Being Lonely vs. Being Alone

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 / 7:00 PM

I've wanted to live in Manhattan for as long as I could imagine the future. The skyscrapers and landmarks and Central Park, featured in every film and television show, stood for something big, something grand, something epic. New York City was one of those places where it didn't matter how many cliched stories were told in it, it was new and thrilling each time, and people's dreams came true and you would find others like you who grew up with the same loneliness you did. And with all of its millions of residents and visitors, you could never be lonely.

I won't lie and pretend like I'm an incredibly outgoing person. I was the kid who stayed in on weekends while others joined soccer teams or swimming classes. I kept my nose in a book at all times, even on the playground at recess because it was easier to be ignored than teased. If I wasn't escaping into a fictional world, I was creating my own in spiral notebooks or imagining a life portrayed on TV.

But even though I could have done without the bullies and the feeling of missing out on a childhood others had, I liked my world because I just knew that when I grew up, it wouldn't be like that. After I graduated from college, I would move to New York, have lots of friends, be married, and live in a house made of cheese.

You know those people who just can't seem to spend one minute alone? It's as if the silence terrifies them because their true fear lies in having to confront the thought of that loneliness stretching into eternity.

When I first moved to the east coast, I was scared that was what my future held. I was scared of many things, but the idea of being alone became this thing that I hated. "You're young, you should have fun!" a well-meaning friend said to me in those early days, but the implication was that being alone meant you weren't having fun. At least that's what it meant for me as a child.

But over the last few years, I've come to appreciate those moments of being alone. One of my favorite things someone wrote to me on my 25th birthday this past year is about loneliness, and about how the silence around you can help you understand who you are.

"It is what teaches me about my deep-down self, and it teaches me that I'm enough...Loneliness is where I made friends with myself."
You can be alone, and not be lonely. You can feel lonely at times, but know that your life isn't filled with overwhelming loneliness.

That's what I'm learning so far in my 25th year of life: I like being alone sometimes, and that's perfectly alright.

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