Lessons from loving solitude in a social world

One of the best days of my life was one I spent alone.
It was early May of last year, just a few weeks before my high school graduation. It was also in the midst of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization leaking to the public, which is how I found myself driving alone for two hours to the nearest pro-choice protest worth going to.
I originally wanted a friend to accompany me. The company wasn’t the goal of the trip, but it would be nice going into a brand-new environment with someone by my side. But each friend I asked was busy — or they would not have participated to begin with.
So I went alone, and I happened to love it.
I called off work — this was more important to me than shelving sunscreen and shampoo would ever be — and drove off in my Chrysler in the early morning. Tom Petty and Talking Heads played through the radio. There is a kind of peace that comes with driving, for me at least, in that there cannot be any distractions. Without passengers, this was even more apparent.
The drive was gorgeous and I was excited, even under the circumstances. I had never had both the want and the ability to do something like this. The day revealed a lot to me. I discovered a love for political participation and met a wonderful group of people in the process. I knew that I wanted more days like this one in my life.
The things I learned about myself that day are something I would have missed had my friends agreed to join me. I would not have participated in the same way had I been influenced by others’ expectations for the day.
But going alone also allowed me to listen to my music and my music alone. I visited the thrift stores dotting the path back home with no consideration for the time. When I came upon a scene of rolling hills, blanketed in flowers and the occasional windmill, I pulled to the side of the road to take pictures and simply breathe.
It gets harder these days to find moments like that. Busy schedules don’t allow the time and social media can make the fear of missing out an all-too-present concern. But similar to the time that we carve out for friends, we should also reserve time for ourselves.
Spending time with yourself is technically something we all do when we’re in the absence of other people. But that lack of other people is only one element to well-spent time alone. The other element is what you do with that time. If you only find yourself alone while studying or can’t help but reach for your phone in a moment of solitude, you aren’t spending quality time with yourself.
It isn’t easy learning to love time alone if you’ve never experienced it before. But at the end of the day, the only company that is constant is your own — so you may as well become familiar. It’s essential to shed the idea that the only time worth spending is the time you spend with others. Wouldn’t you like to get to know yourself, too?
Think of it as a relationship, like any other. If you’ve never truly spent time with yourself, it might be uncomfortable. Perhaps you are more of an acquaintance to yourself than you are a best friend. That’s okay. Like any relationship, the more time you spend with another person — or yourself — the more comfortable you will feel.
You’ll find that being alone is a vastly different experience from feeling lonely. Aloneness is not the same as loneliness. Loneliness is a feeling. Aloneness is a choice. You have to choose to make time for yourself the way you would a friend. You may find that your own company is some of the best that you know.
The freedom that came with being alone is something I will never forget, and is something I intentionally include in my life to this day. The act of becoming friends with myself is not a straightforward road, but a winding one, surrounded by that blanket of flowers and windmills. It takes effort to round each bend, to freshly see parts of yourself you may otherwise ignore, but the effort is worth it. That trip, and learning about myself in the process, was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life — and it was just for me.
So I hope that you take a day, or a few hours if you can afford it, to truly exist alone. You may find that appreciating your own company opens the door to everything you’ve wanted to do but haven’t. You deserve to love your own company, even if it takes some time to get there.