I recently found a diary I had kept back when I was 16 years old.
It’s absolutely amazing. There are things in there that I was beating myself up about that I am still beating myself up about! And what does that accomplish? Exactly the same result that was accomplished more than 40 years ago — nothing, nada, zilch, bupkes. And there are struggles I go through now that I went through when I was still a new, young immigrant to this country — identical insecurities, similar growing pains. But there is one thing that is different now, that marks me as a very different person from the one in high school — my attitude toward being alone and loneliness.
At 16, I wrote about times of being so lonely that I would take a walk to the nearby park, just so I could howl. My loneliness made my back teeth physically hurt. It was like a live wire touching skin or an open wound. And the pain was nearly unbearable.
Now, as a grown, adult woman, I love my alone time. I revel in the solitary company of a good book, or listening to a symphony on my headphones. I actually prefer to watch movies by myself, to eat alone while reading a good book (I know, I know, everyone and their dietician warns against that sort of distraction while eating. I don’t care. It is one of the great pleasures of my life and I will not give it up.)
I do enjoy the company of my husband, my children, and my parents. I love being with friends, for lunch or drinks or whatever. But if I find myself without alone time for more than a day, I get a bit anxious, snappish and tired. Even just going to a little drive, with the windows down, or listening to Mozart by myself refreshes me.
I crave time to myself, and guard it a chastity belt guards virginity. Once, in graduate school, I took a full load of classes and worked a few hours a week, as well, in the summer. By the time the semester ended, my boss made me swear never to do that again. Without much time to unwind, read for pleasure or do any of the solitary things I enjoy doing, I turned into a raving bitch — snarling, sarcastic, overwrought, twitching.
By our very nature, we humans are not solitary creatures. We are born into societies, we create communities. A baby who is not touched can die or grow up withered and odd. We know that there is safety in numbers. We form clans to watch each other’s backs. Although individualism is encouraged and even prized in Western societies, it is measured against how it can help others — your ranch may be 20 miles away from mine, but if you don’t help me in times of need, you will find yourself ostracized from the rest of the larger community. To have and not to share is frowned upon — volunteerism is one of the purest forms of altruism that is admired and acknowledged.
Yet my time alone is as precious to me as gold is to a miser. It is one of the biggest differences from that time being an only child and a lonely teenager.
Being okay with being alone is part of what makes me a grown up, that shows maturity of character. It doesn’t prevent me from missing other people from time to time — it simply allows me enjoy my own company, as well.