On Learning to Be Alone

Carmen’s Team Pick:

You know, sometimes I just wake up, look around at my apartment, and think, “god damn it I miss living with 9 other people.”

It’s my last year of college and you know, it gets lonely. I live in an apartment now with one other person and the cutest dog in the world. Before this experience, I never lived with less than 6 other people in a house. I don’t know why growing up means not living with your nine best friends anymore. What could be better than living with everyone you love?

I thought three years ago that being a senior meant finally being old enough to go out every night. But being a senior means finally grappling with the real world and having this horrifying vision of you, picking up and going where you always dreamt of going – alone. You, finally taking the job offer of your dreams – alone. You, beginning your life – alone. And sometimes the knowledge that I’m going to soon leave everything behind makes being a senior the most overwhelming, bittersweet, annoying, nostalgic, emotional thing I’ve ever done.

But the art of being alone is something I’m learning, slowly. You know, like the art of eating Ramen and watching the Golden Girls alone without crying. This is a real and authentic challenge.

Erica Blonde is a senior at Yale and let me tell you, I am no senior at Yale. But being a senior is a communal experience, right? Totally. Especially because Erica is also learning how to be alone, and maybe with a much better and optimistic and flowery feeling than I could ever muster:

“I’m realizing as a senior that being alone will soon become a bigger part of my life, and I better get used to it. As I prepare to leave the life of suites, common rooms and dining halls behind to join the workforce, I want to be sure that I am someone I could enjoy spending time with. I want to be sure I could spend a hundred nights alone in my apartment painting my nails ­­­— and luv it.”

And being alone is totally not just a thing for graduates. It’s a thing for everyone. The art of being alone is simple in its concept. It’s about learning how to exist without someone looking at you and talking to you and acknowledging you. It’s about finding a personhood outside of who you are at parties and who you are at bars. It’s about who you are when you look in the mirror in your room by yourself. Because, like Erica says, “The people! We love the people! We NEED the people!” But what if we didn’t need the people? What if we needed ourselves?

Carmen is the Managing Digital Editor at Ms. , host of Bitch Media's POPAGANDA podcast and co-founder and Contributing Editor at Argot magazine. She previously served as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director at Autostraddle. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 927 articles for us.

51 Comments

  1. Loved this! “This is a real and authentic challenge.”
    Indeed.

    I went out to a bar nearly every night of my Senior year to avoid learning to be alone. A little more Ramen/Golden Girls time would’ve done me and my pocket book a lot of good.

  2. I loved living with my nine sometimes ten best friends at university; but for my proper big girl life, living with strangers – and fewer strangers at that – is best. That nine now all have their own houses and lives in different cities for me to adventure to, and when one of my now-housemates gets pissy about dried weetabix in a bowl or an empty boiler or missing cheese, guess fucking what? We’re not best friends so there’s no lingering resentment if you have it out. GUMTREE FOREVA.

  3. This post is SO relevant to my life right now. I had never lived alone until I joined the Peace Corps. Now, not only do I live alone in a house for the first time ever…I live [essentially] alone in a country. I mean, you know, there are 115,00 other people here too, but it’s not like I can just call one of my friends to come make my house less lonely for the night. So now that I’m alone, I’m ALONE.
    Also..
    I feel like spending so much time by myself is making me weird[er].

    http://heatherdollins.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/a-little-rearranged/

    • ok, so i was appreciating this post and how much i relate to it, and then got this nice little surprise. i too am in the peace corps, living alone for the first time. and i think you hit the nail on the head with just how alone you are in a different country so far from the people that you love.
      also, i am definitely getting weirder, and i really was probably at a level of weirdness before i came here that was bordering on freaking people out, so i’m not sure where i will be by the end of my two years.
      i have learned a lot about myself by being alone so much however. i’ve really tried to utilize the time to get all up in my own head, which is terrifying, but has been quite eye opening. i have a lot of feelings, and i know a lot more about those feelings now. but i miss people a lot. and beer. we don’t have good beer here.
      also, i miss queers, but that’s why i have autostraddle :)

  4. I’m living alone for the first time in my life. It gets lonely sometimes. But I’m discovering that I’m much more awesome than I ever realized. And when my girlfriend sleeps over, it makes me happy. But when she’s not here, I’m still happy. That’s what I’ve learned from finally living alone.

  5. I learned to love being alone when I became single and moved away from my housemate to live on my own pretty much at the same time.

    – I leaned to be alone during evenings. When I was bored or had nothing to do or finished reading the internet, I would just sit on the couch and do nothing till I figured out what I wanted to do. I still do it. Usually inspiration comes within 10 minutes and those unrehearsed things quite often turn out great. I have paid many a forgotten bill because of this, I have picked up crochet and I watched the entire Gillmore Girls series because of this. Ask your mind what it wants to do.

    – You can do culinary experiments without scaring other people. I have been eating mostly vegan for some time now and it’s great, because no one complains about me eating vegan and I have all the opportunities in the world to perfect my lentil soup.

    – Using my laptop on the loo with the door open while I pet my cat (who for some reason can’t stand it to leave me in there alone) is my no 1 all time desert island favorite Living Alone thing ever.

    – Since I learnt how to be alone, I am way more compatible to be in a relationship with. We like spending time apart too instead of choking each other to death and running out of things to say.

    • exactly what I was thinking. When I read “it’s about learning how to exist without someone looking at you and talking to you and acknowledging you,” I was like, what I REALLY need to learn is how to exist when someone IS looking at me. For me, being alone is fine. I can go days without talking to anyone but myself, but the experience of existing in front of someone else’s eyes is absolutely terrifying. It’s like I lose my ability to function because I’m so obsessed with how the other person is viewing me.

    • Seriously, I have a black belt in knowing how to be alone. I like being alone. I’ve honestly been somewhat paranoid about long-term relationships since high school because I’m not good at being around people and living with people.

  6. Wow… This article and all comments were great! Now i know that Im not the only one! xD
    I have like an issue with being alone… I just don’t like it! But i think I’ve learned… I bought an apartment 2 years ago and it only has a bedroom, so I can’t have a roomate… At first I felt really lonely, i used to cry a lot, often at nights! :-$ I went out like a loooooot! But now i don’t NEED to be with people… I can be alone and enjoy it! So now i know that i can be by myself… I just prefer not to! (Am i making any sense? xD it’s difficult because of the language barrier but i hope you understand)

  7. This was pretty interesting, because I think I had/am having the opposite experience. I have always been alone at various stages and times. Hell, in seventh grade I was in fact a lone-er. But when I got to college, I had to learn to be around people, a Lot. I had to learn to be someone with others (that weren’t my parents) and how I wanted to be when I was not alone.
    This reversal on learning to be alone, though, is blowing me mind!

    • I have ping-ponged between the two feelings. I grew up an only child with a single father who never remarried. I spent 18 years never having to learn to be around other people and then suddenly spent four years living with my best friends and hardly ever spending time alone.

      Now I have picked up and moved away for grad school and it has been weird learning to be alone again. The first time going to the grocery store alone was surreal.

  8. Yeah, I get this. I went straight from living with my family to having a roommate to living with a s/o for 4 years to having 2 roommates to living by myself for the first time ever- I even had to give my dog away a few months ago- and it’s daunting.

  9. weirdly enough, I’m kind of trying to figure out the opposite. I grew up in a large family, so living with a roomate in cramped quarters was nothing new and I LOVED the alone time and Golden Girls and the midnight Ramen, and and the walking around naked pretty much constantly that having one, or no roomates allowed me to have. Now I’m in an apartment with 3 other girls and I’m having trouble adjusting to people asking where I was when I don’t come home at the expected hour, if at all, or having to clean my dishes soonish after using them, or having to wear things while I’m running to or from the bathroom in the morning. I love spending quiet time alone, to think or do homework, what is more difficult for me is interacting constantly and living with people who aren’t my family, who don’t know my daily life quirks.

  10. Growing up doesn’t have to mean learning to be alone…I can’t wait to move to a big city and have 9 roommates in an awesome rowhouse and all cook dinner together and generally do the intentional living/cooperative thing. I know so many people doing it and I just don’t see why I would ever, in a million years, get some lonely one bedroom apartment/studio. For one, it’s way more expensive. Two, just why? I think we are cultured to believe that growing up means working in a cubicle with a bunch of 50 year olds who you may/may not get along with, walking home alone to your studio alone to eat dinner alone…but there’s absolutely no reason why it /has/ to be like that :)

  11. I find this interesting because it is the complete opposite for me. I am such a loner and I have to make an effort to choose to hang out with people and not just enjoy my own company. I have been like this since high school, and when I went to college being able to find the ample alone time I needed felt like a struggle. I balance it now by devoting sundays to just me, myself and I, my sundays keep me sane.

  12. “I thought three years ago that being a senior meant finally being old enough to go out every night. But being a senior means finally grappling with the real world and having this horrifying vision of you, picking up and going where you always dreamt of going – alone. You, finally taking the job offer of your dreams – alone. You, beginning your life – alone. And sometimes the knowledge that I’m going to soon leave everything behind makes being a senior the most overwhelming, bittersweet, annoying, nostalgic, emotional thing I’ve ever done.”

    I am a senior this year, and this, I really relate.

    • so many feelings about being a senior. i can’t even begin. where did my life go? why am i so old? i feel like i should feel more my age but i don’t. i enjoy the being 21 and drinking thing and the feeling like a big girl thing but i miss living with friends and being crazy and doing me more often than i can now.

      #graduateproblems

  13. I’m only a freshman but the sad thought of one day leaving all this struck me yesterday. Only a few months ago, I was used to being alone but now university has changed me… and I don’t want to change back.

  14. I think there’s something disturbingly beautiful about that fact that while you wrestle with the notion of how to be alone, in all your senior glory, I as a junior am on a perpetual journey to learn how to be with people

  15. I always thought I was pretty good at being alone, but then I graduated from college a year ahead of my friends and suddenly I find myself needing people. I don’t like it. And I don’t want to be one of those people who reaches out only when I need something from others, but when I’m not having a fit of loneliness, I really do prefer to spend time by myself. It’s very difficult to balance.

  16. UGH YOU ARE SO POIGNANT.

    My ‘other’ moved away for a few monthes just the other day, after we got back from an epic 6 week trip where we never left each other’s sight. When I saw this I was just musing over my complete inability to make popcorn, eating burnt popcorn, and tihnking that that would be a good first lesson.

  17. Great article! I have been living alone for almost 2 months now and while I miss people sometimes, it’s mostly just the absence of human touch. But now that I’ve been getting used to it, I’m starting to like it more and enjoy a lot of the pros being alone has to offer. Now I’m getting scared I’ll lose those pros when I’m with people/not want to be around people again! As long as you remember to love yourself and do things that make you happy (like pick up a hobby), it’s not so bad.

  18. Oh. Yes. This. My senior year, this was totally what I was going through. I sometimes went for weeks without having a real conversation with another human being. I had lots of conversations with my chrysanthemum Franklin, though. And lots of time to get used to being alone, just me and my thoughts.

    And that was really scary at first, because you start thinking all these things you never had the time or energy or focus for before, and you go a lot of places you don’t really want to go. But in the end, I’m so happy for that year alone. Because it helped me figure out who I was, and it reassured me that I could be fine without anyone else, and that takes away a lot of everyday, latent fear, made me confident and happy and stronger. It made me more me.

  19. I think being alone is overrated. After living abroad in several different countries, I’ve come to believe that it’s kind of an american thing. Americans like their independence, and so they have created a society where being alone is the norm and is preferred (especially where I live, in DC. GOD FORBID someone makes eye contact on the metro).

    I’m never living alone again. I’m pursuing this whole communal thing that I love for the rest of my life. I realize moments of alone time are inevitable, but big chunks of it suck. We’re not built to be alone. No woman is an island. And also, one of the big hypotheses for the rise of depression in the US is lack of social support.

  20. I remember being able to be alone in high school, and during my freshman year of college I would actively seek out alone time. Sometime after that, I guess I just got used to having people around. Now I’m coming out of a 7-year relationship, and everything just seems so.. empty. This is going to be a hard thing to relearn.

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