Being alone is often part of growing up. For some of us more than others.
I thought, when I was in my twenties, I was destined to be alone forever.
I was quiet, didn’t talk much and had trouble relating to everyday talk.
I was constantly thinking, pondering the world, and trying to figure out who I wanted to be next!
But that didn’t mean I wasn’t lonely.
Humans are Social Creatures
I’m an introvert, but at the end of the day I recognize I’m a social creature: I love hanging with people (though it takes energy from me) and I feel the pain of absence when it is forced on me.
I remember thinking younger every time a friend would hang with me, I would go through phases:
Dancing, I have a friiiiiieeeeend!
I would start to get nervous. Every. Time.
I, then, would feel cool and connected…once I got there!
Then, separation: times remembered, but sad the connection had to end. But thankful I did it!
For me, all experiences are small or big versions of this process.
I’m fond of an idea by Alfred Adler, a psychologist. He said that:
All problems are interpersonal problems.
Figuring out how to relate to other people is a big part of life! And solitude and loneliness is part of that.
How You Handle Being Alone
How do you think about being alone?
Are you sad because you don’t want to be alone?
Or happy that you get some quiet time?
When I was in my early twenties I was often sad about it: I felt like I didn’t belong and that I was alone because no one chose to be with me and no one needed me. I think many people feel this way at some point in their life.
But I realized this was a limited idea and not very healthy long term. We spend ALOT of our time alone as humans.
If I’m always feeling insecure or needed, then I can’t be a good partner.
So, I decided to think about it this way:
This actually used to be one of my favorite questions to ask people:
Some people have very strong opinions: they watch football or catch up on their favorite show. Some go hiking and others sew or pick up their hobby.
Others say things like: “Well, honestly, I’d get bored, so I would call someone.”
But my favorite are people who get a blank look on their face and say, “Well, I don’t really know. I’m never alone.”
We all come from different places: as a kid, I often sought out solitude: I had 2 brothers and 2 sisters and stories were my way of escaping from the reality I didn’t like.
My readers won’t likely be surprised to learn I often read or played video games 🙂
But that was only as a younger kid.
As a I grew into a teenager and beyond, it changed.
Alone as an Adult
I started writing quite a bit in my teenage years.
My favorite teacher taught me to be aware of the change you make in yourself: because it’s happening whether you acknowledge it or not!
So, I started to keep a record:
What did I really like?
Did this change from last year?
When am I my happiest?
What do I enjoy to create?
When am I my saddest?
Who do I want to be?
Am I getting closer to being that?
What did I learn today?
What do I wish I would’ve remembered?
Do you like your job?
What scares you about it?
What could you do better?
How could you love the people that frustrate you?
Can you imagine yourself doing that?
If not, what can you imagine?
Are you happy with your relationships?
Do you have enough friends?
And do you support the ones you have?
Could you be a better friend?
These are the sort of questions I would ask myself constantly. This gave me a picture of how I was changing and I since I had a strong picture of who I wanted to be I could tell if I was getting closer or further away from that.
From this process, I learned a TON of things about myself:
I hate mustard
And mayo (except homemade I learned in Seattle lol)
Being around people makes me tired
But I love it and them
I have deep running thoughts
And I like to randomly talk about them
I’m bad at small talk
And likely always will be because that’s who I am
I don’t really like exercise
But I don’t mind it when I’m doing something else I enjoy, like listening to a podcast
I really enjoy jobs where I can just be by myself
But I can adjust to jobs where I only deal with people all day
As humans go, I’m really sensitive
I have stronger empathy than the average person
I feel better when I have words to describe how I feel
I can tell you if I’m sad and why generally: and this is incredibly helpful
I like writing, but it takes time
But it’s really fun to look at it later 🙂
The things that hurt me most are forced absence, inattention, and telling me I care too much
The result of all these lessons were when I would get a block of time, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. My recent list would look something like this:
- Finish On Edge — a book about anxiety to increase my empathy for people that suffer strong anxiety.
- Finally finish the privacy and legal pages for my blog.
- Launch Pinterest
- Fix the garbage disposal in my kitchen.
- Make a cool Infographic for Self Love
- Work on my data visualization cite-reading skills
- Pick a video game out of my massive backlog and start playing it
- Reach out to friends I haven’t talked to in a long time
As you can see it’s a mix of personal, work, and thoughtful things. Ever since I started writing, I’ve always had a long list like this because I know the things I love, the things I want in life, and what I need to do to get them is much easier if you know the first two.
Moving From Loving Self to Loving Others
But, you know, I did not just go from being very sad that I was alone to being this person of reflection overnight:
This took time.
I spent nearly half a decade sorting through this — mostly being alone and feeling lonely.
I always tried to think about it logically:
- Ed, you’re going to be alone most of your life. Even if you marry, at some point that person may pass away. You can’t be with someone all the time. So, do you like yourself? Why do you want to be with someone else so bad?
- Does no one spend time with you because you are a nerd? Or is it because you’re a quiet introvert that talks to no one?
- I liked to think no one talked to me because of limited exposure.
- And even if someone really like who you were, what would you do with them?
I often would slowly think through these questions and over time I came to this conclusion:
To really love someone, you first have to love yourself. Once you confidently love yourself, you can love others more.
I decided that nothing was sexier than someone who knew what they wanted, loved themselves and could fully support a relationship. If you have your own hobbies, beliefs and thoughts it makes a beautiful friendship with others.
When I’m confident in myself, I can fully enjoy time with my wife (even when she was my girlfriend lol).
When I know what I’m feeling, I can tell her what frustrates me (or makes me happy).
I can spend my full energy loving her without sapping myself figuring out insecurity issues.
By knowing myself, I was able to fall deeply in love with my wife as soon as I found her:
We were neighbors: I brought her cookies and showed her my heart. I knew who I was, so I just started rambling about all the things I deeply believed in and we fell in love with each other….and are still deeply in love to this day!
That said, forced absence is one of the most painful feelings ever.
Once you start spending your whole day with someone, it’s hard to suddenly be separated.
I’ve found when I’m feeling this kind of deep pain, writing really helps me.
It slows down my mind and allows me to separate the pieces so I can better understand why I’m hurting so bad. Then, I’m able to talk about it with myself and my friends. By talking about how I feel, it generally helps me feel better and slowly leads me back to recovering myself.
- Life is full of alone moments! Prepare for it by finding out who you are and what you love (and don’t!)
- If you love yourself, it prepares you for finding more love if you are alone.
- Be aware of the change you make in yourself: because it’s happening whether you acknowledge it or not
Suggestion Next Steps:
What is your favorite thing to do? List out 20 of your favorite activities.
Don’t have 20? Make a promise to yourself to try 10 things in the next 30 days.
Hate being alone? Find things you love so much that you don’t really mind it. Start an alone list! What is the next 3 things you would do if you had an hour to do anything?