Alone, not Lonely

I was alone. I am 54 years old and for the first time in my life, I was alone. Thankfully, this solitude was not brought on by loss. Rather, it was a trip that my husband encouraged me to take, to spend a couple of warm weeks away from the winter season at home.

Getting married at 18, I never had the college dorm or first apartment experience. I went from my parents house to my own. Now it’s not like I have never been away from my husband. When we lived several hundred miles from “home”, during the summer when our daughter was little, she and I would spend a few weeks in Kentucky and then he would fly in to make the trip back to Virginia. Looking back, I see the irony. He was alone while we were surrounded by family. And now, although our daughter has her own place, Bill’s mom lives with us. We’ve never been through the “empty nest” syndrome.

So I have experienced my first period of alone-ness. Initially, I had some anxiety about it but it’s been okay. I’ve exercised. I’ve fixed small meals. I’ve eaten meals at restaurants. I’ve read. I’ve sat poolside for a couple of hours. I’ve watched a couple of Hallmark movies. I’ve been sick. I’ve had time for introspection, retrospection and futurespective. And I’ve spent some time writing.

And here’s what I’ve found…

I was alone but not lonely. Because there’s a big difference between the two. Loneliness is based on emotion, feelings of isolation. You can be in the midst of thousands of people and feel lonely. “Alone” is different. It’s almost a state of being.

Granted, I’ve only been alone for a few days and I had a target date to return home but it’s not been bad. If this solitude were never-ending, I might feel differently. To ward off feelings of loneliness, I would have to force myself to engage with people in ways that I find uncomfortable.

I often say that I would rather speak to a group of 10,000 than to walk into a room and engage with 10 people. I don’t consider myself a “people” person. To interact with a small group of strangers is an exhausting, nerve-wracking experience. Once I get to know someone, I’m fine but it’s that “getting to know” process that’s difficult.

I also found that with current technology, I was never really alone. Between social media, texting, face to face messaging, my family and friends were here. 30 years ago, this experience would have been completely different. The phone would have been attached to the wall, the photos would have had to been sent off to be developed before sharing and the messages would have been delivered by the postal service.

Technology has given us the ability to be virtually available 24/7 and that, in my opinion, is both a blessing and a curse. People are connected, interconnected and over-connected. And yet, they say they’re lonely and isolated. I think they’ve lost the ability to connect within themselves–to sit and stew, think, over-think… The way I see it, if you cannot be comfortable being with yourself, no one else will ever fill that void.

And so I am on my way home and I’m just about alone in this airport. Apparently, no one wants to travel to a destination in the midst of a polar vortex. Except this girl (kind of!) This trip has allowed me to focus on myself, think some things through and kind of recenter my path and plans. It’s been a great start to the year but I’m ready to see my family and friends. Alone but not lonely. It’s a great place to be sometimes.