Being alone and being lonely are different things

Growing up independent made me realize the virtue of time spent by myself

I think one of the biggest reasons why people are the way they are is due to their upbringing. In the nature versus nurture argument, I’d bet on it being somewhere around 50/50. At the very least, I chalk up a lot of my personality to past experiences, as well as my family, and how I was taught to think about things. 

For example, I like keeping my living space clean because I grew up cleaning every Saturday morning with my family. It gets deeper, too — I know in the future I will probably be a strict mother because I was raised by relatively strict parents, and that’s the only parenting I’m accustomed to.

There is another part about myself I have chalked up to nurture, and that is my ability and inclination to be alone and do things on my own. I’m not insinuating I was neglected by my parents during my childhood — they definitely did all they could to make sure my life was as many opportunities as possible — but I did spend a good part of my childhood alone or with my brother.

When I was in elementary school, my mom was in residency and my father was adjusting to his new job as an assistant professor. Basically, they had very little time to coddle us and tend to our every need. Instead, my brother would bring me to the ice cream truck when it arrived, and we would play outside with the neighbors or watch SpongeBob together at home alone while my parents were busy at work. This continued through middle school, and only in high school did things get better when my mom decided to go into private practice and could control her hours.

My point is — I learned very early on to do things on my own. While other kids were shy to speak up when they needed help from the teacher, I’d be the first to walk over to their desk and ask for them. If the restaurant got my friends’ orders wrong, I’d be the one to point out the mistake. When my pediatrician directed questions about my life to my mother, I’d be the one to answer and my mother wouldn’t even be able to get a word in.

So as I’ve grown up, one of the most perplexing things I’ve heard from my friends are complaints about “being lonely.” It’s not that I don’t understand the feeling — I’ve definitely felt it before — but I think there is a negative connotation associated with the word “lonely” that could and should be overrode by realizing the absolute bliss of being alone.  

I don’t mean to say I’m the only one capable of loving being alone and everyone else just has to live with the bane of feeling this way. I really just think the concept of loneliness has been almost romanticized as a coping mechanism — it’s cool to complain about being “forever alone.” Too many people don’t realize that while they’re busy worrying about being alone and lonely, they ignore all the incomparable freedom and independence they have in those moments.

I don’t love being alone all the time, either. I need and love social interaction and having friends, but I do think there is something to say about the things you learn about yourself when you are alone and not surrounded by outside distractions. I would argue that I have learned the most about myself while reflecting alone, and I also have grown the most in my “lonely” times. 

A lot of people, for example, are uncomfortable walking from place to place alone, but my walks alone to class and to the library allow me to focus on what to do and how to plan my day. Furthermore, being able to study and go places alone helps me avoid external distractions so that I can at least attempt productivity. More importantly, though, being alone has taught me to be confident in myself as an individual and know that my identity lies in my individuality, not in the people around me.

I’m not saying that having someone or being with someone is bad. If you’re dating, talking or whatever the people are calling it these days, that is fine too — we all want to eventually settle down after all. However, there is also an important lesson in being alone that I think everyone should value. It might be hard for you to be happy being “alone,” but if you look at it a little differently, you could find that there’s a lot more to appreciate than complain about.

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