Alone again....naturally?
August 3, 2011 8:42 PM   Subscribe

Can I be alone forever and be happy?

I'm likely about to end a very long-term relationship. Part of why this is happening is because I've become more and more solitary by preference. It seems to be harder and harder to connect with people, and I don't seem to get as much out of it as I used to. I have a few close friends, and a few close family members, but I don't really seek out people in general.

I don't think I'm depressed (well the relationship thing is a bit depressing), but I wonder if perhaps I'm just meant to be a solitary person. Does anyone else live like this, in a good way? Can people live a largely solitary life and be ok?
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
If it's OK with you, then you will be OK.
posted by Put the kettle on at 8:46 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sure. But not everybody. You may or may not be someone that fits the bill. Lastly, the door is always open should you decide to interact with people some time in the future - and don't ever forget that should you change your mind.

Of course, as a counterpoint: just because you find out that you don't need people, it doesn't mean that someone doesn't need you, or want to be with you, or what have you... In that case you have to make the decision whether your solitary lifestyle is worth hurting that person.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:51 PM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

In a word, yes... and no. Yes, we all need different levels of interaction, yes it's possible to be happy with 'only' a few friends, and yes you don't need a romantic relationship, especially if you're not highly sexual by nature. The whole 'alone forever' thing is a bit over-the-top, though. Nothing's forever. It's easier to enjoy life when you don't think too much about how 'now' is going to be 'always', instead of living more in the moment, etc. That's really the secret to happiness moreso than relationship vs no-relationship.

Anyway, it's not as simple as 'solitary people are ok being solitary; just depends if you are solitary'. I mean, there's a reason every solitary person who's not sociopathic asks these questions of themselves. It's because on some level, even the extreme introverts (hell, even Asperger's folks) are social animals. So it's a question of getting the social interaction you need, like vitamins, and it's going to be unsatisfying if you're not getting what's needed even if you do have someone to talk to. It has to be the right kind of interaction at the right time. Plus, there are so many modes-- online, casual chatting with a barista, family, etc. Good friends are gold. If you're not getting enough out of your friendship(s), yes that is a real problem. No one doesn't need friends, is OK without them, etc. Also, if you've got real friends, you're not alone, and forever becomes a pleasant thing, sort of like how a cat must feel lying on the porch on a warm day at twilight.

I am solitary, am ok with it, and in fact I'm antisocial. For long stretches, I have one friend if at all, and no relationship, and I think I'm ok, but generally speaking, I'm not really. I don't think ok is my 'growth' or 'happiness' setting. It's just my 'well, I'm not suicidal and the books are still there' setting. I think our job as human beings is to try to become better than ok in our lives, with ourselves; to stretch our boundaries of self in a positive direction. Go for the maximum, in other words. I don't mean just in terms of relationships with people, but in your relationship with yourself, with the world, as well as with others. Even if you 'fail', that openness to experience, to change and growth, is what makes human beings really ok.
posted by reenka at 8:57 PM on August 3, 2011 [12 favorites]

You can be ok, you will be ok. You don't say a lot about your current relationship, or how old you are, or what's happening in your life right now to give much insight beyond that. One thing, in my experience, about craving solitude while in a very close relationship, and feeling like it's difficult to connect to folks is not because you're necessarily meant to be alone, but you're changing, growing, and are so entrenched and surrounded by people who expect you to behave in a way that is starting to feel unnatural to you that you crave some alone time to figure out your own, actual rhythms and desires. That's totally fine and healthy to crave and you can retreat into yourself as long as you need to, until you feel like you understand yourself better and know better the types of people you'd like to reach out to and connect to. You're going to be just fine following your heart and spending time in the company of people who make you feel recharged and comfortable - if that person is just you there's absolutely nothing wrong with it.

You posted anonymously, so you can't answer these questions I'm about to ask you, but honestly, these are questions you should just ask yourself and ruminate on:

1.) What leads you to think that spending some time on your own right now or ending your current relationship means you'll be alone forever, and not just for a period of time?

2.) What makes you think that being a solitary kind of person might not be okay? Is it societal mores? Or your own ideas about how you should be? What are you afraid of?

3.) Is it wildly different for you to not be seeking out lots of interactions, or something that's always been uncomfortable with and now you're just getting sick of pretending?

4.) Are there other things, besides social interaction and connection to others that you used to find joy in that you're not any longer?

I'm asking you these questions because "is it possible for someone to be happy as a solitary person" is one question - "is it possible for ME to be happy as a solitary person" is quite a different question entirely, one that none of us can answer for you.

I'm sorry your relationship is ending, I hope things work out as well as they possibly can for the both of you.

For what it's worth, I am an extrovert in many ways. I cherish my close friendships and my relationships. But I also am fiercely protective of my alone time, and of my own, true self. I love this quote by Rainer Maria Rilke, because I feel that it actually sums up what many of us need in relationships:

"The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust."
posted by pazazygeek at 9:13 PM on August 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

Absolutely. You can also go and find some other solitary people to be alone with.
posted by everyday_naturalist at 9:55 PM on August 3, 2011

Hi Anon. I've pretty much reached the same decision you have, although my LTR ended years ago and not by my choice. I live like this and am happier than I ever was, and know some other folks who are also asocial, with varying degrees of success. I disagree with the idea that you 'have' to have social contact, that we are 'social animals'.... any more than we are 'heterosexual animals'. Some people are better off alone. Me, I'm happier with animals than with people, but I know people (not well, obviously) who are happier without anything more demanding than a plastic plant. If you'd like to Memail me (or regular email) please feel free to do so.
posted by The otter lady at 10:00 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know how to say this gracefully. Let me preface it by saying I am completely neurotypical, because for whatever reason I am often assumed to be not so.

I cut off contact with most of my family years ago. I stopped talking to my friends and acquaintances about the same time. Over the course of about a decade, I went from being a social, outgoing person to being a quiet, stay-at-home person. I spend most nights doing things either alone or with my partner. I actively avoid forming new social contacts beyond the most casual possible, and I do not go to events such as weddings, graduations, and other social get-togethers.

This was all deliberate. It wasn't the result of depression or a climactic event or anything. I didn't hate my family or my friends, and they did nothing to wrong me. I just got the idea in my head that most of my social interactions took from me far more than than they gave. I was tired of spending most of my time doing things I didn't particularly enjoy for no other reason than to maintain social contacts. I had the idea that if I wasn't spending so much energy being a friend, I could spend more of it doing what I wanted to do with my life. I had many plans that seemed impossible unless I devoted my energy to myself.

This was the best decision I have ever made. I stopped spending money at bars and on dope. I quit my industrial/ranching work and moved to a new town where I had always wanted to live. I got together with my partner, who was and is my best friend and one of only two friends I didn't cut entirely out of my life. We went to university together, and both of us earned science degrees in subjects we were very interested in. I am now working in a great field doing things I really enjoy and getting paid very well.

I have other benefits too. I no longer feel the need to smile and nod when people are being stupid, because I don't care if they find me abrasive or offputting. I can tell someone that they are being a racist asshole, and I am fine if that means they never talk to me again. I don't engage in the social bullshit/dramafests that plague other people's lives. I am never caught between two people in their petty stupidities. The few people I do share my life with are treasures to me, and I make sure they know how much I love and appreciate them. I have learned so much about myself, and what I really value. I have been able to take up hobbies that I was afraid to previously. My home is set up to serve my needs, and when a guest does stop by and comments on the strange setup of my living room, I don't care a bit. I am free to be myself, and if someone doesn't like that, that's OK.

Don't let anyone tell you that you need social contact in any degree. You might need it, sure. Find out for yourself. Don't be afraid. Choosing to limit your social interactions doesn't make you antisocial or socially inept. Like me, you might realize that friends and family, by and large, are just not worth the effort. There's no rancor there, no hatred or resentment. Just the realization that ultimately, the only person you can rely on to make your life excellent is yourself, and there is no reason to keep things in your life that you think are making it worse.
posted by Sternmeyer at 10:23 PM on August 3, 2011 [18 favorites]


I made this decision a while ago; had a few bad relationships, and a few good, but on balance just preferred ... more control, maybe? I wanted to be around people when I wanted to be, and when I didn't, I didn't.

Following a disastrous romantic encounter I made the decision that I never wanted to put myself in a position where someone else had control over my happiness, which basically meant I wasn't going to have a significant romantic relationship in the traditional sense again. Which I'm pretty okay with. I have friends, I have good friends, I have the occasional romantic fling, but at the end of the day I'm beholden to, and responsible for, myself. And that's immensely satisfying.

If you're seriously thinking about this, give some consideration to your reasons (which it seems like you have), and what you want from it. Be aware that this isn't going to be the perfect decision that will make you 100% happy forever, but a conscious choice to follow a certain type of lifestyle, eschewing some rewards and comforts in order to have other rewards and comforts. Recognise that there will be times when you miss the romance of a relationship, when you miss having someone else to buy milk and toothpaste and someone to rub your feet when you're tired or listen to you complain about a crappy day. But also be aware that you won't have the compromises anymore, you won't have to listen to someone else complain about their crappy day when all you want to do is collapse on the couch and watch The Daily Show in silence, you won't have to put forth the ongoing effort to make a relationship work.

You will probably be lonely sometimes. Learn to accept that, to explore those feelings and learn what drives them. Find ways to satisfy those needs other ways, be it seeing friends, reading a favourite book, baking a loaf of bread, going for a walk, whatever. You will soon realise that you are all you need to be happy, if that's what you choose.

Feel free to memail me if you have questions.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 10:34 PM on August 3, 2011

I'm seconding the fact that you don't have to consign yourself "Alone Forever" nothing is forever, and should a bright spark come into your life (irrelavant of gender) now or in 30 years, then you just let what happens happen and be happy when you find out where it has taken you :)

Remember though Anon, the very fact that you are very easily posting up on here shows that you are by no means a totally solitary wolf and we are all people ourselves, and in this manner, you have already met some people that would help you in your life

Good good luck with everything friend.
posted by Cogentesque at 2:50 AM on August 4, 2011

anonymous: I wonder if perhaps I'm just meant to be a solitary person.

How old are you? One of the advantages of having some decades behind you is that you get a little distance; you realise how much your values, priorities and preference change over time. So it's possible you're going through a solitary phase - one that may last a year, or one that may last a decade. You don't, however, have to let that define who you are forever. It's fine to say "this is my gig for the next while" and see how long that feels comfortable.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:31 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yes, but as others say, why do you think this is automatically 'forever'? Perhaps it is, perhaps it's merely a phase of your life, but either way its perfectly okay. Our culture seems to push the extrovert as, for lack of a better word, the 'preferred' personality; unfortunately all too often introverts are looked at as flawed/wrong/crazy (all those neighbors on the evening news that are saying "but he seemed like such a quiet type!"). But it's NOT a flaw, it's just a normal human variation.

(And I say this as a lifelong loner with a strong antisocial streak, who's fondest win-the-lottery fantasy is to build a cabin WAY up a long dirt road/back in the woods just for me and my books.....heaven!)
posted by easily confused at 4:57 AM on August 4, 2011

It will be fine, if that's really what you are all about. I have an aquaintance who spent much of his younger life trying like hell to find some "peace and quiet". Now that he has it, he doesn't know what to do with himself. So make sure it really IS solitude that you seek, and not something else that you are ignoring.
posted by gjc at 5:55 AM on August 4, 2011

While I liked what Sternmeyer said, I feel it kind of missed your point, in that Sternmeyer is with a partner, while from the gist of your question, it sounds like you will be separating from yours, and are asking more about living solitary and independent of any partners, rather than larger social circles.

I think there are some people who can live in the way you are asking about in a good fashion, or "be OK," but I think these people are a very select few - certainly the exceptions to the norm. I think one needs to seriously consider that rather than just assuming you can go that path. Asking questions like you are here is a good start. You'll have to pick and choose from the advice that you get and use what works for you - discard what won't, etc..

Its certainly positive that you are considering the possibility of depression, and you may not be as you currently surmise, but I would caution that you could put yourself at greater risk of it and wind up in a place you didn't at all mean to get to if you don't take this path carefully. I say this as someone who examined the path quite seriously for a number of years, and in the end found that it was not for me. The saddest comment I have ever read on AskMe was not inconsequential in my considerations.

I realize I may not be giving you the answers to your question, but I think my point is that I don't have them. And I suspect very few other people will have them either. I think with questions about a path like this, you can often only find the answers for yourself.

Take care.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:55 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

My answer in this related question might be of some use to you, as might the other answers.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:25 AM on August 4, 2011

Keep in mind that it's also possible to find someone you can be in a romantic relationship with and not live with, or be around 24-7. If your expectations for alone time/recharging/working time are laid out at the beginning of the relationship -- and if you remember to value your needs enough to hold to that, and let it be a dealbreaker, even in the face of all the New Relationship Energy -- I think it can be done. I hope so; that's what we're trying to do now.

That said, I'd imagine it's the kind of thing you can't start doing in the middle of a relationship. You're choosing a non-dominant relationship paradigm with this sort of thing, and not everyone you meet -- or even most people -- are going to be up for this. But it seems like if it succeeds between two like-minded people it would be brilliant for both of them.

I know you asked about being alone forever, but I'm presenting this as an option you may not have considered. See also Sternmeyer above.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:17 AM on August 4, 2011

The nice thing about your life is that it's yours to live as you want. Want to be alone for a bit? Go for it! Try it on, see how it feels. If you like it, then be alone for as long as it feels good. When it no longer feels good to you, then go find some people and do that until it stops feeling good. We don't have to get married to solitude--it's not a zero-sum game.

I've been alone-by-choice for the past 7 years or so, with a few relationship blips here and there. It wasn't a conscious decision. I just kept not finding anyone with mutual interest. And yes, I have some friends and family who have a problem with my singledom and think it's either indicative of some serious psychological issue on my part, or that I'll end up old and alone (thanks, Mom!). I tune them out as much as possible because in the end of each day, I find myself unconsciously smiling a little smile as I go to bed with myself. When I stop smiling at the prospect of an empty bed that's as soft or hard as I want it, with as many pillows and blankets as I like, then I'll go out into the world to look for someone else. But in the meantime, life is good and I am a very merry spinster.
posted by smirkette at 10:00 AM on August 4, 2011

Another merry spinster here, for 20 years+. It takes courage, hard work and sacrifice to make a relationship work, and that includes a relationship with yourself. The rewards of building a good relationship with yourself are, well, sublime. How the hell would I even know who I was if I were with someone else all the time, always having my emotions and preferences all tangled up with theirs? How would I know, KNOW, that there is always someone I can rely on for love and support (me)? Good marriages are like that, but so are good single-hoods.

One of the first and most consistently interesting things I've learned from being quite solitary is that no one else is responsible for my moods or my satisfaction with life. It used to be that, if I got grumpy, I automatically attributed that to something in my relationship--I was unhappy, say, because X wasn't paying enough attention to me. If I was feeling joyful, well, of course it was because I was in love with X! It was much more challenging, and interesting, and true, to learn to figure out the source of my changing emotions when there was no one else there to take the credit or blame. Who knew, I could be grumpy or joyful all on my own? And what a nice surprise, to find that my own grumpies are more trivial, and the joys deeper? Cool.

If the relationship thing is depressing you, there's a very good chance that you're going to feel much, much better once you move on. No one is lonelier than someone who's stuck in a bad relationship.
posted by Corvid at 2:02 PM on August 4, 2011

My aloneness hack: Be your own best friend.

Seriously. Without a partner there to talk me up when I feel down, I have to do that. I have to shake myself by the shoulder and say "Come on, you've got this. Go and be badass."

If I think "God, I'm ugly/fat/old/whatever", I can't rely on anyone being there to contradict me-- so I have to think about why I thought that and remind myself that it's not always true. Without a partner, the only person to go to for a confidence boost is me. I have to think, deliberately, that I'm hotter than I actually am. Generally the effects of this are visible in how others respond to you. You may, at times, feel as though you're not entitled to think well of yourself. Ignore that thought! You are your own best friend, and no one harshes on your best friend, right?

Naturally a solitary person must be responsible for their own sexual pleasure. (Don't neglect that.) But more, you have to love yourself. Buy, make or cook things you like. Treat yourself well. Tell yourself "Well done" when you finish something; tell yourself "It's okay, you're still a good person" if you mess something up.

I am by nature highly self-critical, and harbor a chorus of inward voices telling me I'm worthless, and if my work isn't perfect, it's worthless too. By the time I'd spent a few years alone, I had to change or perish.

As a solitary, what you say about yourself and your life stands a greater chance of coming true. So if you pay attention to that voice saying "I'll never be anything", then it can actually determine the course of events if you're not careful. Likewise, "I'll be alone forever and ever" can become self-fulfilling. As others have said, I think "I'm alone for now, and that's cool" is a better script.

Be careful to keep observing the outside world. It's easy to wrap yourself up and become isolated. Human contact is what keeps us attuned to the human social-animal instinct, and that is necessary if we're not to let aloneness drive us half mad.

Watch for beautiful things and moments. Savour the times when the world surprises you by being an okay place after all. Let those times make you strong for the burden of days that are not so lovely.

Read Thoreau's Walden.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:27 PM on August 4, 2011

I think it's worth being aware of the potential downsides of a solitary life, and I say this as someone who lived a solitary life for years.

According to Daniel Gilbert at Harvard, studies find that the factor that has the greatest influence on our happiness is the presence of close social ties.

We're all different, what works for you might be totally different, but I have to say, for me, there was a time in my life when I couldn't stand how annoying most people were, and all of the dumb, ignorant shit they'd say, and I was perfectly happy just to do be by myself. I was not depressed, and things were pretty okay.

Nowadays I'm different and have a lot of friends. I put effort into being a good friend and maintaining friendships. There's more to life than just being happy, but now that I have a lot of good, close friends who I care about and who care about me, I've never been happier. Not even close. Honestly, it feels fantastic, and to anyone who was like me before, I'd say it's worth giving it a try.
posted by surenoproblem at 9:58 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Does anyone else live like this, in a good way? Can people live a largely solitary life and be ok?"

Yes. I am, so far. Much happier this way. I have pets and lots of interests, am not bored and not lonely being by myself. It's not for everybody, but it is the life for me.
posted by bluesky78987 at 10:21 PM on August 4, 2011

The Youtube video How To Be Alone (a collaboration between fiilmaker Andrea Dorfman and poet Tanya Davis) is worthwhile both as an affirmation that it's okay to be solitary and for suggestions on how to negotiate the waters of adult life in a society that expects people to be paired off.
posted by thatdawnperson at 2:35 PM on August 6, 2011

I live a largely solitary life and I'm ok with that. I'm an introvert, and I'm quite happy in my own company. I live on my own, don't have a partner or many friends, and, whilst I'm open to others, I just don't need much social interaction, so I'll only socialise with people I really like. I would only see a problem with being so solitary if it meant I couldn't get my needs met, or if my mental health was suffering. But I've been like this for several years now, and to be honest it feels very natural to me.

I would second what Corvid said about being your own best friend. That makes for better relationships (if you choose to have them) anyway.
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