ‘me’ time to recharge. That being said, I often panic unless I have plans on my calendar and would go in to a tizzy if a night I thought I had plans suddenly left me alone to my own thoughts. I recently started reading a book by Gabrielle Bernstein called “May Cause Miracles”, that I think you (and anyone else like us) would love. It’s a 40-day program, designed to achieve what it calls ‘subtle shifts for radical change and unlimited happines’. Quite the promise, haha, but I have to say I’ve quickly fallen in love with it. It’s a step phase program, where each week (and subsequently each day of those weeks) have a different focus. Week 1 is about identifying fear and how it ‘blocks your life flow’, week 2 is about self love, week 3 is about food and body perceptions, week 4 romance, etc. Throughout each phase it constantly asks you to address your fears, which she calls ‘False Evidence Appearing Real’ (yup, great thing to repeat to yourself), head on with a willingness to get real with yourself. Anyways, that’s my ramble, but just wanted to put it out there for anyone intrigued!! Keep up the great work 🙂
Hey Caitlin! Great book suggestion … Kristen has it on her book shelf and we’ve both read it, so we can back you up! 🙂 Gabby is a great spiritual teacher, so I’m glad you found her! I totally know what you mean by “closet introvert.” I think most of us, even the most extroverted people, always need a little alone time! Some more than others, of course. I’m glad you’ve found something to help you enjoy your alone time more. If you’re looking for something to read after May Cause Miracles (other than Gabby’s other 3 books, of course!), definitely get The Desire Map. You won’t be sorry! 🙂
Don’t take me the wrong way, i am an introvert if ever their was one! But, I can’t help thinking that the message of this blog is just another like many others that avoid the gaping wound of loneliness as if It doesn’t exist or we are somehow afraid of it.
Afraid of being alone? Yes! And why shouldn’t I be? Afraid of that moment of solitude when I feel very content with my thoughts and connected to something beyond myself? No. I love being alone, but I am not buying into the lie that I am supposed to be okay by myself when I feel lonely.
The thing that I struggle with is that it is obvious that there is a shortage of real men in our society and the single lifestyle is not an ancient one, but rather a new one brought about due to means of survival.
I believe Women need men. Period.
Not more self talk, not more books, not more excercise, not more yoga.
No more excuses about trying to be happy being alone when deep inside you just want to belong and know you are valued and loved.
As you grow up in your family, they provide that love for you (or are supposed to 🙂 and as you age you desire it from somewhere else. We were meant to go from family to family. That means marriage! And I mean marriage that is real marriage. A woman giving all of herself willingly to a man; a man taking care of her every need just as her mother and father have done.
Most of the men we see are self focused and because of that they are either insecure and wimpy or seem powerful but are mean. If they were truly confident and loving then none of us would be single (or married but lonely): and we (all of us commenting are females by the way) wouldn’t be talking about this issue which we’ve turned into a way to cope with the lack.
I do not beleive we were meant to be alone. Not alone in the way we all have experienced it I mean. The type of alone where you feel worthless and like nobody wants you. It makes perfect sense why you would feel that way.
I’m just saying that women need men and I don’t think that providing ways to be ‘ok’ without them will every truly work to bring about real peace and contentment.
I’m not afraid of being lonely, there is an answer for that… Im more afraid of living in denial of what I truly need and being brave enough to cry out for the answer.
Needs have supply and problems have answers. If you don’t know what it is you are in need of, you may not ask for the right thing. It’s just like being hungry… Your stomach growls to inform you that it’s empty and you have food to fill it up. Loneliness is like a stomach growl. It just tells you that you’re in need. It shouldn’t be ignored or you will begin to starve. And without powerful, loving men giving them love, women starve. Married or unmarried.
So. I agree with being okay being alone, but I do not agree that we were meant to be lonely and I think that feelings of discomfort and fear are signals that something is
Missing or incomplete and not enemies to be beaten down, conquered, or suppressed… Rather they are meant to drive us to toward what we need most: love!