Words Zu Anjalika Kamis Gunnulfsen | Picture Aidi Tanndy

I bumped into a long-lost friend some years ago while sitting in a café, sipping my cappuccino and reading The Art of Travel by Alain De Botton – which has somewhat influenced the title of this article.

We exchanged our niceties and the few words spoken after is one I can never forget. She asked, “Why are you seated here all alone? Isn’t it lonely? Don’t you have any friends?”

I was taken aback by this. Firstly, due to the very brazen nature of the question. What also surprised me most was the shallowness of it all. A person sitting alone in a café, enjoying coffee and reading a great book is deemed friendless and lonely!

We live in a society that glorifies being busy, constantly in chatter and being connected every single hour of our lives. Our value is somewhat tied up to the number of friends we have, the number of parties we get invited to, and the number of social postings we put out depicting each of our social interactions or invitations. We build up a person’s persona by looking at her social media account and the number of friends she has. While socializing and getting invited is wonderful, the idea that our value is bound by these factors is not.

There is a vast difference between being alone and lonely.

To start, being alone is a physical state where you are by yourself, regardless of the state of your mind.

Lonely, on the other hand, depicts an emotional state where you feel alone and disconnected even when there are people around you.

Human beings are social creatures – the need for connection is deeply rooted in our DNA. However, there will also come a time when quietness is needed to bring clarity to our minds. That’s when time alone is revered and if one cannot feel whole on their own, the social interactions with others will be on a need basis, which could throw a relationship off the balance equilibrium and lead to complications.

We’ve heard of someone being married yet feeling lonely. We’ve also heard of someone who constantly jumps from one relationship to the other once the former dies off only because she doesn’t want to be alone as she fears being lonely. On the contrary, one can only feel lonely when her mind allows her to. Being alone gives you a chance to know yourself better – getting to know your inner intimate feelings. You can only gain clarity on your needs and wants with introspection; most time it means being on your own without all the noise.

Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self. 

May Sarton, Poet

Did you know the word “noise” is derived from the Latin word “nausea”? Not hard to imagine why.

Picture Andrea Picquado

Why are we afraid of being alone?

Since the day we are born most of us have been indoctrinated with thoughts that we are only good when others approve of us. Our academic qualifications, the job we have, the clothes we wear, and even our spiritual beliefs and activities are deemed good or bad with the approval of others. Being alone gives us a chance to look within, which might bring out a sense of not being good enough – all the choices we make, without the approval of others. When we are alone, we are left with the unfiltered versions of ourselves, which takes a lot of courage to face – there’s no validation from others, and we are left at our own devices.

We also have been made to believe that being alone; doing things on our own like going to the movies, going for a cocktail in a bar or eating in a restaurant makes us look lonely and pathetic. We are quick to deduce that a person who eats in a restaurant or watches a movie alone must be friendless and hence, lead a very sad life. No one wants to look that way so, doing things alone is not in the books for many simply because of this fable.

The art of being alone takes practice.

Allocate a day for coffee on your own. Bring along your journal, a book or a little painting set. Sit in a favourite café and people watch – read, write or paint while at that.

Take a long weekend walk on your own, without your phone. That way, you won’t be able to reach out for it when the insecurity of being alone strikes you.

Take a drive to watch the sunset or sunrise.

Go to the gym alone – the list is endless but first, you need to pluck up that courage and do it!

Starting with little steps, however, will gradually help you build on your quality alone time. Make your alone time part of your weekly routine and create fun around it. Make the weekly date with yourself something you will be looking forward to. Make this time non-negotiable; add it to your calendar.

One thing is for sure being alone is highly addictive. Once you feel the joy of being with your own thoughts and feelings, you’ll keep wanting it. There’s also a sense of liberation in making your own decisions, finding the way on your own and chatting and making small talk with random strangers you meet on your journey.

Your confidence will soar. Even if you are very sociable, taking time off to be alone will let you see things in a different light. It will give you a shift in perspectives, especially in matters where decisions need to be made.

One should never feel guilty about wanting to be alone. Happily married couples, those in partnerships, those in their dating phases, parents, children, grandparents, and friends – all of us need that alone time to come back even better as a partner, friend, and lover.

Time alone is never wasted. It gives you chance to be vulnerable and to find out little things about yourself that you wouldn’t otherwise have known if you are enveloped in noise constantly.

Try it. I guarantee you’ll love it!