I have come to the conclusion that I don’t really know how to be alone.
Let me take a step back. One of the lovely linguistic aspects of English is that it has separate words for positive aloneness (solitude) and negative aloneness (loneliness). Yet US society doesn’t particularly promote being alone; our heteronormative structures presume that people want not to be alone and we are encouraged to find someone to partner with, whether or not that is in fact what makes us happy.
Don’t take this the wrong way – I understand that humans are social creatures, that we are in fact wired to interact with and desire closeness with others. That’s fine. But we all (or most of us) also experience sensory overload at times, or for other reasons desire to withdraw and engage in solitude. That’s also fine, but it’s not encouraged.
When I was a child, I spent a lot of time playing or reading alone. This was understandable; there were no other kids my age living in our immediate vicinity, and all of my relatives in my generation were younger (except for one, who lived too far away to see often). I was perfectly content to spend hours alone. By contrast, my little brother was much more gregarious – we had nearby cousins who were the same age, and there were other kids on our block that he was friends with. He often pestered me to play with him – Matchbox cars, legos, video games, stick fighting outside (the last one got nixed fairly early on by our mother after I accidentally whacked him in the fingers one too many times). Sometimes I acceded, but I was frequently annoyed by these requests – couldn’t he see that I was alone, and happy to be alone, and didn’t need or want his company? It’s not that I didn’t love my brother – I did, and still do – but that I was accustomed to solitude, which I perceived him as intruding upon.
Now, I’m realizing that aside from one month spent house/dog-sitting for my favorite professor and his wife while they taught a January class in Italy, I’ve never lived alone. Even when I was doing my study abroad in Mexico, I lived with a host family (though my room and bathroom were in a small detached building at the back of the house. That was pretty awesome); all the rest of my life has been spent living with family, friends, roommates, or lovers. Even as I write this, I’m sharing an apartment with a former classmate and spending most of my time at my partner’s place. But with both roommate and partner out of town, I’m alone.
I’m not lonely. I’m comfortable and largely content – I’m keeping busy doing laundry and reading academic works about game studies in preparation for revising my Master’s thesis for publication according to peer review feedback. And posting here because my brain needs a break from ludology and social constructionism, no matter how fascinating and relevant they are.
I’m not lonely, but I’m also not sure what to do with myself when there’s no one around to distract, amuse, or comfort me. When I take a break, there’s no one for me to hug or pester or cook for. No one is gently (or not-so-gently) reminding me to eat, or to calm the fuck down because breaking my roommate’s sugar jar isn’t the end of the world even though the broken parts of my brain insist that it is.
There’s just me.
And that’s really lovely, and a little bit confusing, and I realize that it’s confusing primarily because it’s been so damn rare in my life, especially in the last ten years or so. The last person I lived with never left home except for work and (grudgingly) for necessary errands; we divided up chores at one point such that I did all the grocery-shopping so he had one less reason to go out. His constant presence (the actual relationship was on-and-off romantic, so we shared a one-bedroom apartment) grew to wear on me and eventually aggravated my anxiety quite badly, not least due to what I’ve only recently admitted was psychologically abusive behaviors.
But I’m alone right now, and I like it but I’m not sure what to do with it. There hasn’t been much point to this, except that I’m realizing that my life needs more of this, even though I’m unlikely to get it much in the next few months, and I’m starting to understand that although it’s a little inconvenient at times, I really do appreciate it.
And that, in itself, is kind of a wonderful thing.