If there is a joyful time to be alone, then 5pm on a Sunday in January is not it.
As I write, trying to ignore the overcrowded laundry horse directly in front of me and wondering how many hours minced meat takes to defrost, it’s hard to imagine anyone would value this kind of alone time.
Aged 27 and living in a one bed, I spend more time alone than ever before and, to be completely frank, I take little joy in it – besides reaping the benefits of Camden Council’s single person tax discount.
Choosing to spend time alone has always felt like – yes, I coined it – ‘alonement’, or a self-imposed punishment where you are put in a pressure cooker with your own thoughts.
And yet, my New Year’s Resolution is to learn to be alone, and enjoy it.
Being an extrovert – or, put simply, being energised by others – is often seen as a badge of honour in society. And, in some respects, it is; it makes parties more fun, for a start, and I couldn’t ask for a better circle of friends.
But, like many extroverts, I find my relationship with myself is lacking.
Caveat: if you’re an introverted person, for whom spending time alone is an energising and necessary part of life, then the following words may sound insane. But here goes.
Needing other people to energise you makes you vulnerable. It can lead to a lack of self-awareness, because you listen to others instead of paying attention to your inner voice. Case in point – as part of this exercise, I’ve been keeping a diary, and I get a nervous feeling in my stomach every time I confront my own thoughts on the page. Yet sharing the same thoughts with a friend at the pub would give me no such dread.
Having an extroverted personality also makes it difficult to walk away from a romantic relationship. Because, if you don’t enjoy your own company, it’s terrifying to effectively choose yourself over someone else.
When you are in love with someone, it’s all too easy to surrender moments of introspection – the time before you go to sleep, for instance – to connect with them, instead. And if you haven’t learnt to value your own solitude, then a loved one’s noise proves music to your ears, pacifying a fear of being alone.
While, during the festive hysteria that is December, I rarely spent an evening at home, recently I’ve been consciously scheduling in time alone, rather than it being a last resort. Binge-ing a series is, it turns out, even more fun when you are not committing Netflix adultery on a partner. It is also entirely possible, and even enjoyable, to go for breakfast alone – with no one to disturb you from The Sunday Times.
There’s running, too, which is one of the few activities I’ve always valued doing alone. This is particularly true if it’s on Primrose Hill, where the dachshunds and King Charles spaniels are infinitely more compelling than their owners.
Through writing a diary again – my aforementioned exercise in introspection – I have become a better and more forgiving friend to myself. I’ve also made peace with decisions I’ve made in the past, and thought more about what I want from my future. There’s something liberating in not having to rely on external validation for that.
I suspect some extroverted people – particularly in previous generations, when most were married by their mid-twenties – will never have to extricate joy from being alone, if it doesn’t come naturally. And maybe that’s OK. Society thrives on connection; family units; community.
Except, to quote Kenyan poet Warsan Shire, you can’t make homes out of human beings. I’m coming to understand it is not through other people, but instead by pushing through that gnawing loneliness, and connecting with yourself, that you actually become whole.