What’s Wrong With Being Alone?

“People, people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.” Are you one of those people who need people? Are you uncomfortable being alone? Or do you crave time alone? Is your happy place on the couch with a book or in the middle of a noisy crowd? These are questions I’ve been asking lately and questions that were asked yesterday in a conversation at the Newport Library sponsored by Oregon Humanities.

“Going Solo: The Value of Solitude in a Social World” was the topic led by Jennifer Allen, director of programs at Oregon Humanities. The 20 or so of us who attended had a lot to say on the subject. In general, we’re in favor of solitude. Maybe not 24/7, but we like our “me time.”

Much of our discussion focused on technology, how some people, especially the young, seem incapable of leaving their smart phones, tablets or computers for more than a few minutes at a time. (I’m guilty of that). Our connections pursue us with phone calls, emails, texts and status updates to the point we never seem to be alone even if there’s no actual human nearby. Can you claim to be alone if you’re plugged in? If you get an email or the phone rings, is it okay to ignore it?

Are people forgetting how to be quiet, how to think? To daydream? Are we hiding from our thoughts and feelings? Allen described a scientific study which asked people to spend 6-15 minutes just thinking, doing nothing else. The subjects had a hard time doing it.

I like to be alone. For me, a good time, is sitting out in the sun reading or writing. A nightmare is walking into a noisy crowd.

I love playing music alone. But I also love jamming. Our jam in Waldport last week was magical (Fridays, 3-5 p.m., community center). You have to learn your songs alone, but combining talents can create beautiful music way beyond what is possible on your own. It’s pretty hard to harmonize with one voice. But, let’s be honest, one lousy player or off-key singer can ruin the whole thing.

That sounds bitchy, something introverts like me are often accused of. People who like to be alone are called bitchy, snobbish, or antisocial. No, I like people–in small doses. I think we all need people around sometimes, but all the time? Sometimes my dog is too much company. Other times being alone makes me very sad. Then I wish I had a house full of family.

During our conversation, we agreed there’s a difference between solitude that we choose and solitude that is thrust on us. Many older people fall into this category. Their kids are grown, their spouses die, their friends have died or moved away, and they spend far too much time alone. Remember, prisoners are sent to “solitary confinement” as punishment.

Ideally, we have our time alone AND our time with others in whatever mixture feels comfortable. Meanwhile, we have dogs or cats.

It was ironic that although most of us at yesterday’s conversation prefer to be alone, we got together with other people to talk about it and never ran out of things to say.

Oregon Humanities plans several more conversations throughout the state. For information on the conversation project, visit http://oregonhumanities.org/programs/conversation-project/.

How about you? How do you feel about being alone? Do you enjoy it? Hate it? Fear it? Wish you could claim a minute to yourself? Let’s talk about it.

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Author: Sue Fagalde Lick

writer/musician California native, Oregon resident Author of Freelancing for Newspapers, Shoes Full of Sand, Azorean Dreams, Stories Grandma Never Told, and Childless by Marriage. I have published hundreds of articles, plus essays, fiction and poetry. I teach writing workshops and offer individual editing and mentoring. I'm also pretty good at singing and playing guitar and piano.

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