The indispensable joy of time spent alone

9 Comments

 

In the last few weeks, I saw The Aftermath at Melbourne's Kino cinema and Margot Tanjutco's Comedy Festival show Vanity Fair Enough at the Malthouse. I had some spare time on Good Friday, so I ate a great plate of fish and chips at the Young and Jackson Hotel with a pot of peppermint tea. I did all of these things alone.

Admit One ticket with scattered popcornThis wasn't because I didn't have anyone to go with me. I could've roped in some friends — sometimes I do. But there are other times I make the choice to go out alone. It's liberating to buy a ticket for one. To not have to coordinate times with someone, but do things by my own schedule. To go see the niche movie none of my friends wants to see, or the art exhibition I forgot was in town until its last day.

Rebecca Ratner, co-author of the study Inhibited from Bowling Alonesays: 'People decide to not do things all the time just because they're alone ... But the thing is, they would probably be happier going out and doing something.' Her study with Rebecca Hamilton found that people felt little difference in enjoyment when going out alone for 'hedonistic' reasons than when going with others. In fact, we actually overestimate how much we would enjoy going out with other people as compared to flying solo.

It's true that there are many benefits in forming and maintaining connections with other people. But there can be just as much pleasure in your own company as in somebody else's. When I go out by myself, I can digest what I've experienced. When I go to a film, no one will talk during it, and I can cry and no one is going to care. If I wander into a gallery, I don't need to immediately articulate a reaction to a piece of art; instead I get to reflect and figure out what I actually think about it.

I relate to the world around me in a different way too. I can move about the space at my own pace, lingering when I'm interested and walking through parts I don't care about. I get to overhear bits of conversation I never would if I was having one of my own. The NGV in particular I've found is great for that type of people-watching; I guarantee you'll hear at least a half dozen different languages in the first hour.

Even when I don't particularly enjoy what I'm consuming (The Aftermath didn't live up to its promise), I enjoy the actual physicality of going out. The act of going to the cinema — buying a ticket, going to my favourite seat in the middle back, settling into a comfy chair to do nothing for a few hours — is comforting.

And, for me at least, being alone can be as much an act of self-care as regularly meeting with friends. I'm introverted by nature. Alone time isn't just something I do because I like it — I need it. I can spend the amount of time with my friends that I do because I take the time for myself to recharge.

 

"If you're by yourself as a child, you're labelled a loner or antisocial. From a young age, the lesson is that aloneness is a signifier that something is wrong with you."

 

What often stops people from doing things they would enjoy alone comes from a fear of being judged. It starts early. One day you sit alone on the playground and concerned teachers come up to you and ask you how you are. The other kids whisper about you behind their hands. If you're by yourself as a child, you're labelled a loner or antisocial. From a young age, the lesson is that aloneness is a signifier that something is wrong with you.

When I tell people that I went to the movies alone, I can get a look of confusion, sometimes accompanied by a somewhat pitying, 'Oh, I would've gone with you.' But that's not the point.

Because honestly, I'm at the point where I don't particularly care if someone judges me for going out alone. If you're out in public, most people won't give you a second look and those who do you're most likely never going to see again. So who cares? Do what you want and have a good time. I am. Table for one, please.

 

 

Neve MahoneyNeve Mahoney is a student at RMIT university. She has also contributed to Australian Catholics and The Big Issue.

Topic tags: Neve Mahoney

 

 

submit a comment

Existing comments

Hiding under a gentle 'folksy' format this nice article has a powerful human lesson. You will never be the full person you could be if you can't enjoy time alone. There are parts of our brain that atrophy if we don't give ourselves times to go-it-alone. The First Peoples to live in Australia have a very sophisticated and highly successful sociality; yet, both men and women understand how important it is to get out on country by yourself. As a Christian, I'm impressed by our Leader's many foray's into the 'alone-zone'. A space that is totally indispensable for anyone who hopes to listen to the 'still small voice' that is Spirit and Love. Election time deafens us with the opposite spirit: everyone wants to know what everyone-else is thinking so we can make up our minds about what we think! If we'd like to see the end of political populism and its damaging outcomes, let's take a leaf out of Neve's book and advocate that our schools also educate our children in how to enjoy being alone; developing independence of thought and creativity; and, maybe even tuning in better to God's gentle presence.
Dr Marty Rice | 24 April 2019


It’s incredible how people who don’t have anyone around long for company and people who have try to have ‘me time’. Glad my spouse is understanding enough to give me my ‘me time’ each week and I am glad people like you accept it as normal. I remember an incident in my twenties (in Karachi) my ex-boss and her husband found me sitting in a park one evening alone. Next day I was famous as a loner or a crazy person but in reality they understood and respect me as I am.
Kirtan Varasia | 25 April 2019


When we like our own company there can be a profound and authentic feeling of connection to life. For those with a solitary disposition the group dynamic can be very challenging and I suspect even the person who is 'the life of the party' may wither on some occasions. So, enjoy the table for one, Neve.
Pam | 25 April 2019


Rejoice Neve! I fully endorse time alone and practise it regularly for all the benefits you mention - eg, not having to fit into another's schedule, not having to listen chatter, however cheerful.I guess the point is that this is time alone that is chosen and not something to be endured because one has become a "Nigel no friends" Go girl!
Henri | 26 April 2019


Another great piece, Neve; always make a beeline for your articles! I sense it is not simply the judgement (loner, antisocial) of others we fear; alone-ness provides ample opportunity for reflection, including self-reflection, which - if it runs riot - quickly becomes self-judgement. For the most part our life-formation will not have encouraged us to embrace times of solitude, and we can feel awkward and at odds with ourselves when we try. When others have expressed astonished surprise at my admission to enjoying silent retreats (it's not the retreat part that astonishes them, but any possibility of my remaining silent!), it is frequently followed by being asked about "not talking for a week". But it's not the not-talking that's the issue - it is what you _hear_ in the silence that has the capacity to disturb. As Dr Rice notes in another comment, Australian First Peoples know well the need for being out on country by oneself; but that it has - perhaps even requires - a sophisticated sociality to support it. Aloneness and loneliness are not at all the same thing, but they can feel like it if we have not been nurtured in a deeper understanding of each. Oh, BTW, I feel that enjoying movies alone makes me better company when enjoying movies with others!
Richard Jupp | 27 April 2019


Thanks for this article Neve. My husband and I and our 3 daughters, all in their 30s, are introverted people who need to find our restorative quiet place to enable us to thrive in the world. Our favourite book about this is 'Quiet' by Susan Cain. Whenever we visit a museum, gallery etc we part company to go at our own pace, and then reconvene at an arranged time and place to check how we're going, and take extra time if needed. Others find this solo visiting to be strange, but it works for us. We don't all have to be extroverts, even if such people do seem to rule the world at the moment!!
Beth Gibson | 29 April 2019


Again: on our need to be alone, Matthew's Gospel has "But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray . . " What about people with no room one wonders. Greek manuscripts help for they use the word 'tameion', which is the innermost chamber of even a modest Mid-Eastern home. One imagines a large cupboard or pantry, without windows but with shelves and a well-fitting door designed to keep pests out. On the shelves there may be freshly baked breads, herbs, spices, grains, pulses, apples, figs, grapes, dates, raisins, honey, flour, eggs, jars of olive oil & sesame oil, flasks of wines & vinegar, and other bulk food stores. It's from this inner 'dispensary' that foods are regularly parcelled-out to household members. When not in use, this would seem the right place to retreat for prayers: surrounded by the riches of Providence and immersed in odours having happy associations of family meals past. As the most sound-proof room in the house it'd be a cool place to slow-down and meditate on personal realities. Matthew suggests Jesus thought we'd find it easier to meet with God, alone in our 'tameion', hidden away from the madding crowd.
Dr Marty Rice | 30 April 2019


Dear Marty (your post 30 April). Matthew 6:5-6 is about going into your heart and praying from there. A person could actually be anywhere. At least that is how I have always interpreted it. It's about prayer that is heartfelt and not for public show.
Pam | 01 May 2019


Thanks dear Pam; am in full agreement with you. Definitely, Paul berates some for not living in relationship with Jesus in their hearts (2 Corinthians 13: 5). For me, at least, prayers are influenced by circumstances: with celebrating friends somewhat attenuated; in dangerous traffic a bit desperate; at election times highly petitionary; and so on. Amidst this sensory-over-saturation, Neve's article reminded me to sometimes look for an 'alone space'; to maybe discover resources within, both old and new, to enjoy and even to share with one another. The habitual hubbub of life so easily obscures inner perception of the unparalleled beauty and kindness of God in Jesus Christ that is a fountainhead of personal joy and peace and promise.
Dr Marty Rice | 02 May 2019


x

Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up