Your outfit is perfect. Your hair is impeccable. Your makeup is off the chain. You’re pumped and prepared for this concert tonight. But then your phone chirps. It’s your best friend; he’s not going to make it. The panic sets in. Who are you going to go to this show with? Who are you going to talk to all night? You couldn’t possibly attend this event alone, could you?
Our generation is absolutely averse to being alone. We drag friends to events they don’t care about; we text incessantly when said friends escape briefly to the bathroom. Then, we upload pictures of the night to the Internet to gain the approval of the rest of our “friends.” It’s as if being alone, even for one night, makes us feel friendless, socially inept and otherwise unfit for civilization.
I’ve had a downright fear of being alone since my first semester at UF. In high school, I was in the IB program and the marching band. I was around the same kids all day and soon enough, we formed a little family. But in college, I had a different schedule than many of my friends. Some days, I was forced to eat lunch in the dining hall by myself. I put on a brave face and armed myself with an iPod in my ears and a book at my fingertips. But every time I heard someone laugh or exclaim something cheerfully to his friends, it pierced straight through me. Then, there were the evenings during exam week on which I’d walk back to my dorm after a full day of studying at Library West and realize I hadn’t opened my mouth or interacted with others all day. To compensate, I’d spend my nights on the phone chatting for hours with long-distance friends or begging my roommates to accompany me to whatever on-campus event I could find. I felt like an evening spent alone would be an evening wasted.
This phobia continued long after I threw my cap in the air and Bernie shook my hand. This summer, four of my closest friends left Gainesville for greener pastures. Every Facebook event invite filled me with dread. Who would I go with? Could I find a co-worker to drag to this film? Would I be able to think of enough clever things to say to my acquaintances so they’d stand next to me at this show?
Maybe it’s from TV shows and movies featuring large ensemble casts, but we’ve been taught that being alone is less preferable than being around others. As usual, I blame social media – our tendencies to overshare mundane details and document every happening (pics or it didn’t happen) lead to fear and embarrassment of being alone. But it doesn’t have to be so.
This summer, I made a conscious decision to do as Tom Haverford advised me: Treat yo’self. Why deny myself adventures just because no one else was around to share in them? I went to the record store by myself and added to my burgeoning collection. I sat by the pool solo and soaked in the sun’s rays. When I wanted to get something to eat and no one else was available, I got something to eat. And I didn’t stick in my earbuds, either.
Though sharing and making connections with others are great sources of joy in our lives, it’s also important to share things with you and only you. In fact, there’s a certain joy in knowing you were the only one to witness that beautiful cloud formation or the only one who saw how delicious your lunch looked before you ate it. These little things can make us feel alive, present in the moment.
My friend Collin told me, when you’re by yourself, you can be exactly who you want to be. When we’re around others, we can feel the need to placate them by agreeing with their views – even if they don’t match our own. If we think of alone time as freeing and liberating instead of a trap, as my friend Jess recommends, we can use this time to find out exactly who we are. We can ask ourselves why we do certain things, why we choose the people we surround ourselves with and why we hold the opinions we do. This way, when we’re with our friends or acquaintances, or even people we don’t like that much, we’ll feel secure in our personalities and identities because we’ve taken the time to develop them. Plus, if you haven’t danced by yourself in an empty house, you’re missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures.