As I sat down at my computer to write this edition, I hesitated. How will this post be perceived? Will those who know me judge me harshly after reading the post? Will people understand? Then, I came across Joshua Rothman’s article Virginia Woolf’s Idea of Privacy in The New Yorker, and felt a jolt of confidence at the reminder that I’m not alone with the status of a loner. It also reminded me of how much I enjoyed reading Mrs. Dalloway in English 101 in the first year of undergrad, inspiring me to pick up the book again, soon.
A week ago, I drove alone to listen to Kate Morton speak and to meet her briefly while she signed my copy of The Lake House. I had invited my mother-in-law to join me, given that we both are devoted fans of Morton’s work. Since my mother-in-law was not available to join me at the event, to attend which she would have had to drive for over an hour, I went alone. Driving along dark rural roads, I listened to the new album by Enya while heeding the directions of the GPS. When I entered the charmingly decorated hall of the golf club, with Christmas lights and poinsettia sparkling festively, I snagged a solitary spot close to the front of the room at a round table full of women who arrived as a group. I learned many years ago that one advantage of attending events alone is that a solitary seat can almost always be found if not in the front row then in the second row of a crowded theatre or hall.
The lady beside whom I sat down asked me bluntly, “Did you come alone?”
“Yes,” I replied with a smile while removing my coat and draping it on the back of the chair.
“You must really like Kate Morton,” she said.
“I do.” Small smile. Simple. No unnecessary explanations or additional small talk.
I have always enjoyed my own company. I sometimes wonder whether it’s selfish to admit this fact. The truth is, spending time alone helps to nourish my soul in an honest manner that allows me to take better care of my loved ones.
At about five or six years of age, I started going to see children’s movies alone at the theatre across the street from the apartment building in which my parents and I lived. Sometimes, at the behest of my mom, I would reluctantly invite along my friend Pavlik, our neighbour from the fourth floor. I felt mildly annoyed every time he would turn to me during the movie to ask me a question or make a comment.
I remember getting puzzled looks from my friends’ parents who would offer me a ride home from school on a rainy day only to hear my answer: “Thanks, but I like walking alone in the rain.”
I enjoy eating alone in restaurants or hiding with a book in the cozy corner of a quaint cafe. I love visiting art galleries and museums alone. I need to be with my thoughts, to process certain experiences by myself and for myself, without feeling the need to speak with the people next to me or worry about whether they are enjoying the experience as much as I am. Of course, these days, I rarely have the opportunity to do the above, given my family and work schedule, but whenever possible, I do steal away a few hours for myself.
As Rothman quotes Woolf in The New Yorker, “There is a dignity in people; a solitude; even between husband and wife a gulf; and that one must respect … for one would not part with it oneself, or take it, against his will, from one’s husband, without losing one’s independence, one’s self-respect—something, after all, priceless.”
I love spending precious time with my family and friends. It’s healing to sit down with a person with whom I connect on an intimate level and have a real, honest, deep conversation that flows easily, devoid of banal gossip. I prefer to spend one-on-one time with my husband and close friends in a quiet environment that allows us to hear one another, rather than in a loud, crowded venue. Sometimes, it can feel great to attend a play together and discuss it at length afterward over a cup of tea. At other times, it feels just as great to attend a play alone.
Society expects us to want to be with others all the time, and when we deviate from that expectation, we are seen as odd. I’m not immune from that judgment. I still sometimes second-guess my confidence. Yet, it’s possible to be a happy loner and I’m convinced that there are many of us out here, quietly lurking in a café, scribbling contentedly in a notebook, relishing the experience of our own company.
Would you openly admit that you are at least a wee bit of a loner? How can we change the stigma that surrounds introverts and private people in today’s society? Please feel free to leave a comment below to add to the discussion.
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