The Solitude Manifesto

In my fantasy life, I am a grande flâneuse (one who idles; see flâneur). I spend my time languidly sipping coffee and I perhaps run an occasional errand so that my cat and I don’t starve. I read fashion magazines in cafés, or I just people watch. I write a little, I read a lot. I gaze at pretty things in shop windows as I stroll along. In dark movie theatres, I sit alone letting myself be absorbed by moving pictures in the dark. What qualities must a great flâneuse possess, aside from that nifty independent wealth? The leisurely person must approach unscheduled time with grace, of course, and she must be at ease, in fact must enjoy, being alone.

Alone in the City by NestaHome (Etsy)

Alone in the City by NestaHome (Etsy)

Solitude is a too often maligned experience, but I believe well-timed solitude nourishes the soul. If you’re an introvert like me, you know exactly what I’m on about. In my relationship, we call it The Bubble. I’m very lucky that my amour understands that I require frequent withdrawals into my own space. There’ve been some struggles on my part because I hate to disappoint; expressing my needs without feeling guilty is difficult for me. I’m therefore extremely grateful when my love intuits when I’m starting to become overwhelmed and asks if he’s too much inside my bubble.

Some things I’ve done and enjoyed on my own include having eaten in restaurants, traveled, shown up at parties, hung out in cafes, and attended music festivals and dance shows. True, on occasion I’ve experienced lonely moments and have wished for companionship. But for the most part, I’ve liked being free to do exactly what I wanted without worrying about whether or not someone else was bored or having fun.

Daria, an introvert's soul sister

Daria, an introvert’s soul sister

One of my fondest solitude memories is that of the second time I visited New York City. I traveled alone but stayed with a friend who was extremely busy planning her new career; I assured her that I could entertain myself. It was a miserably rainy Labour Day weekend so I spent most of my time exploring art galleries. I also did a bit shopping and I took in a matinée of The Drowsy Chaperone on Broadway. Every evening when I headed back to my friend’s cozy place in Queens for a late supper, I felt satiated by the day’s solo experiences and, ultimately, grateful for her company.

Having alone leisure time allows the mind freedom to explore and I believe it is the key to being creative. While lots of folks seem to thrive on constant activity and interaction, I need to recharge with periods of stress-free daydreaming. What many may perceive as distraction, I see, paradoxically, as immersive focus essential to whole personhood. Whether I’m drawn into a work of art so totally that I loose my grip on time and space, or whether I’m just watching the squirrels in the trees outside my window, those are moments of just being when the brain isn’t busy making do-to lists. And I think it’s the calm and focus of being lost in the moment that most often generates new ideas.

Sadly, our society overvalues work and immediate measurable outcomes. I have nothing against those things, but given the rates of depression and burn-out, I have to think that we’ve created conditions that are antithetical to becoming an exalted and, indeed, productive human being. As well, the tendency toward being connected to others through media at all times is not helping. We’ve forgotten the value in being idle and giving ourselves space.

Cocoon Ball of Solitude

Cocoon Ball of Solitude

Of course, now that I’m in a long-term relationship, I’ve had to step out of my bubble a little and break some long-standing habits. It’s been an eye-opener to learn that many of the things I was used to doing alone are not necessarily solitary activities. It felt a bit weird for me to open myself up to being less autonomous but, to my great delight, I’ve discovered that, in fact, doing yoga at home or going to the market can be enjoyed à deux. Plus, delighting in moments of pure silliness together definitely counts as a beneficial immersive experience. And yet, I still value and protect my time alone; I need a least a little every day. And I find that, once in a while, a few days of solitude in a row really reenergizes me.

So I’m challenging you to break your habits too. Is there something you want to do but are waiting for someone else to come along? Try it alone! Are you overwhelmed by the busy-ness of your life? Take a few minutes to do nothing, or go for a leisurely walk (be a flâneur). Or alternatively, do you tend to isolate yourself too much for fear that others will encroach on your independence? Try doing an “alone” activity with a friend or lover instead. And to my fellow introverts out there, I say — it’s ok to insist on having your space. It’s an essential need for us, a non-negociable.

The Bubble lives on!

How to Be Alone by filmmaker, Andrea Dorfman, and poet/singer/songwriter, Tanya Davis

Comments

  1. As an introvert, I completely see your point. I could be alone, in fact, for most of the day if it was required—but by the end of the day and when it is time for bed, I need to know that someone else is there. I hate being alone overnight. My husband and I have our own alone times—even if we are both at home! We’ll be in completely separate rooms, doing our own things (him on the computer and me dancing; him fixing something in the garage and me reading or watching a DVD by myself) and we are fine with it. That being said, we still value our time together (whether watching movies or even just going to get groceries!). It’s great when your partner can appreciate your need for alone time and actually enjoys doing things by them-self too. It kinda refreshes you, as you said, and it makes it even better when you pair up again with your loved one. 🙂

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