HORSWILL: Solitude shouldn’t be scary


What comes to mind when you think of being alone? Maybe you cringe. Maybe you have already voided that word from your dictionary and you’re ready to void this column from your routine reading time today. There are many ways to be alone, and collectively we need to drop the belief that being alone implies rejection, quietness and unpopularity.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh explains in her book “Gift from the Sea” how the basic state of solitude “is not something we have any choice about.” Similarly, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke explains solitude as “not something that one can take or leave,” and that as humans, “We are solitary.” Instead of avoiding being alone or in a time of solitude, it is essential to accept this state for what it is and embrace those moments – as quiet as they may be.

What comes to mind when you see someone else who is alone? More often than not assumptions are made about the individual. The kid who is eating by himself in McCormick probably doesn’t have friends because “he’s weird.” The woman out to a movie by herself “probably lost a loved one,” or “is divorced.” For whatever reason, we find the need to create apologies for others even though they may be unapologetic for being alone.

As an independent spirit, I revel in quality alone time, from bike rides to reading at a coffee shop. But even for me, eating dinner alone at a restaurant – even when entirely by choice – feels strange and stiff with every reach for my glass, or encounter with the waitress. What beliefs did she – or any other restaurant patron – have about me eating alone? To make that state of solitude feel more comfortable, I directed my eyes away from contact with others to the letters I wrote to family and friends for the entirety of the meal.

But this alludes to another issue within a solitary state: distractions. The fear of being alone leads us to be in that state for as little time as possible. Can’t spend the night with friends or family members? Watch a TV show on Netflix. Walking by yourself? Pull out your headphones and cue up Kanye West. Thank goodness “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” can fill any void or vacuum (for me, at least).

Unfortunately, these things are nothing more than noise. They offer momentary satisfaction, but eventually you will be alone again. Will you be okay with that? And how long will it last before you escape to some form of noise once more?

Taking time for solitude may require a conscious effort, especially for college students. The first few times will most likely be uncomfortable, especially if you haven’t taken time to be by yourself  before.

Don’t worry about what others are thinking, and instead tend to your own thoughts and needs. Over time, the perceptions that being alone implies rejection, quietness and unpopularity will dwindle. When you engage with yourself in solitude, you will be pleasantly surprised by what you can learn about yourself and your place in this world.