“We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and — in spite of True Romance magazines — we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely — at least, not all the time — but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.” –Hunter S. Thompson
You don’t have to know anything about Gonzo journalism (or even Johnny Depp), to appreciate a little perspective from counterculture journalist Hunter S. Thompson. If you do know anything about this author, perhaps best known for both his dystopian views on the American Dream and spending a year riding with the Hell’s Angels in order to write a book about them, you may also know he died by suicide.
You could make some judgments there about “loneliness,” but pause.
When I was remarking recently to a good friend about how I have always felt alone, save perhaps for when I was a young child, he replied candidly, “Well, how could you not?” He went on to remark on my lifelong status as an only child without any close family and how I had lived most of my adulthood without a helpmate or spouse present in my life.
Are you depressed yet?
I tried not to be…but then began thinking of all the times in my life when well-meaning friends, acquaintances, and even family had remarked on my status as only child/single parent/self-employed writer as “lonely” or “especially difficult.” Comments from the well-meaning, happily married, surrounded-by-supportive-adult-siblings, enjoying-the-benefits-of large-extended families friends have ranged from “I don’t know how you do it” to “I feel so bad for you.”
And then there are the few friends and acquaintances I have who are situated similarly to myself due to any number of factors from being born, like myself, an only child to decades of estrangement from toxic family members. So often they seek escape from this “aloneness,” as if being by oneself in the world is inherently bad.
It’s true that humans have historically existed in tribes and communities and that most things are indeed easier in that kind of framework–shared work, support with child care, nurturing in times of illness and distress. We all know the proverb “many hands make light work.”
But let us not overlook the power of one.
It has taken me nearly four decades to appreciate it and almost as many to be appreciated for it. Much as I may sometimes lament feeling overburdened by life, I cannot dispute the fact that the happiest period of my existence was well before I was a wife and mother when I lived alone in a cabin by a trout stream in one of the most isolated counties in Virginia…working from home alone, as I have now done for more than 20 years.
Life didn’t really start to get tricky until I became a parent. That’s when an acute and regretful feeling of “aloneness” started to kick in and I had periods of deep longing for a helpmate or the presence of friends, all of whom lived at least 100 miles away from me.
But growing up alone (as an only child) and living alone most of my adult life, I gained skills, abilities, and confidence I might never have had otherwise. It is no great thing for me to take off in a Jeep across lonesome desert backcountry, knowing I will make it back to the paved road 90 miles distant, one way or another and eventually, even if I have a flat tire or encounter a flash flood. I also know that if something breaks, I can almost always fix it. If life gets painfully difficult, I will figure out how to navigate it.
The frustration and despondency those of us who live or operate alone (or mostly alone) feel is not, I’ve realized, inherent in the state of aloneness. It is a societal imposition. Social norms make us feel our lives are somehow missing something if lived, in large part at least, by ourselves. And then we cannot help but feel angry: “Why does no one help me?” “Why do I always have to do these things alone?”
We forget the gift of our own solitary power:
- We control our own destinies utterly. We do not have to ask permission. We do not have to “check in.” We do not have to consult anyone else’s schedules or feelings. We can do as we want, pursue what we want, live as we want without censure or guilt.
- We know in our souls we can manage almost anything we need to manage. We’ve been given the gift of seeing just how powerful we are as individual humans–a gift we’d never have received in the presence of a constant helpmate.
- We’ve learned to protect our time from the incursion of toxic people, manufactured dramas, and wasted time because we learned early we not only don’t need these things but don’t have time for them.
- We know how to do more with less, be it less money, less time, or less human resources since we’ve routinely had only ourselves to rely on.
- We know ourselves because we spend a lot more time with ourselves. We can benefit from fewer distractions from understanding our own faults and weaknesses and, hopefully, devote more energy than our preoccupied peers to self-improvement.
So to the people I love (and any interested strangers) who feel themselves alone or find themselves alone after a lifetime of companionship, I would encourage some embracing of this precious state of existence. This may be your time to be whole and even powerful. Before you go looking for a person to fill this void you think you have, consider this: Maybe you don’t need to find anyone…other than yourself.