I used to think everyone was hanging out without me when I was indulging in alone time. Considering I was a fairly sociable person, there was an innate desire for me to be included in most things. And when I wasn’t, I felt hurt and withdrew. It wasn’t so much I wanted to be cool; I wanted to be loved.
I can’t pinpoint where the need to be included started. I suspect some preverbal childhood trauma is part of it, which caused me to develop an anxious attachment style in relationships–something I tried to (unsuccessfully) hide for many years.
But there were early signs that I liked being alone too. I look back and remembered being happy by my lonesome at five years old. I was in a playroom in kindergarten. There was an abundance of toys and books I was excited to explore. And I remember thinking–with the emotional attunement of a toddler– how thrilled I was and revelled in my ability to generate self-joy.
My father’s expression of mock hurt shows when he tells the story of me walking into preschool on my first day without a glance back at him. He does–and always will– feel pride in my independence but is somewhat unsettled with my lack of reliance on anyone. “You always like being alone,” he remarks.
It’s All About the Extroverts
My brief, independent mindset changed once I was initiated into the extroverted world we live in. I socialized with other children– which I do think is important for self-development– and adapted to the typical classroom environment that rewarded the expressive and outspoken.
I’d like to think I’m fairly balanced in terms of needing social contact. How introverted or extroverted we are is usually on a spectrum. Some are 90%-10%, others 70%-30% or 80%-20%–take your pick. But I’m pretty sure I’m as close to 50%-50% (ok, I’m more on the introverted side, but only by about 10% give or take, if we’re talking numbers).
The outer world took care of my extroverted side; I learned to make nice with others, how to relate to others, and how to navigate my life in a respectable way in a functioning society.
But tending to the inner world was a challenge. Like many with introverted tendencies, I was made to feel guilty for wanting to spend time by myself. Grinchy. Grouchy. Grumpy. Petulant even. Consequently, I neglected to accept this side of myself.
Against my own interests, I failed to advocate for and nurture my inner world. I didn’t recharge when I needed to, delayed taking time off when I burnt out and on occasion, become a resentful, mean extrovert.
These expectations I placed on myself– along with peer pressure–created a feeling of immense guilt when I didn’t want to go to a party, refrained from walking up to a complete stranger or saying no after a long day of incessant conversations. It all seemed like a lot of work.
Influx of Alone Time: The Pandemic
The pandemic prompted us to look at our lives through a noise-free lens. Forced to spend most of my time alone (I work and live solo), it allowed me to engage in deep introspective work I don’t think would have been possible in our pre-pandemic world, sans coronavirus.
Like all of us, I was faced with an empty calendar. And suddenly, I felt like that toddler in kindergarten again. I read so many books, watched an unhealthy amount of television, wrote, journaled and fixed my relationship with food. In fact, it was during the pandemic that I rediscovered my love for writing and subsequently took an online writing course.
I meditated and learned to reconnect with a forgotten part of myself I abandoned, all of which used to be diverted by meaningless distractions. I embraced the de-glorification of busyness. Besides, I never understood why people took pride in being busy; to me, it meant that people either took on too much or were poor time managers. I do say that as someone with privilege though. I am aware that there are many of us who are simply burdened with too much through no fault of our own. I acknowledge your struggle.
It was during the pandemic lockdowns that I also realized I was maturing, in a sense that I became adept at emotionally self-regulating. Yes, I craved community, still wanted to meet new people and missed the daily buzz of a fully functioning world. But I also loved taking late-night walks in my neighbourhood, where I would window shop fancy interiors in the design district of Toronto and create a dream home in my mind.
I would enjoy taking two-hour trots with no people on the street. Wanna feel like you own a city? Go after hours when everyone is in bed with only a few die-hard dog-walkers for the company–especially on a cold-ass night in February when people go out only if it’s an absolute necessity. Those freezing times of the night are unforgiving–so bundle up.
But, they bring physical and emotional invigoration. You’re present in that it’s so cold you can’t feel your face and figure it’s probably turned to stone. But because you’re alone, you’re not complaining to a companion about the weather, and are forced to just…be. During these walks, I came up with writing prompts, developed a character, or had an idea for a novel.
A delicious tart from a bakery was enough to make me smile. An infuriating character in a novel was enough to incite a passion in me about the human condition. Baking a cake and screwing it up made me feel safe failing and accepting the need to start again with grace. Alone time creates these valuable nuggets of self-awareness. My creativity also flourished.
Making Peace By Myself
Instead of judging my thoughts, I questioned them with curiosity. Instead of enforcing silly rules created by society I asked if they were a fit for me. It was tedious but worthwhile work.
I won’t go as far as to say that I always long to be alone–I want and am lucky to have romantic love. I wouldn’t trade anything for being coupled with the right person. But when it comes to yours truly, I can never get rid of her, so I might as well make nice.
I learned to be protective of my alone time. I no longer rely on others to fill my time– if I’m being truthful–with distractions. For as much as I enjoy my social life, I’m equally committed to devouring solitary time that’s created a safe mental space where I can do, be and say anything I want to the most important relationship I have–which is with myself.