Why is loneliness so scary? I mentioned in a recent post that I’m trying to get better at being happy with myself, alone. Irony of ironies — slap me if I start sounding too much like Carrie Bradshaw — I found myself alone a big part of the time I spent along with 8 million other folks in New York City recently. Maybe 9 million, come to think of it, since it was Gay Pride weekend.
You know what? It wasn’t so bad.
In fact, some of what I spent my time doing was probably better done all by myself than with someone. Wandering the city with no particular plan, stopping when and where I felt like it, eating wherever I wanted whenever I got hungry, hopping subways all over tarnation: all of that was pretty ok. Going to a play alone? Kind of nice. Working out at the gym alone? I’m used to that.
Dining alone can be a bit of a downer, let’s face it. Having to actually read a menu with nobody there to order for me? Not my idea of fun. Seriously. I don’t like ordering my own food. On the other hand, dining solo, you don’t have to come up with clever things to say to anyone; and if you are feeling chatty, you can always banter with the waitstaff, especially fun if they’re attractive and flirty.
Shopping alone is not bad, but it’s more fun (and I tend to buy more) if I’m with someone egging me on.
Taking pictures alone is fine, but unless you ask some stranger to take a picture of you, which I almost never do, or risk having someone steal your camera while you set it up on a flat surface with the timer, all the photos turn out looking pretty much the same. See what I mean. You can only get your arm so far in front of your head.
Contrary to most people’s view — including, famously, Paul Anka’s — I find that sleeping alone is not really so bad. At least I tend to get a better night’s sleep alone, though it sure is nice to doze off and/or wake up next to someone’s warm (but not too warm) body. Assuming you like them. Sex tends to be better with someone — again, assuming you’ve screened wisely.
Going out to a bar and drinking alone? There’s nothing worse.
Even though I enjoyed a lot of my time alone in NYC, I found the question lurking heavily: How much of what we do is done with the idea in mind of sharing it with others, either at the time or, second best, after the fact? There were so many moments I would have wanted to experience with someone — maybe a special someone, or maybe just anyone — to share the wonder of it all.
So, I thought, I’ll go back home. All my friends will want to hear my stories. Some will want to know if I got laid. The pictures will go up on facebook and, eventually, into a photo album. Sure, I’ll have my memories to keep, but how many details will be lost without a witness? You can only take so many snapshots and notes.
For whom do we do the things we do? Is it ever for ourselves alone? Why is it our first impulse upon experiencing something outstanding to reach for the “smart” phone and facebook it, pulling ourselves out of the present (and fabulous) moment in the process? I do it rarely, but I think about doing that kind of thing more when I’m alone.
Why do I take so many pictures? Why tell my stories? Why write this blog? Why care if people read it? If we couldn’t share our stories, would our experiences be diminished?
There are no doubt elements of approval- and affirmation-seeking in our storytelling. It’s a part of how we each construct a persona and form our individual identity. But I think our need to share our experiences is more basic than that. As human beings, we have a real need for connection with each other.
It has been said, “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”
With all due respect to Orson, I don’t buy it. When love is all around, it seems to me, “alone” is the illusion.