Years and years ago a friend of mine asked me to go with her for a hike. After work. Way out of town. To watch the moon rise. Sounds great right?
I didn’t want to go. I had things to do at home, I wanted to get my dogs out for a hike much closer to town and be in bed by 10pm. It just wasn’t going to work for me. When I messaged her that I wanted to be home, that I had things to do, she cracked.
“Well, I’m getting sick of that excuse,” she texted back.
My face flushed from behind my phone and immediately my blood boiled.
“Then go!” I responded. “You don’t need me.”
She didn’t respond. I hadn’t expected she would. When I looked back over our correspondence with some guilt a few hours later and read those last four words, it hit me. She did need me. Not me, necessarily, but someone. She needed a companion. I decided to stop feeling bad for honoring my own desires and let go of the whole thing.
I didn’t think much about that conversation until several weeks ago another friend was telling me how left-out she felt because some of her girlfriends were getting together without her. She wanted to go to a concert, but they didn’t want to, so they did their thing and she stayed home.
I don’t know what it is about me that makes me a loner. I’m comfortable socially, people might even describe me as outgoing, but I have always really liked “alone”. I’m a writer, that’s a part of it, to be sure. And I was an avid reader as a kid – still am… both rather solitary efforts. Listening to my friend though, I remembered a time when my alone time – while I loved it – was also just time at home.
Why or how the shift happened, I can’t say for sure. I think somewhere in my early 20s… somewhere between my frustration with roommates and that antsy feeling I get when I haven’t been outside – really, truly, outside – for too long… I think I just decided to go for a bike ride and read at the foot of a tree in the park. Or work in a coffee shop instead of at home. Or go for a hike, or to a wine bar, or for a walk… and I loved it.
I have many reasons dictated by my own person brand of madness, but listening to my adult friend lament the night she spent at home because her friends didn’t want to do what she wanted to do, both broke my heart and made me realize that spending time alone might be really important. For most people, not just for loners and artists.
I want to preface all of this by reminding people to use plain-old common sense. If your neighborhood is the real life version of a “City of Sin” documentary, perhaps walking around at night by yourself isn’t your best laid plan. Consider finding a ride to a safe park or neighborhood and then splitting up from your ride-mate to have some time alone. Additionally, I do not consider TV time, alone time, for the same reason I don’t consider computer time alone time; it’s a distraction and keeps you outside of yourself. That’s just me.
So, without further ado, here are my top three reasons to make time for alone time.
1. The Freedom
When you really stop and think about all the logistics required to get people together to “go out” on any kind of excursion, it almost seems some measure of crazy that we do it at all. Phone calls / texts / messages to people who might want to go. Fielding said communications for people responding. Coordinating schedules. Determining meeting location, travel plans, perhaps restaurant or entertainment location… I honestly think this is one of the big reasons I rarely initiate going-out-ings with anyone else. I’m lazy. It’s so much easier to just go. Or, if I am genuinely interested in company, to tell people where I’ll be and when, and invite them to join if they like. Being comfortable alone means that even if no one else shows up, I’m still having a grand time.
Me holding the sunblue
Photo courtesy of Bonzeye Photography
2. The Empowerment
This element may not necessarily be felt by all, but when I have a night out – or a hike, or a camping trip, or whatever – alone, I feel… empowered. I feel confident. I feel capable. Strong. I feel nurtured. Fed. I also feel somewhat anonymous, and I love that feeling; the chance to genuinely just observe. (And analyze. I like to analyze. Not judge, just understand.)
Too, there is a real sense of freedom in not needing anyone or anything. Of course we need each other in the greater context of our lives and our society, but to not need to have someone around to make us feel comfortable in our own bodies is liberating.
I, personally, like what I believe to be the attributes of a person who is comfortable in their own skin, someone who is self-sufficient in terms of the way they take care of their own emotions. Self empowerment is good for other people too. When we can stop NEEDING people to participate with us in a certain way, we free ourselves – and them – to simply enjoy; who they really are, our time together, the nuances of our particular relationship. Expecting people to play certain roles in your lives exactly the way you’ve scripted it in your mind just sets everyone up for disappointment – you because they ‘let you down’ and them because they didn’t get to read the script, or agree to the part. Filling your own emotional needs also makes you a more attractive partner because you are capable of taking care of yourself; you just want your someone to enjoy certain parts of your life with you. And, of course, no one can do a better job of filling your emotional needs than you can. Take care of what you really want and let others be who they are. If you want to go out for some fun, eat sushi and drink whiskey at a piano bar, then go do it. If you want to cry and scream and feel sorry for yourself, then grab yourself a pillow and get it done. If you want to feel loved, do it for yourself. It will make you a better lover of other people too.
3. The Understanding
I have a friend who, for the first decade of her adult life, thought she was a housewife. She thought what she wanted was a good career, a nice car, a white picket fence, gel-lacquered nails, modestly dyed hair, a closet full of Ann Taylor and a husband who provided well for the family. When changes in her life pushed her to really spend some time alone, she discovered she hadn’t wanted any of that. When you spend time with yourself, there’s no one to impress, no one to please, no one to lead… so you quite quickly find yourself doing the things you really want to do, and often in doing those things you find out a lot about the kind of person you really are, the person you want to BE.
The gift of self-awareness is possibly one of most under-appreciated gifts we give (or sometimes don’t ever give) to ourselves. This is the gift that lets us decide NOT to buy the cute little curio cabinet at the flea market because we know ourselves well enough to know we’ll never fix it up. It will sit in the garage gathering dust until we need the space and have to sell it.
It’s the gift that lets us understand our true motivations when we suddenly want to spat some snide comment at the lady behind the customer service counter. It’s the awareness that lets us take a step back and realize we might just be tired, or worried about money, or feeling wounded when an angry, bitter thought comes into our minds.
This tremendous gift is not only the way we determine who we really are, what our motivations really are, but what we really want, what we really need. Self-awareness is, in my opinion, the first step in knowing your own heart. Which, in my personal belief system, is the place where my soul truly lives, and the place from which I want to live. Really knowing yourself is the first step in really loving yourself, which makes you a better person, a better partner, a better parent, a better child, a better employee, a better friend.
Everyone tells us we should take time for ourselves. I’d like to take that a step further. I’d like to encourage you to take time with yourself. Just you and your book, or your car, or your dog, or your pencil, or your dreams. Take a night – or preferably a weekend – and get away from your house, away from a TV, away from distraction and just spend some time with you, doing whatever YOU want to do. Go ahead, take yourself out for a date.