The Merits of Being Alone

Alone. It’s a weighty concept, one packed with loneliness and independence and freedom. It means handling problems that arise all by yourself. Bearing life’s weight on your own back.

But with that independence comes freedom from another person’s opinions and needs. It means living your life exactly the way you want to live it, unrestrained by what another person thinks.

In ways, being alone is an opportunity to look into your life and see exactly who you are.

Every summer, Jordan leaves for Texas and I’m left behind. At first, I move mechanically through the habitual grooves of daily life that are usually occupied by two people. Because I work from home (or at least I used to work fully from home–now that I work for the humane society this will no longer be true) his leaving can mean weeks without any greater in-person socialization than saying hi to the grocery store clerk.

I hate these long, alone periods. But I relish them too.

With solitude comes simplicity. With Jordan stripped away from my life, I’m left to just be me, uninfluenced by another person’s habits. As I get my bearings, my days fall into an easy rhythm–running and reading and cooking elaborate meals that only I will enjoy. Minutes stretch long and loud and quiet, and I see my life laid out before me–the steaming mugs of tea, the glowing computer screen, the dog curled up beside me.

I glimpse the bare, spartan beauty in it. And joy flashes through my life quickly and naturally–like the flash of a cardinal’s bright wings in the canopy.

I feel like I’m able to see myself better, too. I have the space to think about who I am, and how I want to be better. Life becomes a challenge–because I no longer have to think about Jordan’s needs, I can push myself. See how far I can take my passions and interests.

I can test how perfectly I can live my life to my own ideals.

I recycle. I delight in sweeping the floor with brisk efficiency. I only use reusable grocery bags. I exercise every day, meditate each morning, and knit, write, and paint until my wrists ache with it all. I take Chara (and soon I’ll take Wren too) for long hikes in the woods.

I cave to the discipline that I crave.

I am who I want to be.

But while I’m balanced in my daily life, the harsher edges of my personality emerge. I can be rigid, unbending. I often feel justified in my beliefs and principles, and self-righteous when I live up to them.

Jordan brings lightness, humor and spontaneity to my life. He forces me to push my boundaries in other ways–by challenging my beliefs, forcing me to be flexible in ways I didn’t know were difficult for me. He encourages me to accept people–flaws and all–by constantly being humble and kind and patient with his peers.

I can see how easy it’d be to get lost in one state or the other–when you’re perpetually with another person, it’s difficult not to shift, to change in response to who they are. It is natural to balance one another–and in balancing, sometimes you lean so far apart that certain traits stand out, become accentuated.

On the other hand, when you’re perpetually alone, it is easy to carve out a groove of living and habits so deep that it’s difficult to fit another person into them. It is easy to become set in your ways, to become completely comfortable with taking care of yourself–so that you no longer know how to rely on others.

Have you ever been alone for long periods of time? How did you handle it?

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