Alone Again, Naturally

I’m somebody who spends the vast majority of their time alone.

A bit of a hermit, I guess.

In fact, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve chosen not to go to events, or dropped out of plans, or decided not to text that person to ask if they wanted to meet up, honestly, because I deemed that I would rather spend the time by myself.

Although I do have social anxiety, as many times as I wish I had done something, there are those instances when I did see something through – I went to that event, I didn’t cancel that plan, I texted that person to meet up – and I wish I hadn’t. It’s almost as if the second I say ‘yes’ to something, there’s this immediate regret. Suddenly it hits me that I’ll need to – I’ve agreed to –  pop out of my little bubble and actually socialize, and isn’t that bloody exhausting? But then again, being in the same little bubble is constrictive and limiting. It’s a battle between the safe, reliable comfort of aloneness and the curiousness of ‘venturing out’ (aka. going for a coffee at Costa).

It’s a bit of a ‘grass is always greener’ complex. And when the social aspect doesn’t pan out, I often can’t help but feel guilty about it. Especially so if I’m the one who proposed a social plan, and then in turn is the one who’s rejecting sociability; who cancels or perhaps worse, who tags along quietly, not seeming to be enjoying themselves. There I am at social events, longing to vanish in a cartoonish poof then reappear in a warm bed on my own. Sometimes I’m just counting down the hours before I can return to sweet solitude. This whole palaver is partly down to being veeeery far into introversion on the introvert/extrovert scale – people drain me like nobody’s business – and partly, I admit, a character flaw. That’s not to say that this always happens; it doesn’t. It’s not as if there aren’t many times when I have seen plans through and been glad that I did. But it’s a good thing nonetheless that I’m somebody who enjoys their own company.  

…Right?

Well, so-so. Comme ci, comme ça. No doubt, there are advantages to being alone. I can commence a dance recess to cheesy ABBA tunes; I can sing to my heart’s content without judgement; I can eat 10 packets of Ready Salted crisps whilst watching South Park; I can sloth out in my yoga pants and not do any actual yoga. But the truth is, I now regularly find myself disliking being alone too. I’ll be the first person to say that there’s enjoying your own company, which is healthy, and what I do instead, which is essentially isolating myself. Over the past few years, I’ve spent so much time alone that my aloneness has heightened to something unhealthy: loneliness. I find myself slipping into the emotion almost habitually now. It’s more difficult to somewhat enjoy yourself when you’re lonely as opposed to simply alone; dance recesses, singing cheesy songs, painting, playing guitar or any other past-time, they just become distractions from the loneliness, and often unsuccessful ones at that.

It’s important to compartmentalize loneliness, aloneness and non-aloneness. In this context, there are four states of being: You can be lonely alone; you can be lonely amongst people; you can be amongst people and not be lonely; you can be alone and not be lonely. Solitude isn’t always a negative thing, nor is company always positive.

The issue is, society wrongly associates aloneness with loneliness. It sees them as one in the same rather than what they truly are: a physical state of being and a mental state of being. In other words, aloneness is how you are; loneliness is how you feel. Because of their similar undertones, they often overlap. However, society’s perception of them creates barriers where there need not be, because it cautions us that doing things alone is weird and shameful. People often feel embarrassed to do things by themselves. If they do, they’ll be on their phone constantly to reassure the strangers around them that they’re not a loner; they’re still connected through the virtual world. There’s a bit of a stigma about it. We see someone at the cinema alone, at a restaurant alone, or doing almost anything alone, and automatically assume they are lonely, or going through ‘a bit of rough patch’.

I’ve never really understood why going out and aloneness can’t complement one another. When going alone is the only option (which is often the case for me), I hate that it could prevent my sociability altogether. I know that if I had more confidence, I would regularly go to events by myself, sometimes even voluntarily as opposed to going with people. Deep down, even if I’m too shy right now to live by this belief, I do know that you shouldn’t let the small matter of having no company stop you from attending something which interests you. Maybe there’s such a thing as self-sociability? There should be.

For example, the other night I managed to pluck up the courage to go to a music event at one of the bars on campus. (If there’s one thing that can persuade me to brave a social scene on my lonesome, it’s live music.) It was ‘Battle Of The Bands’ which promised to be pretty spectacular, so after some deliberation, I went.

A while after I walked in, it became so crowded that the only place to stand was against the door you just entered from. The brass band had everyone entertained; the musicians were phenomenally talented and I was thoroughly enjoying myself, smiling and clapping along, impervious to my being by myself only because I thought nobody was aware of it. After the band finished playing their set, there was an interval before the next band started. As the group around me dispersed, I just so happened to be standing in the one spot in the bar which was no longer crowded. That’s when the feeling kicked in. I became so conscious of my singularity. Everyone was there with their friends, and then there was me, unequivocally alone. I thought I stood out like a sore thumb. I felt as though people were staring at me, judging me, laughing at me, deciphering the type of strange or unpleasant person I was to not have anybody with me.

I came close to leaving simply because I didn’t know what to do with myself; I didn’t know how to seem occupied or know where to look, even. I’m not someone who idly checks or scrolls through their phone every minute just to appear to have something to do (if anything, I think it draws attention), so I just stood there with my hands in my pockets, failing to be inconspicuous, until the next act started.

In hindsight, most likely nobody noticed or cared. But in my head, for a few minutes or so, every conversation was about how much of a loner I was, which I now see is ridiculously melodramatic. When you’re very anxious, it’s like all logic spills out of your mind. The only reason I stayed is because I love live music. Good thing, too. One of my housemates showed up with his friends and I ended up having a great rest of the night watching the last band with them. If I’d left, I would’ve missed that. I’m glad I went in the end. But despite that minor success, it seems every week there’s something I could’ve gone to that I’m bailing out on. It’s an awful pattern.  

A yoga class I booked: I cancelled.
An open mic night I got tickets for: I stayed in.
A creative writing workshop I got tickets for: I didn’t show up.
A free vegan buffet: I decided not to go (now there really must be something wrong with me!)

I feel disappointed in myself every time – I don’t want to be a hermit anymore.

For so many years I’ve been isolating myself. It doesn’t do me any good. I know that deciding not to go to any plan or event may be the safer, more predictable option – I know what will happen if I stay home alone. There’s no chance for catastrophe or social awkwardness. But that’s the problem. There’s no chance, no possibility. No chance of meeting new people; no chance of stepping out my comfort zone; no chance of discovering something I enjoy; no chance of anything happening. The safer option isn’t necessarily the better one. The only way I’ll have people to go to future events with and make future plans with is by meeting them, and they aren’t going to magically appear on my doorstep. And maybe there will be things I attend which I might regret, but at least I gave it that chance.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I need to become a social butterfly, participating in everything, alone or otherwise, and meeting up with a new person every day – I am naturally somebody who enjoys their own company and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m just saying that if I want to be less lonely, I should be more proactive about preventing it. There is a difference between aloneness and loneliness, but too much of the former can provoke the latter. I don’t want to be somebody who dwells in loneliness.

Somebody said to me recently,
‘But what are you going to achieve if you stay at home all the time?’
And I replied,
‘Well, nothing.’