Alone – or lonely?

September 10, 2012

in Friendship, Personal


Fireplace tiles

People understand loneliness. If they know someone is alone they may respond by offering company for comfort and will almost certainly worry about them. People are not quite so clued up about those of us who suffer easily from over exposure to people.

I don’t know how people have coped in the past, when privacy was almost impossible to find. I have a need to spend a good amount of time alone and if life demands that I spend a great deal of time in company I begin to feel like a pressure cooker building up steam. This is not because I am anti social – I love company, love seeing friends and having people to stay. The absolute best times in my life are spent either with Charles or with friends. But I rapidly reach a limit, after which I need a break. Which is why Charles and I live at opposite ends of the house and rejoice in the good fortune which has made that possible. (partly from deciding not to have children)

I think it may be because I am unusually sensitive to people’s displeasure and their moods…. maybe just to their responses to the world. After a while of that I need respite, time when I am not worrying about saying and doing the right thing. And I love the peace and freedom of my own company positively.

This doesn’t mean I want to live alone. But when a friend, who lives with her daughter asked if we could defer meeting because her daughter was going to be away and she was going to treasure the long uninterrupted time alone I understood completely. And I understood her saying she wouldn’t tell many people the reason so openly, as few seem to understand that need.

Is that true?

Anne. XXXX Don’t forget to buy my book...(or else..)

Anne, scary

Barn wall script

Rosie Pinder November 4, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Anne, mum sent me a link to this after I rang her wanting a motherly ear.. Having recently moved in with my boyfriend we have had numerous arguments about the fact that I want to sleep in the spare bedroom – not only because I sleep SO much better but I love this little time of solace to reflect on my wonderful life (i sometimes think the reflecting is the best bit). I remember when I was little and we used to come and stay with you and Charles and I always thought it was so weird that you and Charles live in separate ‘wings’ of the house, but now I’m converted. A little bit of alone time in the midst of the busy world makes spending time with others all the more enjoyable.

anne November 5, 2012 at 12:24 am

Rosie! Great to hear from you!

It’s a bit like suddenly realising you’ve eaten something really good and not noticed because the conversation round the table was so engrossing. You have to withdraw a little to savour things?

I think it would be good if you hear from Charles on this one – there was a time when he didn’t want us to sleep apart too and I hope he says a bit about that to you.

It’s so very good to hear that you’re having a wonderful life. Weirdly, I think that struggling with these things together helps make one….


Charles November 6, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Hi Rosie! Yes, its true that when Anne suggested that we sleep apart more than 25 years ago, I was upset. I knew that it didn’t have anything to do with not loving me – she was very clear about that. Or about sex. I really think my biggest objection was based in convention. I was anxious what people would think of me/us. That they would think of us as weird or that we had “problems”. And I guess the young Rosie must have thought something like that. Unlike Anne I am not a radical person by nature. So it did take a while and quite a lot of reassurance from Anne to get used to the idea. But I am totally happy about us retiring to our separate beds – and glad, too, that they are in different parts of the house. This means that neither of us can annoy the other through decisions to listen to the radio etc etc. In fact there is something very special about that late night quiet time with oneself. A time to reflect. Maybe write a diary. Whatever. Life seems so full of stuff and people and contact with others that to have the bed to oneself seems both a luxury and, almost a necessity to maintain sanity. So be gentle with the boyfriend. He’s probably not a radical either. Maybe you are. (But I wish him well if he wants to follow his dream with the golf- that’s brave). Now about that the disparaging comments about my blog as reported by your father…..

Karlostheunhappy September 13, 2012 at 2:09 pm

YOU SAY: … to treasure the long uninterrupted time alone I understood completely. And I understood her saying she wouldn’t tell many people the reason so openly, as few seem to understand that need. Is that true?

I SAY: I just think that not all people understand what they themselves think they do not need.

But when we sleep we are alone with our minds. Even then, though, our thoughts have us interacting or observing with the world around us.

No man is an island; and no woman too.

Perhaps you mean to take pause. But your pauses perhaps need more space.
One wonders whether humans are the only thing that is encumbered with loneliness and, if that is not true, then do animals also enjoy solitude?

For my part I probably enjoy going to the cinema more on my own than with anyone else. Here you can be alone with other people, and enjoy a film which, ordinarily – if it is a good film – shows us the lives of others.

That is all to say: what does it mean to be aware of oneself and another? Is it only consciousness shifting?

anne September 24, 2012 at 7:31 pm

O – this needed more thought than I’ve found time for!

Libby September 11, 2012 at 8:06 pm

I find this too – groups of people can be lovely (if they are people I know and like or people with whom I share an interest) but so very tiring. ‘Mingling’ and ‘networking’ are my idea of hell. I found ‘Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’ by Susan Cain really interesting. Introverts are often defined as people who need alone time to recharge their batteries, where extroverts recharge by spending time with others (i.e going to the pub with mates as opposed to going for a walk/reading a book alone) or conversely that Intros find being in crowds draining, where Extros feel drained by being alone. These days I consider myself pretty strongly intro (though hubby doesn’t seem to count as ‘other people’ for me) and recognise if I’m going to a populous event of some sort I’ll need to chill out quietly the next day.

anne September 11, 2012 at 10:43 pm

I enjoy that quiet time after a sociable day – a kind of settling and absorbing time.

Thanks for clarification re introvert/extrovert. Can’t imagine recharging in company! But people must. And they may even be a majority or our needs would carry more weight generally and we’d be more able to own them openly.

Julia September 11, 2012 at 9:46 am

Re the extro or intro- do intros make better loners as would seem obvious. I understand that you need one of each to make a happy couple- that’s wot the clever say. But if the intro is happy alone and the extro wants to chat and party? Am confused, aloneish but not lonely.

anne September 11, 2012 at 10:31 am

That is confusing – I would have thought being alike would work best. I know it’s one of the joys of my life that Charles both enjoys his own company (and bed) and actively wants a great social life too. I’m not sure what that would make either of us? (or both)

I like the aloneish but not lonely.

Paul Steer September 10, 2012 at 8:42 pm

I agree that few people seen to understand the need for time alone, I see up to 30 people a day in my job as a nurse (not saying this to boast, I actually find it really hard going) and because I live and work in the same small community, neighbours are also clients, and they tend to forget that I am me when not on duty not the me that I am when I am on duty (if that makes sense) . I tend to suffer from people burn out, and that is why I hide away on weekends and appreciate my little garden… or pester the likes of Charles Hawes on his walks so he has no peace ! Sue and I have separate rooms and retreats within the house, but equally would not want to live on our own. I think loneliness is a common human condition. I find I can be lonely in the midst of company…. maybe its something to do with a lack of meaningful connection ? As always you have got me thinking again !

P.S. Buy the book people it is well worth it, and I for one am waiting for the next one.

anne September 10, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Thank you for the unsolicited (!?) testimonial, Paul.

I think your not being able to escape your work role very easily must be terribly hard, especially for someone that needs quiet and time to reflect. And you are right – loneliness with people you feel out of touch with is hard too. Makes me feel like an alien. Often. Best to escape and put myself back together then, as I imagine you do.

GH September 10, 2012 at 8:14 pm

If I lived with Charles I’d want him at the opposite end of the house as well.

anne September 10, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Hmmm..don’t forget he’s still got mine GH sitting in the bathroom. Near the big plunge called Loo…

Charles September 10, 2012 at 8:59 pm

sod off

anne September 10, 2012 at 9:53 pm

I expect you mean Big Garden Hero?

Sue Beesley (@suebeesley) September 10, 2012 at 7:53 pm

I am very much a peace and silence seeker – especially now that the day job involves so much unavoidable interaction. I don’t need to be on my own though – I’m quite happy to have someone nearby who isn’t talking – Dave is good at that.

I think my main driver behind this is that I like to think and I dislike having my thought trains interrupted, however banal my mental meanderings may be. Frankly, I frequently feel that what I’m thinking about is more interesting than what someone is determined to tell me about. I guess at times that makes me appear to be somewhat distant. But I’ve done 30 years of being an attentive co-worker, manager, parent, etc. so I feel I’ve earned some time to listen to myself.

anne September 10, 2012 at 8:46 pm

I love the idea of having earned some time to listen to yourself. Go girl!

Maggie September 10, 2012 at 6:31 pm

Hi Anne
This is so interesting.
Two thoughts relevant to me stand out.
The first from Annoné ‘I know any “alone time” is finite? I worry that, if truly on my own, it will soon become loneliness.’ I love being alone, as much and as long as possible, but…
Secondly your comment ‘parents didn’t see any need to impose themselves on their children relentlessly’ – a huge topic and I hope I am around to see the result of popular present day full on parenting.

Incidentally, I think you are rather more intro than extra – most of the time, anyway!

anne September 10, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Thanks Maggie – hope people will tell us more about both those things.

And what it signifies to be intro or extra…

Annoné Butler September 10, 2012 at 5:26 pm

In the midst of family life I used to love being alone. Nothing like coming home to an empty house and feeling that it was mine to do what I liked with for a while. But now that my daughters are grown and my husband diagnosed with a potentially fatal
illness, I find myself with a more ambivalent attitude. I still like being alone but is that because I know any “alone time” is finite? I worry that, if truly on my own, it will
soon become loneliness. So perhaps to be able to enjoy being alone one has to have the possibility of the opposite always available?

anne September 10, 2012 at 6:01 pm

I’m so sorry about your husband. And I imagine you may well be right about having the option making the difference between alone and lonely, but at the moment, I don’t know.

I think we need to know, so I hope someone will tell us. I feel certain that grief in itself has to produce a dreadful loneliness.

Margaret (@maogden) September 10, 2012 at 2:33 pm

I can relate to your blog post Anne. Much as I love people, there is only so much time I can spend with them. I need my time alone, I like to be alone. I haven’t found many people who understand my feelings, I’m usually regarded as a bit odd or anti social. It’s only in recent years that I have been able to accept that this is me, the way I am. It’s good to read that there are others who feel the same way.

anne September 10, 2012 at 2:46 pm

I sometimes wonder if it’s because people haven’t experienced time alone much. Charles didn’t used to actively seek it (in fact he was very ambivalent about us sleeping apart once) but I don’t think he’d give it up now.

Charles September 10, 2012 at 6:31 pm

That’s true. I wouldn’t. I really can’t quite “get” people wanting to sleep together every night. I mean I can undersatnd that it might be a nice idea sometimes, but even then I think the idea is probably better thajn the reality. I have found that I really like to have long walks alone. And the fact that thgis is out in the open makes that sense of space all the stronger.

anne September 10, 2012 at 6:52 pm

I think you might even like more time alone than you get, but the walks must help there. But you don’t get time at home alone much. Maybe we should think about that? (this discussion can continue elsewhere!) XXXXX

Julia September 10, 2012 at 2:14 pm

I don’t know you but are you tagged by others as intro or extro? I have friends who work v hard at their friendships and state clearly that they can’t bear being alone. I applaud them for effort. Being happy in ones own company is, I believe, important and useful. Is it something to do with only children or not? I learnt to be on my own as my elder sister clearly easn’t interested. That’s changed thankfully. Waffling so will stop. Back to planting plan.

anne September 10, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I really don’t know whether I’d be considered intro or extro.

Interesting re only children, which I was not. But I had my own room, enjoyed a lot of time there – playing (when little) then homework and reading, listening to music, writing to boyfriends… In those days parents didn’t see any need to impose themselves on their children relentlessly. Now – I wonder if that will make a difference?

Charles September 10, 2012 at 6:32 pm

I don’t think of you as either. Do many people fall into these categegories?

anne September 10, 2012 at 6:53 pm

I don’t know. Is it how people try to make sense of all this?

wildelycreative September 10, 2012 at 2:06 pm

I understand and have a need for alone time too. The best time I ever had was alone in the mountains with nothing but me, rocks, trees and sky.
But there was a moment during that time when I needed to speak with another human – to hear another voice (it didn’t last long).
I guess, like everything, it’s about balance.

anne September 10, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Trouble is, we all have different balances I think.

And people can take a need for solitude as a rejection of them.

Previous post:

Next post: