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Can you be happy alone? Or is it just contentment until the love of your live comes along?
January 2, 2011 8:18 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to be genuinely happy alone?

So I've done a bit of reading (Intimate Connections, Feeling Good and loads of metafilter questions) and the consensus is that you need to be perfectly happy by yourself before you can be in a good, mature relationship with a partner. In fact, it should not be viewed as much as a prerequisite, but just as something that should be, whether or not you are aiming to find a partner.

Intellectually, I agree with this completely. Over the last few months I've been through quite a transformation - I've started going to the gym, reached out to a lot more friends, been reading voraciously - and I can tell when I'm being needy, and when I'm not thinking rationally, etc. This has been helping me tremendously with someone I've started dating over the last couple weeks, and just my general outlook on life. I realize if it doesn't work out with this person, life does go on.

The catch is this - when I'm doing things by myself, whether it's reading, watching television, going to the gym, or hanging out with platonic friends - I feel pretty content. But that's it. Content.

Many of the times I wonder, instead of doing this, are there more fun things that I could/should be doing? How would Ms. X or Mr. X spend their time? Should I be trying harder to have fun?

So my time alone ends up never being any of the admittedly cliched words you'd use to describe the time you spend with someone you're in love with. It's not blissful, or wonderful, 7 hours pass and you realize you haven't eaten a bite and haven't even thought about it you're just soaking up the time with this person.

I realize that my biggest weakness lies 2 paragraphs up, in that I shouldn't be trying to benchmark myself it's unhealthy, but just do what I want to do, after all it's my time. And this doesn't happen all the time, like I said I'm usually pretty content.

I know quite a few people who might perhaps claim to be happy doing things themselves, if I asked them. But then again, these are the same people who seek external validation on Facebook for every thing they do alone, examples:

- home cooking tonight
- riding solo for the new year
- having a glass of wine and spending time with the family
- got home at 9 and had cereal and ice cream and slept till 9


But let's say I've worked on this aspect of my thoughts and gotten over it (it will take time I know), I have the following questions:

Is it really pragmatic to try to attain this state of happiness doing things by oneself? Is it even attainable?

Are there people out there who are perfectly happy by themselves? If you are one of them, how do you do it?

Wouldn't you feel you've missed out on one of the happiest and most fulfilling things in life if you managed to live your life without at least one of those crazy/magical/huge love affairs?
posted by althanis to Human Relations (39 answers total) 95 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think you have a slightly unrealistic concept of what being in a happy relationship is like.

Blissful happiness is a periodic state, not a long-term one. The best any of us gets is long-term contentment punctuated by bursts of joy.
posted by Andrhia at 8:25 PM on January 2, 2011 [59 favorites]


I like Andrhia's above description of "long-term contentment puntuated by bursts of joy." I think this is a true description of life whether you are alone or in a relationship. I also think it is true that "It takes a mighty good [spouse] to beat no [spouse] at all."
posted by shortyJBot at 8:34 PM on January 2, 2011 [11 favorites]


>>I feel pretty content. But that's it. Content.
I understand and feel this, too. What I find is that the opportunity for personal growth increases when am in a relationship. The opportunities arise in both the good and the bad aspects of a relationship, especially the bad.
posted by allelopath at 8:38 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's a cute little book called "quirkyalone" which addresses most of your questions. It has a good amount of adorable filler, but the meat of it is, yes. You can be happy alone, so long as you aim towards a fulfilling life (ie: friends, hobbies, volunteer, whatever, instead of sitting around waiting for "something" to happen). Not everyone can do it; people are gregarious animals. If you're the type of person who is noticeably happier in a room silently reading while someone watches tv, instead of silently reading alone, then an LTR will probably help with that. Otherwise, maybe no.
posted by SassHat at 8:38 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do enjoy going out to eat alone, grabbing a drink alone, time in my apartment alone. There's a lot of things I like about being single, and sometimes when I walk past a couple fighting, I breathe a sigh of relief that I can go home and snuggle with my cat where everything's peaceful. But I do want to be in a relationship --and despite all my joy at being alone, no one has shown up to relieve me of my comfort and security in being alone. Relationships happen when they happen -- people are alone for years and then meet the greatest person, people are married and cheat, people leave each other for other people, etc, etc. Be yourself, do what you want to do, don't seek and seek to be happy alone just for the chance at being happy with another person. That's not how it works.
posted by sweetkid at 8:38 PM on January 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


Some people can be happy alone, you may not be one of them though. Loneliness (Cacioppo) makes the case that people have varying levels of needed socialization. Below that level, they feel pain. For some, that level is zero and social interaction provides no benefit. Most humans aren't like that, because groups survived better in harsher, more primal times than disconnected individuals and thus were more likely to have offspring. We feel physical pain so that we don't damage our skin with heat/knives/hammers, we feel pain from loneliness because in the past, being alone meant starvation in a cave because we couldn't gather food on our own due to a sprained angle. This isn't to say we can't conquer or control our nature, but it's my opinion that no one should feel selfish for wanting another person out of loneliness, as long as you know how to appreciate another.
posted by mnemonic at 8:41 PM on January 2, 2011 [7 favorites]


Along Andrhia's line of thought, a good quote from Jenkin Lloyd Jones:

There seems to be a superstition among many thousands of our young who hold hands and smooch in the drive-ins that marriage is a cottage surrounded by perpetual hollyhocks, to which a perpetually young and handsome husband comes home to a perpetually young and ravishing wife. When the hollyhocks wither and boredom and bills appear, the divorce courts are jammed.

Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he's been robbed. The fact is that most putts don't drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just ordinary people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. . . .

Life is like an old-time rail journey--delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.

posted by Sassyfras at 8:44 PM on January 2, 2011 [53 favorites]


Are you in love with yourself? Then being with yourself can be just like you describe: days you wish would never end, days when you forget to eat because you're so absorbed in your own company.

Except for when it's not.

Being in relationship with yourself (vs. "being alone") is like any other relationship. Sometimes you're in a state of radiant and transcendent joy -- and sometimes you're folding the laundry and listening to the ballgame on the radio.

And sometimes those are the same moment.

What makes the difference (as with any relationship) is the quality of presence you bring. If you're totally present, really committed to being right where you are, open-hearted and willing, then being with yourself can be heaven.

And if you're always looking over your own shoulder, anxiously waiting for Mr. Whoever to show up so you can flee your own company -- then being alone is boring, purgatorial, just a commercial until the real show comes on.

It's kind of up to you.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:46 PM on January 2, 2011 [41 favorites]


Not to be glib, but: maybe you need to start looking for a hobby. A really difficult, intense, important hobby (or volunteering gig, or art project, or invention, or whatever).

Because lord knows it's easier to work on those kinds of things by yourself. And the resulting gratification will be 100% yours.

And gratifaction > simple pleasures, in the long run.
posted by vivid postcard at 8:48 PM on January 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


It depends on who you are and what you define as happiness. Men tend to benefit from being in a relationship more than women (both psychologically and genetically). Also in terms of justification I'm not sure what you mean by facebook "justifications". My friends are always posting things like, "going to the movies with my <3" ....are they trying to justify being WITH someone?

It really sounds like you're already biased on this (towards the 'no' answer) and having a bias will do a surprising amount to affect your actual life. If you believe you cannot be happy alone you will not be happy alone.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 8:48 PM on January 2, 2011


People are social creatures. Pack animals. Solitary confinement is considered a punishment. I feel that when people refer to being "happy alone", what they mean is being comfortable in your own skin, knowing how to interpret your own moods and needs, being able to entertain yourself. They don't mean cutting themselves off from the world completely. That's my interpretation, at least.

Saying "these are the same people who seek external validation on Facebook for every thing they do alone" seems harsh to me. Some people are simply more outgoing, be it in person or online. I know I am - I use Twitter and have maybe 3 people who actually read what I write. For me, it's more about shouting into the darkness, hearing myself think, or just killing time than it is about "external validation".

And honestly, those huge crazy love affairs? They sound like so much drama to me. Ugh. ^_^
posted by maryr at 8:51 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Many of the times I wonder, instead of doing this, are there more fun things that I could/should be doing? How would Ms. X or Mr. X spend their time?"

What is it that you think Ms and Mr X are doing? (Mind-blowing sex or Things-You-Can-Only-Do-With-A-Partner are likely not the true answer.)
posted by 4eyes at 8:51 PM on January 2, 2011


I love being in love, and I also love being alone. The two are not mutually exclusive. There are certain experiences of bliss unique to being alone -- a long night sleep with no snorer or blanket stealer; then coffee quietly puttering around in ratty sweats; a few hours in a museum without the awkwardness of someone tailing me around; and ending the afternoon with a glass of wine and a book at a bar with the perfect amount of background noise. Days like these are absolutely necessary to my mental health, and I hope to have them even if I ever become unsingle.

But this is just my personality. You may be different, and there's no need to shoehorn yourself into anything. When people say "you have to be happy by yourself before you can get into a good relationship," what hey really mean is that you should not be so desperate for company that you rush to be with the first available person, or exude unattractive loneliness. They don't mean you must change your natural set point for inversion. That being said, to a certain extent you don't have any choice about spending time solo, so you should figure out how to do it happily. Maybe a more people focused pasttime, or more active hobbies than reading?
posted by yarly at 8:55 PM on January 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


I gotta say (as a person who has been both in and out of relationships), I'm happiest when I'm single. This is probably because I recharge on being in a very quiet, very predictable environment. Not everyone is like that. But it's very, very easy to feel lonely & bored even when you like it like that.

Never really licked the lonely problem --although I found paying for as much phone (& later computer) time as I wanted helped. But here's what really got me through to where I enjoyed singledom on a "doing things" level: You have to let go of the fear. It's so easy to say no to dancing because you're afraid how stupid you'll look alone on the dance floor. But it feels great when you give yourself up to it. And it's sooo easy to not take that walk under the stars because you're afraid something unthinkable will happen because Being Alone Is Dangerous. But it's lovely walking under the frozen stars on a cold winter night. And it's easy to put off that trip to Exotic Destination X because you're afraid it won't be as good if you've got no one to share it with. But there are so many things you can get away with in a strange place that you would *NEVER* do if you were dragging a friend or an S.O. along.

It's easy to say, "I don't want to do this unless someone else is along." But it keeps you stuck in a rut. Try doing it anyway. It's a different kind of joy, and it does get easier with practice. You may still wish someone were doing it with you, but you stop feeling like you can't do things because someone isn't with you. You also start realizing that things like hiking alone isn't an automatic death sentence. And one day, if you become very good at living alone, you may realize that you feel like a very strong, complete person, and that your life is both rich and full and that you are happy.
posted by Ys at 9:03 PM on January 2, 2011 [18 favorites]


Hi, I won't babysit, I promise.

1. The Facebook thing, I read the 2 comments that referred to them, thought about it, and I'm not swayed. Maybe I am being harsh, and I also from time to time make the occasional post about what move/TV series I've looked at. But to be clearer I was referring to those who do that sort of thing every 3 hours.

2. I'm certainly not looking over my shoulder for a relationship all the time (anymore). In fact if this one doesn't work out, I'll stay single and not looking for a few months. I have however, reached a point where I devote time to myself, my family, my friends and a new partner, but still find "happiness" by myself elusive, finding "contentment" a more familiar resident.

Finally, so far some of these answers are frankly just amazing.
posted by althanis at 9:08 PM on January 2, 2011


I've been madly in love, deepy heartbroken, engaged, had casual relationships, and been single, at various times, and I can say with 100% certainty that it is possible to live a fulfilling, happy life without a big romance. However, relationships allow you to grow and change with a rapidity few experiences can boast. I also think a first love is valuable simply because of what it teaches you- but not because of how it makes you feel, which is transient. Eventually, whether coupled or single, you hit a baseline contentment. New experiences are more fulfilling than love- or rather, that's the quality you can isolate as being responsible for those peak bliss moments. It's overlapping, but fundamentally a different issue.

So yes, it is absolutely necessary to learn to be happy alone- and possible. Note that fantasizing about romance IS part of your inner world-and is just fine and can contribute to your happiness. Just don't confuse that with the reality.
posted by Nixy at 9:16 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think it's unrealistic to expect exuberant joy on one's own, as unpopular an opinion as that is around here. Human beings are social creatures, and studies show that not only are people happier when they're in good relationships (emphasis on good) than when they're single, but that happily married people live longer, are healthier, and suffer fewer emotional problems. Physical touch is something that we need. Not only babies (who need it to merely survive, science has found), but all of us.

If people were creatures who were just as happy on their own as in a relationship, we'd see many more people single 100% by choice. And if we're honest with ourselves, that's just not the case.

The contentment you describe is what people mean when they say you have to be happy by yourself, first. Not depressed, not desperate, not terrified, but content, functional, and healthy. Congratulations, sounds like you're ready.
posted by namesarehard at 9:18 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


How to be alone.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:35 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think maybe you're misinterpreting the advice.

Being perfectly happy alone means self-sufficient, not dependent on everyone else's approval for your self-worth, confident that if you don't find a partner for a while you won't turn into an old maid and die alone... basically not desperate to find someone, anyone, now now now! Just as a car salesman can tell when you really need to buy a car today, bad partners can tell when you're afraid to be single and take advantage of that. It doesn't literally mean that you should be able to be happy in solitary confinement, though. You can still date people.

I think you're fine. You're cool, if things don't work out with the current partner then they don't. You're not going to cling to the relationship even if he/she treats you badly, out of desperation. Being single isn't a scary thing for you; you'll just try again. That's the important part.
posted by ctmf at 9:45 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


You need to meet more and different people if you really don't know anyone who's happy alone, and all your single friends are busy being performatively "happy" alone on facebook. Off the top of my head, I can think of several priests and nuns who've clearly and deliberately eschewed romantic involvement in favor of a life of celibacy and service; a female venture capitalist tech guru who just loves what she does and enjoys her life without making a big thing about it; an old roommate of mine who's a military doctor traveling the world without any interest in a romantic partner; a relative in his 60s who has always enjoyed being alone too much to do more than date casually (he's a delightfully joyful man) ... I could think of more. (Would you count a divorcee who's learned the value of being happily alone instead of unhappily partnered?)

There are certainly people who are NOT happy by themselves, but who rather have a genius for making life harmonious for two people together. (Not people who are just casting about for a partner but who are really GOOD at being in a relationship and unhappy when they're not being that.) But I think most people CAN be happy by themselves.

"Wouldn't you feel you've missed out on one of the happiest and most fulfilling things in life if you managed to live your life without at least one of those crazy/magical/huge love affairs?"

Personally I think a "huge love affair," Hollywood movie style, sounds like a damn nightmare.

I've been with my husband for 10 years, married 8+, so take from this what you will, but I always enjoyed being alone. Dating and relationships have a lot of drama; at once point I even declared a three-year dating moratorium because I was tired of drama, and I had more fun during those three years than almost any other time. I had a great time just being ME, by myself. With all my friends and family, of course, so I wasn't lonely, but I was delightfully happy.

Even now one of my favorite things to do is take myself out to lunch, alone. I've done it for years. I've traveled to foreign countries, alone, and has a great time. I don't do as many alone things now that I'm married, of course, but I do still like doing things solo enough that I try to carve out some time for it. Especially lunch at a steakhouse followed by a massage. Bliss!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:47 PM on January 2, 2011


After I realized a few decades ago that I was going to be alone now and had to learn to live alone, I started trying to find out about how to have a life that gave me some peace and the possibility of joy from time to time. It took some learning.

I set out to know myself. I studied things I'd never had time to study and after a while concluded that a major need was to learn how to give more than I got, as a way of life. Funny thing, once I really got into it, I kept getting more than I gave. (I know, yuk.)

But, in a way, happiness really has been about other people, in giving them as much happiness as I can. Even giving a bit more than I'm paid for at work. Paying attention and giving kindness when I have nothing else to give. Noticing what I can do to make things better around me. Practicing this. I don't always manage but it's something I work at and it works for me. I never started this because I wanted to be a good person or get something from others; I was just trying to find a way to live that did not cause me as much pain as I had experienced in the years I spent with partners, trying to find love, being "in love," finding chills and excitement, having intense, dramatic, tearful relationships that might have looked passionately wonderful but were never, ever happy for me.

Sometimes I wonder even now if I just didn't know how to pick partners or if perhaps I was never meant to be a partner. It doesn't matter. When you are happy, it doesn't really matter what makes you happy.

I love my friends and relatives and my far flung network of interests and people and I sometimes feel great joy for all these things. Gratitude, actually. I sometimes feel fear and worry also but I try not to live there. I think I have succeeded at being happy alone after failing so badly at the "preferred" alternative.
posted by Anitanola at 9:54 PM on January 2, 2011 [8 favorites]


I can't explain precisely why, but there's a quote about this in Lois Lowry (author of The Giver)'s autobiography that I find very comforting. I feel like it acknowledges both sides of this issues somehow.
We're all on our own, aren't we? That's what it boils down to.

We come into this world on our own--in Hawaii, as I did, or New York, or China, or Africa, or Montana--and we leave it in the same way, on our own, wherever we happen to be at the time--in a plane, in our beds, in a a car, in a space shuttle, or in a field of flowers.

And between those times, we try to connect along the way with others who are also on their own.

If we're lucky, we have a mother who reads to us.

We have a teacher or two along the way who make us feel special.

We have dogs who do the stupid dog tricks we teach them and who lie on our bed when we're not looking, because it smells like us, and so we pretend not to notice the paw prints on the bedspread.

We have friends who lend us their favorite books.

Maybe we have children, and grandchildren, and funny mailmen, and eccentric great-aunts, and uncles who can pull pennies out of our ears.

All of them teach us stuff. They teach us about combustion engines and the major products of Bolivia, and what poems are not boring, and how to be kind to each other, and how to laugh, and when the vigil is in our hands, and when we just have to make the best of things even though it's hard sometimes.

Looking back together, telling our stories to one another, we learn how to be on our own.


from Looking Back: a Book of Memories, by Lois Lowry.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:15 PM on January 2, 2011 [43 favorites]


I don't know if I'd really say that you've got an unrealistic idea of what a happy relationship is like. I've been lucky enough to experience a multi-year relationship with a strong feeling of bliss and joy every single day. (Except the days of being irritated or mad. But on the average - bliss and joy).

I know that I would never be completely happy single. Some people think there's something wrong with that or it's a sign of some kind of deficiency; I totally don't. I think there are people who are would be perfectly happy single forever and people who wouldn't be, and I think that some of the people in the latter group wish they could feel the way the people in the first group do, and think they *could* feel the way those people do if they try hard enough. I think it doesn't always work like that.

Even just reading this thread gives me joy. I think everything you're doing to better yourself and enjoy your own life more is very healthy but if you feel it's not enough, I totally support that.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:57 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lots of good comments on this so far. Some further thoughts:

Is it really pragmatic to try to attain this state of happiness doing things by oneself? Is it even attainable?

You mean the type of happiness that is "blissful, or wonderful, 7 hours pass and you realize you haven't eaten a bite and haven't even thought about it"? I think so. I have entire days like this alone, and I even have them with good friends, but have rarely had them with significant others. As my last relationship was falling apart, it became very apparent to me that I *could not wait* for the moment when I was alone. And I realized that it wasn't the first time I'd felt that way. So yeah, I'd say it's attainable.

Are there people out there who are perfectly happy by themselves? If you are one of them, how do you do it?

Pretty sure I am one of them, at least a good 90% of the time. How do I do it? I think growing up an only child and latchkey kid helped. But in the here and now - as others are mentioned, having something that I enjoy doing that I can do alone. In my case, photography and music (I refuse to call these "hobbies" because I think it belittles my commitment). Both of these are things I can do with others (and I do), but the obsessive-compulsive perfectionist stuff that can take hours of hyper-focusing? I love that part, and for me it's best done alone.

Wouldn't you feel you've missed out on one of the happiest and most fulfilling things in life if you managed to live your life without at least one of those crazy/magical/huge love affairs?

I think those types of affairs are a fiction created by Hollywood and the advertising industry. Never had one, never known anybody who had one. The real business of committing to someone else is far, far messier than those fictions lead us to believe. We're human beings, we're not magical princes and princesses.

After my last relationship ended and I breathed a big sigh of relief but was still feeling a little out of sorts, I ran across a passage by Paramahansa Yogananda that I found really inspiring:

Reflect always on this deep truth: You belong to no one, and no one belongs to you. You are on this earth for only a little while. Your real reason for being here is altogether different from anything you may have imagined.

And, needs more cowbell: That Lois Lowry passage above is full of awesome.
posted by chez shoes at 11:18 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you are content, you're doing better than many people - including many who are in relationships. Happiness is generally a fleeting thing, like sadness. Contentment is the reasonable "default" state to aim for. If you have that... be happy! :-)
posted by Decani at 11:32 PM on January 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


I can be happy alone. It's kinda obvious that you can't or least don't really want to, otherwise you wouldn't have asked this question (especially worded this way).
posted by dogwalker at 2:05 AM on January 3, 2011


Try researching more into happiness.
Check Daniel Gilbert. I also like Matthieu Ricard.
posted by leigh1 at 4:55 AM on January 3, 2011


Ok, first of all. I want to say, what you are doing is awesome. I have such mad respect for you. Being alone is scary for lots of people... obviously it seems like you're pretty cool with it. I think in the moment you might think, meh, I am only just content, but looking back at it time from now, you'll realize how important and worthwhile it was for you to have this period in your life.

Too many people rush into relationships because of their own insecurities. Spending time alone is important for every human being. Unless you really know yourself and are comfortable with that, can you really have healthy meaningful relationships. My mother always said.... you know you're with the right person when you ask yourself "Could I live without them?" and answer yes. Because you're still separate people. Sorry, rant about relationships done.

Onto loneliness, do you spend time with friends? I find that it's extremely helpful to be with friends... and even force myself out to be with people who I am not really familiar with. Just to meet people and put myself in new situations. Human interaction is still important even if it's not in sensual/romantic way. Also, I find that if I set myself specific goals for myself and achieve them myself, it makes me extremely happy and boosts my confidence. Whether it be a personal art project or trying to get in shape.
posted by wtfomghilol at 7:33 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been spending the last year going on basically this same journey - trying to follow most-of-AskMe's advice about "being the one in order to meet the one", reading and volunteering and doing all the hobbies I love to do and spending time with friends. Learning to reconceptualize myself a "separate, non-dependent" person. Reading Feeling Good, along with a bunch of other stuff. All of this after the dissolution of a five-and-a-half year long distance relationship in which a big topic of conversation was how I needed to be more independent.

A couple nights ago, I realized that, counter-intuitively, I had been independent the whole time. I went to bars and other social places by myself, without someone I knew already. I pursued a bunch of different passions by myself. I assembled a patchwork of friends from all of the weird stuff I do. The problem wasn't with me (or, at least, wasn't totally me), it was with my partners: I had a really developed personal interior life that I wanted to share with someone, and it was (in their minds) too intense, or too challenging, or whatever.

In my experience (given your question, I think our thought processes align), "genuine" happiness isn't possible without someone else. But, happiness of a kind is quite possible in the interim. If you understand and are in touch with the kind of person you want to meet - if you can admit that you're as dependent on that kind of relationship as (I'd argue) most people are - then you're ahead, not behind, in my book. Make "genuine" happiness the long term goal - don't let people talk you out of it by any means, but also don't overly problematize not having it.

As evidenced by this thread, your mileage may vary. By a lot. Feel free to MeMail - happy to share whatever I know now, which is to say not much.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:29 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would say that one of the hardest things about being alone or single (if you are a person who would like to be coupled up) is to deal with that aching for someone else's company. And dealing with the unknown - will I always be alone? When will I be with someone. If I could answer these questions I would probably enjoy my solitude so much more. And sometimes, I am enjoying my solitude and that enjoyment dissipates when I remind myself that I am single, and its strange to be a single woman in your mid 30s (in my social circle). Its painful, but I must say that those moments where you forget you are alone and are lost in deep contemplation, or in the throes of a warm snuggly nap on the couch with your pet, or relishing in the freedom to plan your saturday however you'd like to, is when I pause to force myself to enjoy being single!! The pain of being alone dissipates but never really goes away. There's a mefithread (I can't find it but if someone can please post) where someone wrote a question to the effect of "would if I decide to be alone, how do I cope with not being in love with another person" and someone wrote that he "fell in love with humanity" to cope with not having a person to love. Meaning he appreciated the goodness of everyone he came into contact and I try to do that. I really enjoy doing that actually. There are so many wonderful people out there that, while I'd rather not be involved with, I can enjoy from a comfortable distance. Good luck.
posted by dmbfan93 at 8:38 AM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've been thinking about this a lot lately, as someone who remained stubbornly single well into her 30's and then become partnered. I, too, had gotten pretty content with being alone, had a pretty rich life. I would get lonely sometimes and remind myself of the research that shows most folks that partner up are no happier after partnership than before. So if you're mostly content now, you'll likely be mostly content later, like Andrhia points out.

However! It's been a few years, and my life is so much richer and happier for partnership. If this relationship ends, I'd like to think I'll pursue partnership more than I did before, because Wow, everything from fun stuff to drudgery is So Much Better for his company.
posted by ldthomps at 8:54 AM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mefites aged 25-30, answer me this: do these feelings change as you get older? I'm in my early twenties, introverted and independent type of person. I spend a lot of time alone, by choice. Yet I constantly crave romantic love and all thrills that go along with it, which leaves me feeling incomplete and devoting most of my mental resources to trying to build relationships/fantasise etc. And what's more I'm not even sure if LTR would make me happier. Is this hormonal thing that will just go away in time or not?
At this stage of my life I'm deeply confused and conflicted by all this and it's becoming more and more of a burden, so I just need to make up my mind whether I should just bid my time and try to be happy alone and in couple of years those feelings will abate, or should I seriously try looking for someone or at least be at peace with this conundrum.
posted by desultory_banyan at 3:22 PM on January 3, 2011


I think there's some trick wording here that implies "always" and "never" but please correct me if I'm wrong.

People who are perfectly happy on their own are not necessarily of the mindset that "this is it, I've chosen a life totally void of romantic relationships until my death." For me, it's more like, "I'm comfortable enough in my own skin that another person's interest, be it sexual or otherwise, is not the only way for me to feel blissful/happy myself."

When I was truly happiest and practically rolling around like a puppy on the floor as a single person, it was because there was a part of my brain that said, "I'm just being Unicorn for now, this is what's best for me. I will fall in love again, but it'll be when I am ready, healthy, and I won't force it. Until then, life on my terms! Hooray!" And literally, I told myself every day that I WOULD FALL IN LOVE AGAIN (but choose your own mantra, YMMV).

That positive internal reinforcement on a regular basis kept me from falling into "woe is me! Why haven't things worked out? What's wrong with ME? Where is the RIGHT PERSON?" thinking. And while everyone's entitled to wondering how their life will play out, we're all equally responsible for believing we deserve to be happy and refusing to give others FULL POWER over giving us (or taking away from us) that same happiness.

It's all about perspective, I think. Be happy in the NOW and do those things NOW that you can to make yourself happy. Be confident that if and when the right person comes along, you won't be blinded by loneliness or insecurity to their presence, or tricked into devoting yourself to someone broken in order to have a taste of that happiness or to make yourself feel useful.

Loving yourself first is a cliche but it's also the truth. Fake it until you make it, and you'll know you're finally there when you find yourself making the right decisions in regards to love when the time comes (as in, the first time you reject someone that gives you a bad feeling in your gut... or the first time you give that amazing someone your number you never would've made eye contact with before).

You'll know when the time comes; just be careful about becoming either too insular and oblivious to others' advances, or using the Internet as your real-time society interface (this is specifically in reference to you being nonplussed by your friends' FB status updates).

Some people seem to use use those "my cat took a dump! it's 8 pm!" updates to make them feel as though they're sharing their lives with others and not so disassociated with the world because they're alone every night; some of them are just bad at gauging others' interests in the minutiae they themselves find so fascinating and comment-worthy (just like everything else in the world).
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 4:05 PM on January 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm just repeating what the first poster already said, because it's one of the best responses I've seen on all of Mefi.

The best any of us gets is long-term contentment punctuated by bursts of joy.
posted by talldean at 5:40 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Where is the research evidence showing that you need to love yourself well and be happy alone before you can have a good relationship? No one has ever shown me anything that supports this cliche— and I see plenty of evidence to the contrary all around me. For one, there are many happily married people who have never spent much or even any time alone. For eons, virtually no one spent any time alone. Why would we be wired that way?

Loving yourself first is a severely damaging cliche that I can't see real support for outside of self help and conventional wisdom. It completely ignores human biology. We're a social species and utterly dependent on relationships (not just romantic ones, friendships, family, etc.) for meaning and happiness. Unless you are severely autistic— and even most people with autism need something from others-- do you think you could be happy if you were the richest person in the world but had to live in solitary confinement with your wealth and possessions? I suspect not.

If you have not been loved, that's when you really have problems with loving. Think about a child raised in a closet without affection: is that kid's problem that he doesn't love himself? No. Will the cure for him be to only talk with a therapist till he can teach himself to love and not try to connect to other people? That would be insane.

There are lots of people who hate themselves who are in romantic relationships that are happy. Lots of people who love themselves completely who are single. Although therapists try to claim otherwise (it certainly supports their business), the reason for not being in a relationship often has nothing at all to do with whether you love yourself or not. It can be dumb luck. It can be many other things that have nothing to do with you or your flaws.

You can be happy without a romantic relationship but the research is pretty clear that being in a good relationship is healthier in many ways. Now, some of that may be because healthier people are more easily able to get into relationships. But a lot has to do with the fact that humans are social, romantic relationships are important relationships and therefore, you are more likely to be happy in a good relationship.

Does that mean you are doomed to misery if you are single? No. Nor does a relationship guarantee you constant bliss. But it is healthier for humans to have multiple high quality relationships and romantic ones are often a big part of that.
posted by Maias at 7:10 PM on January 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


The How of Happiness is definitely worth reading to give some insight into how you can be more happy regardless of whether you are single or in a committed relationship.

There's a missing element in your question though, which is that relationships with friends, really good relationships are springs of happiness also.

A very happy relationship then is a mate who is also your best friend, someone who knows you well enough to help you become who you're meant to be.

Being in love is a euphoric experience that doesn't last, it's a biological high that a single person probably can't experience alone. But aside from that, the happiness of coupledom is available to the singleton through strong friendships; acceptance of the bad and gratitude for the good things in your life; control over one's circumstances; contributing to the welfare of those around you and developing mastery and competence in one or more skills.
posted by storybored at 9:16 PM on January 5, 2011


"Being alone" and "being in a romantic relationship" are not two mutually exclusive states, and nor do they cover all the possibilities. If you were drawing a Venn diagram, there would not only be an area of overlap, there would be a huge area of human experience that would not fall into either of the two categories.

Said in a more concrete way... some of the happiest times of my life have been things like playing with my nieces and nephews, talking late into the night with friends, rising to some exciting challenge in a close-knit team, moments with my parents, and so on.

You are not alone on this planet, however it might seem to you.

Conversely, even if you were married, if you have a lot of secrets from each other, if you don't trust each other, if you daren't let each other see who you really are for fear of being judged harshly or some other reason, you can still feel alone.

At the end of the day, it's hard to have a meaningful and fulfilling life that does not involve other people in any way at all. But the ways of being involved with other people can be very varied. Even things like knowing that there are a dozen other people in the world who you've never met personally but who share your passion with some research problem, and will see the significance of your work.

It's pretty hard to be happy alone, but it is next to impossible to actually be alone, except in as much as you put up barriers to keep everyone in your life far away from the real you.
posted by philipy at 4:41 AM on January 6, 2011


I'd just like to thank everyone for their answers. Lots of different perspectives, and certainly a lot to think about.

It's always hard to pick the best answers from a question like this, and almost all of them were top notch, but I did mark a few as Best Answers, the ones that particularly struck a chord with me.

I'm sure the answers have helped out a lot more people than just me too. Appreciated.
posted by althanis at 7:07 AM on January 6, 2011


Without reading any comments at all:
you need to be perfectly happy by yourself before you can be in a good, mature relationship with a partner.
...is a standard line, but, I think, in the cliqued vein of "You know a person's worth by how they treat their waiter, &etc." (What if their waiter sucks?)

My new favorite thought on the subject runs thusly:

We are all not perfect. We all have foibles. The key to a long lasting relationship is not to fix yourself before you get into one, but to find someone whose problems don't trigger your own, and vice versa.

My parents have been marred nigh-on 30 years and are by no means perfect, but they're crazy in love. My grandparents, too, after sixty years. They may drive me crazy, but they don't drive each other crazy. Don't worry. You don't have to be perfect.
posted by timoni at 12:57 AM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


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