Solitude is Not Loneliness

A article makes an interesting distinction: Between loneliness and solitude.

The writer states: How do you feel if you’re alone? If the answer is rejuvenated, energized, or otherwise positive, then keep being your introverted self. However, if the answer is relieved (“I won’t have to figure out what to say!” “I don’t have to feel awkward at that party!” “Phew, I can be by myself.”), then reconsider. Relief in moderation is normal, but consistently seeking solitude can indicate avoidance, which hurts you in two ways: It keeps you from learning to be confident and from realizing that your worst-case scenario fears probably won’t actually happen.

Irrational avoidance versus affirmation of the value of solitude? There is a difference.

To figure out what’s irrational, you have to back up. Define what kinds of interactions with other people are valuable to you. Really consider what people in general, as well as certain others in particular, have to offer you.

Most of us will do this with our money. Some of us will even rationally evaluate the way we spend our time. But few, if any, take time to consider what kinds of people advance your emotional or business interests, and which ones do not.

The error is treating time with people as a duty, or an out-of-context absolute. I once had a client who refused to make any friends or have any social contacts of any kind. I asked him why not. He explained, “Nobody has ever been able to explain to me the value of a personal contact with another.” While I don’t agree with his conclusion that no personal contact of any kind offers any potential or actual value, I did understand his rebellion against the prevalent idea, “You should socialize with others, just because.”

We forget that time spent with other people should serve a purpose. Even if the purpose is enjoyment, refueling or personal, it’s still a purpose. Think about the time you spend with others, and with whom you spend it. Do you do so for no particular reason? Or can you objectively identify the gain you experience from being with that person?

A lot of people stop me right here and say, “That’s selfish.” So what? Is it selfish and therefore wrong to evaluate how you spend your money? How is it any more selfish, and therefore wrong, to evaluate how to spend your time, and with whom you spend it? Let’s say you discover you don’t find it valuable to spend time with someone any longer, or at least not as much time as you do. Is it selfless, and therefore right, to pretend and deceive that person into believing you like him or her more than you really do? If honesty and authenticity are selfish, then I’ll take selfish every time.

Solitude can be an end in itself. A truly healthy person knows how to enjoy time alone. Nobody—not even a cherished romantic partner or spouse, if you’re fortunate enough to find one—can meet every last need and share every possible interest with you. Some things are better enjoyed alone. Sometimes it’s necessary to think, to plan, to process one’s ideas or feelings. It can be invaluable to do so with a trusted and interested confidante, such as a spouse or close friend. But sometimes one has to be alone with one’s thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with solitude unless it’s used as a means for avoidance. But even the avoidance is only wrong because it prevents you from having experiences and connections which could make your life more valuable. You don’t owe anyone your time, and they don’t owe you, either.

Socializing is not some kind of unchosen duty. It’s all for you. And it’s also for the person on the other end of the experience. It’s up to that person to do everything I’m advising you to do here. Unless a connection or association is mutual, it cannot be valuable. If you discover that someone values time with you more than you do with them, or vice-versa, it’s better to face the truth and move on. Life will not go on forever. It’s not a catastrophe when people outgrow each other. Other, new experiences always await. And solitude is not such a bad thing; in the right dose, it can be a wonderful part of living.

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