Hello my little lightbulbs!
How are we doing? How’s your week going? Is it looking pretty social or have you found yourself feeling a bit lonely? Chances are, you’ll have felt lonely at some point recently, especially considering the last lockdown year!
Being alone was something I really fell in love with during my Japan-saga. I learned to love it through understanding it, learning the downsides and getting to know myself at a deeper level. I thought that enjoying alone time was a set personality trait that I had discovered. As it turns out, that’s not the case. Enjoying alone time is a fluid thing for me and the way I feel about it fluctuates based on a lot of different factors. Some days I feel very ‘independent woman’ and get my life in order, others I enjoy reflecting and other times I hate alone time and spend it bawling my eyes out convinced no-one loves me. Needless to say, getting the most out of alone time takes some practice.
Like all things in life, loneliness comes in waves. You can’t stop the waves, but you can admire them and get better at riding them. So if you’re already a solo master, or you’re wanting to get more comfortable in your own company, I hope that hearing my experience and tips will help you get there.
I recently passed my 6 six months single milestone (a little rule that I set for myself after every breakup!) Before that I was alone, living my best up a Japanese mountain. My solo streak stretches back from choosing solo study time over uni socials to baby Jess building an absolute empire on the Sims 2. You’d think from this extremely cool list that I’d be well practiced in solo-time and, while I think that I am, the situation I find myself in at the minute is quite a different one.
I was alone in Japan, with few people around me and I knew that. There were people that I could reach out to if I needed them but geographically I was quite isolated. My situation now is a lot different. I live with my mum and am 15 minutes away from my closest friends and family. It’s that closeness, I think, that makes it harder to be alone. I can feel myself becoming more dependent on people than I was before. Being dependent on people isn’t a bad thing, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to lean on people a little more than I could in Japan , but there are some drawbacks too. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever moved back home after a breakup, or change in address/ job. You might feel like you’ve regressed a little, expecting people to do things for you that you would usually have to do for yourself. And, because you’re spending less time alone, it can feel strange when you do get that alone time.
I noticed the shift because I wasn’t enjoying alone time as much as I used to. I’d start feeling nervous at times that I was on my own and because of that I’d be more stressed out if plans were cancelled. The best way I can describe it is uncomfortable. It’s like when you haven’t stretched or worked a muscle in a while. I thought about this during zazen, another thing that I haven’t been doing as much as I’d’ve liked to lately.
Zazen is a type of meditation that requires a bit of discipline, to sit straight-back, usually in silence. The traditional method includes a Buddhist monk willing to smack your back with a stick to keep you upright, but the monk at my old temple never did that – he said the fear of being hit would distract your focus. After a long time without practice, I took zazen back up last week and quickly felt my back screaming at me to lie down, stretch out, or basically do anything other than sit up straight. I was uncomfortable after 5 minutes and I could remember a time when I would sit for a full hour, with hardly any discomfort at all. Being alone is a similar thing, it’s uncomfortable, but with dedication, practice and kind patience it gets easier.
Another thing that I realised while reflecting on this uncomfortable loneliness was that, in coming home from Japan, I’d returned to a space that had changed a lot since my last visit. I hadn’t nurtured this space properly in a while and there were some relationships that needed time to rebuild, while others didn’t work anymore. Acknowledging these shifting relationships was important for my own personal growth and healing journey – which also made it an awesome use of alone time!
Having time away from other people gives you the chance to get some distance and reflect on your relationships. You can ask yourself, how does this person usually make me feel? Am I excited to see them/ hear from them? Does this person motivate me to be a better person, or do I feel like they’re having a negative influence? Am I a positive influence for them? Does my input and their input into the relationship match or am I overworking/ underworking? If you find that your relationships aren’t balanced you can communicate your feelings to that person. Remember, if you’re overworking in a one-sided relationship you can’t force people to put in more effort, so the only way to balance is for you to put less in. Save your energy for yourself and other relationships.
For those who may be a bit out of practice with spending time alone, I’d recommend making plans. When you know you’re going to be alone, on the days your friends are busy or your roommates are away, plan things that you enjoy! It can be going for a drive, reading, getting some work done, watching a film that no one else has been fancying… whatever you like! That way you spend the time leading up to being alone feeling excited.
Extending from this, I’d suggest scheduling your alone time too. Choose time for yourself, even when other people are free. That way you’re leaning into alone time and embracing it, rather than having it thrown at you. The key to alone time is flexibility. Don’t feel obliged to cancel your alone time for other people- if you’d rather have a self-care night rather than going out for drinks stay home! How you spend your time is one of the few things in life you get some say in, so exercise that agency! In the same breath, if a plan comes up that you really want to go to, just shift your alone time to another day; you want to respect alone time, without making a rod for your own back.
If being alone feels overwhelming, I’d recommend having a solo walk – especially in a city, somewhere with lots of people. I love a city walk at night, with headphones listening to TimeCop1983! Being a part of the hustle and bustle helps you to feel less lonely. Plus you get to people-watch on the move which is always a fun distraction.
Last but not least, take it in steps and reflect on your progress. There was a point where I couldn’t walk into a café on my own! If that’s you, don’t worry. Start off going to a café with a friend and have them leave half an hour before you do. Then you could arrange to meet inside, then you could get there 5 minutes early before slowly building up to a full-on solo trip. Then, once you’re comfortable with that café, try it with another, then maybe a restaurant etc. I can promise you no-one is looking at you for long enough to think about why you’re sitting alone at a restaurant. Maybe you’ve been stood up, maybe you’re calling after work, maybe you’re a member of MI5 undercover- who knows?
I recently practiced being alone by planning a solo trip to York and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time. It was uncomfortable at first and there were a few moments I thought ‘I wish my mum was here to see this’ or ‘I bet Rach would love this’ etc. The majority of the time though, I was quite content. I had a little concert in the car on the way to York, tourist-ed to my heart’s content at Castle Howard and ate like a queen in the city! When I got home, I was more confident, more calm and more comfortable in my own company.
I’m going to be planning some more solo practice soon. What about you? What’s your next solo adventure going to be? Whatever it is, it’s going to be exciting!
P.S. Remember! Enjoying alone time doesn’t mean that you’re prepping for a life of 24/7 loneliness. Still invest in those meaningful relationships (hopefully this will be more manageable after you’ve had time to reflect on them) and enjoy the time you spend in company just as much as you’ll learn to enjoy alone time.
For ways to practice being alone, have a look at this article: https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-be-happy-alone