alone vs lonely

from evy's notebook

Six weeks ago, I moved into a studio to live by myself for the first time. Over my first week of solo living, I was glued to the social internet and I filled my schedule with plans out of a fear that I would spend empty evenings smothered in loneliness. But what I found was that I was still sad, and in fact my avoidance of being alone was cutting out a lot of sources of joy and comfort in my life. I was spending less time wandering in the sunshine, less time creating art, and less time reflecting and journaling.

Yesterday, dodie released a video about being alone, discussing how difficult it's been for her to spend more time by herself during the pandemic, and how often she avoids being alone with her thoughts by scrolling and sleeping. She mentions two kinds of being alone: "having a breath to yourself" and "soul-sucking emptiness". She describes the first as something more temporary, like going into a different room to take a break from a group of people every once in a while. The second, more unpleasant, experience she first introduces as simply "alone time", as if the temporary quiet doesn't count as "real" alone time. She asks "should I just give in and accept that [being around people] is something I need, and seek it out forever, and never be alone?" I've been asking myself similar questions over this isolating year, and I think a key piece to figuring this out is acknowledging that there are many different ways to be alone and many different ways to experience loneliness.

A little over a year ago, I went on a long trip with a bunch of people. There was noise at all hours of the day and crowds everywhere. I was frequently lonely during this trip - the awful kind of loneliness experienced while surrounded by people. And when I got back, and sat in the quiet of my room, I remembered how much I could enjoy the spaciousness and freedom of being alone. Some of my favourite moments of alone time have been the "having a breath to myself" kind of moments dodie talks about in her video.

When I started living by myself, a few people suggested I experiment with being more okay with being alone, to explore how it felt to be lonely. I wondered if I should force myself into "soul-sucking emptiness". After six weeks, I've concluded that I quite like my friends and would like to continue to put effort into scheduling time with them. And I also quite like many solo activities (piano practice, reading in the park without my phone, cleaning my apartment), and it's important to me to make time for these.

What's been useful for me recently is to differentiate between being alone and being lonely. I try to notice quiet moments I enjoy alone, and try to notice when I might enjoy spending time alone in these ways. But when I'm lonely, I don't need to suffer. When I'm lonely, I try to reach out to loved ones and put whatever energy I can afford into creating connections with people.