I love being alone. But what if you don’t?
The title of an intriguing book, How to Be Alone gives away its goal. The author, Sara Maitland, is out to explain to you, in a smart, insightful, culturally and historically grounded way, how you can come to appreciate solitude, even if you are starting from a place of skepticism and fear.
Maitland is a true believer. Substantial stretches of the book are devoted to the rewards of solitude. She lives in part of Scotland where there is no cell phone service and neighbors are few and far between. If that’s all I knew about her, I would have guessed that she is someone who craved time to herself her entire life. But she isn’t. She’s a solitude convert, having come to the experience after growing up in a big family and then marrying and having kids of her own. She stepped into her post-divorce life with trepidation, but now relishes her time alone.
So I wonder: Can anyone come to love solitude? Should they try to, even if their initial reaction to the mere thought of spending time alone is repulsion?
The very first page of How to Be Alone includes this:
“Go into the bathroom; lock the door, take a shower. You are alone.
“Get in your car and drive somewhere (or walk, jog, bicycle, even swim). You are alone.
“Wake yourself up in the middle of the night…; don’t turn your lights on; just sit in the dark. You are alone.”
Her point? Being alone is easy.
She doesn’t say so quite yet, but eventually she will try to persuade us that being alone is not just easy, but wonderful. Is there anyone who has not enjoyed taking a long shower or a drive or a walk or a bike ride or a swim?
Solitude, Maitland will maintain, is good for the soul. It is great for creativity; no, it is more than that — it may well be essential. Solitude is freeing. It connects us with nature. It connects us more deeply with ourselves. And, perhaps ironically, having a full measure of solitude is also good for our relationships with other people. (Other writings…