We Should Spend More Time Alone

‘I wondered why it was that places are so much lovelier when one is alone.’

It can be hard to be alone. To be alone is to be singular, noticed, vulnerable. We don’t have the protection of a group, or of another person. We don’t have a defence, a second opinion, a wall between us and whatever it is we’re facing.

We’re told by the media at the moment that there’s a crisis of loneliness, one that is not just affecting older and more vulnerable people, but an increasing number of millennials.

It seems bizarre that in this social media driven society (social being the operative word here), that we are increasingly lonely. 

If I think back to times that I’ve felt lonely, they were awful. You check your phone however many times a day and there is nothing there. You look at Instagram and everyone but you is out, living, looking amazing and having a wicked time. You spend every night sleeping alone when everyone else seems to be in a perfect relationship. 

It can be hard, miserable and totally un-instagrammable. But we should try to be glad it happens.

I’m glad that I’ve had days where I haven’t seen anyone I know, haven’t spoken out loud (other than to myself). It’s important, vitally important, to be alone, spend time alone, to feel alone. It’s fucking difficult whilst you’re in it, but we should be better at telling ourselves that shit times are both inevitable and temporary. 

Social media has made it virtually impossible for us to ever actually be alone. Even if we have a few hours to ourselves, if we get bored, we can go on our phones and open up Instagram - an act almost instant, but can consume so much of our alone time.

Think about what Instagram actually is: it’s a flurry of images, one after the other, of people that we know or don’t know, doing things, out in the world. Even an image of one person implies the presence of a second somewhere behind the camera. Each of these images has that little number of likes at the bottom, there’s a page where we can see in real time which photos those that we follow are liking or commenting on. It’s a virtual community, it almost breathes. 

But, and this is the thing I have to remind myself of constantly, it is not real! It’s not tangible, you can’t feel it, you can’t walk away from it. It is always there, always accessible, sitting on the table or in our pockets. It is a crazy, bizarre thing, if we stop to think about the actualities of it. 

Embrace aloneness. There are a myriad of experiences that are nice to have alone. Train journeys, trips to art galleries, sitting outside on a cold morning with a coffee, watching the sky lighten. 

Of course we’ll feel lonely sometimes. We are alone. We can spend time with people, which is lovely, enriching, important, but so much of our time we ultimately do spend alone. I sound like an oversimplifying philosophy tit, but think of our minds – we reside in our minds a l o n e, totally alone. We think alone. To therefore spend time alone sometimes is lovely, enriching, important. Without the distraction of other people, we can consolidate our thoughts, spread our lives out however we want, without any secondary presence or voice. 

‘So, now I shall talk every night. To myself. To the moon. I shall walk, as I did tonight, jealous of my loneliness, in the blue-silver of the cold moon, shining brilliantly on the drifts of fresh-fallen snow, with the myriad sparkles. I talk to myself and look at the dark trees, blessedly neutral. So much easier than facing people, than having to look happy, invulnerable, clever. With masks down, I walk, talking to the moon, to the neutral impersonal force that does not hear, but merely accepts my being.’