I know what you’re thinking, here she goes again!
Very late last night (no, I wasn’t out, I’m far too old for such shenanigans!) I was listening to an episode of a daily podcast I listen to. The man behind the podcast was chatting with his Lyft driver about, among other things, how important ‘alone time’ was for her. The driver was a single mum, and she told the story of how she had twins at the age of 26, who were now 6 years old. I only realised when I was in the process of writing this post that she was only a year older than me – due to the hour last night, that particular detail flew straight over my head. I hadn’t even had my first relationship at 26 (I was nearly there, but not quite). This American woman’s life is on one extreme of a scale, while I’m at the other.
After my initial surprise at what she said had passed, I started thinking about how one person’s definition of being ‘alone’ can just be another person’s standard day. This woman made a big thing about having lunch alone, or going for 10 minute walks alone; and I my initial thought was along the lines of, you’re joking right? But then I thought, no, she has a completely different life to mine. She has primary school age twins, a house full of noise, a life that’s just generally much busier than mine has probably ever been. I’ve been having lunch alone every day for years, even at my job in Italy. After a couple of years at the job, I felt like I needed a complete break during the day from my work environment, and I really appreciated being able to walk home at lunch and basically not speak to anyone for an hour. Never mind 10 minute walks, I used to go on short breaks alone; to places like Rome, or even a beach holiday on the Adriatic coast once. I once caught an overnight train to Munich, and even went to Paris for a long weekend alone once. I wasn’t going to let the lack of a boyfriend feel like it was a barrier stopping me from doing certain things. Different people deal with being alone in a very different way – and there’s a big difference between being alone and being lonely, take it from someone who’s spent most of their life single.
One thing I’ve seen a lot over the years is the panic people in relationships (especially long term relationships, or married couples) have at the prospect of spending a night alone. I’ve seen it in person, and on social media (it’s one of the reasons I abandoned Facebook at one point past, to be honest). I spent many many years of my 20s living alone, in a studio flat. In a country I didn’t grow up in. I heard so many stories of people in long-term relationships freaking out before spending the night alone, and telling the tale of how they had a terrible night at home on their own the day after. How they were scared of noises that they heard, of not having the presence of another person in the flat, unable to sleep because they felt unsafe. And honestly, I partly felt really unnerved by it all, because it made me feel really aware and uncomfortable about my own living arrangement; and partly I found it just really funny, because I was living on my own and had never once felt in danger. Maybe it was naive of me, but even though I was on my own, I felt safe behind my locked door. I slept peacefully at night. In the whole time I lived alone I never had any problems. I never felt unsafe or at risk because there wasn’t anyone else in the house. Of course, I felt lonely at times, but that’s part and parcel of having been single forever, or for an increasing amount of time – depending on what exact period of my time in Italy you’re looking at… But mostly, I loved it. Being able to live by my own rules. Stay up late reading, drinking all the wine. I was happy with the sense of freedom it gave me – well, most of the time, anyway. And I just couldn’t understand why people were making such a fuss about spending one night on their own, when I went to bed alone every night.
I’ve always been somewhat of a loner. I’m an introvert who has solitary hobbies. I can spend entire weekends without leaving the house, with just myself for company. My ideal Friday night, especially now that I’m in my early 30s, would be spent with a good book and a glass (or two, or three…) of wine. I’ve been single for so long that being alone has become, in some way, like a natural state of being for me. The problem then is the difficulty of leaving your single state behind, and sharing your life with someone. That’s something I only had the opportunity of doing at a very late age, and failed at spectacularly. It’s also one reason why I don’t even bother with dating anymore – I think I’m finally getting to the point where I’m fulfilled enough by my own life.
When I was younger, being alone bothered me much less than it does now. But when you get to a certain age, people expect you to be one of a pair, to be attached at the hip to someone, to be uncomfortable at the prospect of spending a night without them – to say the least. It would be nice not to feel as judged as I am for not having a problem with doing certain things on my own. After all, the other extreme is the people who are unable to be on their own, and go from partner to partner like monkeys swinging from branch to branch. With all the thinking I’ve been doing about my long-term single status recently, it’s given me something new to add to the discussion. Being able to be alone is a strength, but I know all too well that at a point that strength turns into something negative. You can’t just depend on yourself your entire life. But neither can you go through life not knowing who you really are. There’s a careful balance, which I know I have yet to truly find.