How to Be Alone (Without Being Lonely)
Last week, I returned from my 7th solo vacation. When I am traveling alone, strangers often inquire whether I am afraid or lonely. My answer never wavers:
“I love my alone time. I have adventures. I read books. I tune into my thoughts. I am rarely lonely. Curious strangers always approach me and I have wonderful conversations with interesting people who teach me so much.”
While my solitude now feels decadent and comforting, it was not always this easy. After my divorce seven years ago, I started traveling alone out of circumstance (rather than choice). I was downright petrified! In fact, during my first solo trip to Argentina, I wrote, “Traveling alone makes me feel uncomfortable. I feel like a freshman in college again—I know nothing and no one. Who will I eat with tonight? I was never good at these moments.”
Despite this discomfort, I took solitude on as a spiritual practice. Now, years later, I believe that being alone (without being lonely) is so integral to happiness that relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW and I have included it in our 10-article series on heartbreak. While it takes courage to muster, the payout is enormous.
At various points in life, you may have to walk away from a romantic relationship, family drama or friendship turned sour. Your spiritual evolution may require you to separate from the pack. Instead of seeking wisdom from external sources, you will find truth and compassion inside yourself. And, as counter-intuitive as it may appear, finding solace in your solitude will dramatically increase the quality of your relationships whether you’re single or in a committed partnership.
“People who are afraid to be alone sometimes invite mistreatment. Their relationships are often borne of loneliness, fear and desperation. Lovers, friends, and even family may sense this weakness and overstep boundaries because they intuitively know that this person will never leave,” said Aimee.
Conversely, being comfortable in solitude virtually guarantees that you will never suffer through an abusive relationship again. People comfortable in in solitude walk away from unproductive or hurtful relationships. From a place of strength and contentedness, they attract kind, compassionate and loving people into their world.
“Happy people are self-sufficient, engaged with the world, and interested in personal development. It’s impossible to be dependent, clingy or desperate when you’re having fun and feeding your soul. This independence is extremely attractive,” said Aimee.
Before you embark on this journey to embrace solitude, start with three truths:
1. Learning to be alone, like any other discipline, requires practice. Don't be daunted if you're uncomfortable at first.
2. Solitude, much like meditation, quiets outside distractions. You will tune into your intuition. Your creativity will soar.
3. In time, you’ll come to relish your “me” time. It’s really quite decadent—you’ll sleep late, read without distraction, and eat your favorite foods without negotiation or compromise. Don’t worry—this “me” time is fleeting. When you've had your fill, you can re-enter your relationships renewed and refreshed.
Here are 5 best ways to get comfortable in solitude:
1. Mark it in the calendar.
Until you fully recognize its value, you may be tempted to overcommit to family, friends and even work obligations to avoid having to sit with yourself. Pick a day each week and block out two hours. This "me" time should be treated with as much sanctity as your most important work meeting. Plan ahead. Indulge in a treat (reading a book with a glass of wine, gardening, salsa lessons) that is uniquely inspiring to you.
2. Start small.
“Would you run 15 miles at your first practice for the marathon? To achieve a lofty goal, develop small, incremental steps that you increase gradually,” said Aimee the relationship therapist.
Eat lunch at a restaurant alone. Go to a matinee solo. Take a day-trip to explore a neighboring town. As you get comfortable, you’ll be ready for bigger triumphs--a weekend away or an overseas vacation.
3. Bring props, if necessary.
Despite my experience, I sometimes still experience moments of unease. A good book, newspaper, travel guide, or journal eases the discomfort of eating dinner at a restaurant alone. And, these “props” serve a dual purpose—they provide entertainment (for when I want to be alone), but also fodder for conversation (when I am happy to chitchat with a stranger).
4. Be open to people & adventure.
Being alone isn’t about being closed off. In fact, solo adventure usually spawns new friendships and experiences.
During that first solo trip to Argentina, I signed up for a bike tour of Buenos Aires. Coincidentally, my tour group included a classmate of mine from graduate school. Imagine the chances! Years later, we still share a love of international adventure.
When you’re comfortable being alone, you’re remarkably approachable (and intriguing). You’ll make new friends; take a different path; eat something unusual; and have a conversation that forever changes your outlook. Be open and the world will provide riches in abundance.
5. Develop comfort in other’s discomfort.
In a society that often measures “friendship” by quantity not quality, the decision to cultivate solitude may be unnerving to others. Expect quizzical inquiries.
Get strong and refuse to allow another person’s discomfort (and their projection onto you) to impact your goals. Be ready for the ubiquitous question, “Why are you alone?” Without a trace of defensiveness, state your truth simply and succinctly.
“I enjoy solo adventures,” is a great response.
“If you’re confident and positive (and having fun), others will be inspired by your willingness to take an unconventional path. They may even ask you for advice on where to begin their own journey,” said Aimee.
If you enjoy your time alone and have tips to share, please leave in the comment section. We’d love to hear from you.