It’s as if they couldn’t pick one word for it like, say, love. Love can be both good love and bad love, but being alone * good = solitude and being alone * bad = loneliness. It is the same state of being, perhaps even in the same circumstance, with completely different, always internal, perspectives. I’ve been thinking a lot about the two, trying to decide which one it is I am feeling. A better way of solving the dilemma is, maybe, exploring what they mean individually. And what better place to do it than here, where you’ve had to put up with my ramblings about both this whole year.
I am not an introvert. I am a loud, talkative, open, overenthusiastic person who also happens to be cripplingly shy and highly anxious. Doesn’t make the easiest of company, which is why I’ve often found myself alone, even if I could manage to be constantly engaging with people if I wanted to. Part of my shyness and anxiety certainly stems from being afraid of whether the social environments I am in will be receptive of the bigness of my personality. Thus, it takes me time to warm up to people, which also can cool down after a point, mainly through their lack of enthusiasm.
Then there is the thinking. I’ve never really thought of myself as a deep thinker. Some people get surprised by the superficial, silly, gimmicky, happy, poppy things I like. They think I am more likely to read Foucault for breakfast, to give affected opinions by lunch time, to dismiss him totally and hail myself as the next big thing by dinner. It’s not me specifically, it’s the assumption that goes with people who are interested in thinking. I tag my posts “philosophy” but, apart from a MOOC from Edinburgh University, I’ve had no formal contact with philosophy. The great advantage of having studied English literature is that I can express an opinion on anything, without having to be an expert in anything. I can talk to you about Charles Darwin, but that doesn’t mean I am an evolutionary biologist. Even though I was a spectral presence throughout my education, mainly due to the afore-mentioned anxiety, it enabled me to be unafraid of picking up a book, any book , and believe I can get something out it. And say something about it.
But, I am fully aware of how isolating the above character traits and circumstances make me. Which means that, ultimately, the difference between solitude and loneliness becomes a purely hypothetical idea, since the condition for both is isolation. Solitude is easier for an introvert. I know such people exist, I’ve known them closely, and I envy the comfortable quietness in their life, the confidence they feel in going about almost everything by themselves, how they are perfectly able to keep themselves entertained without a soul around them. And I’ve tried to learn their ways, but it only turns loneliness to despair for me. If I admit I am lonely, I can at least do something about, even something simple like calling up a friend. If I decide that I am going to make solitude work for me, well, it doesn’t, unless I actually want it. Unless I actually feel engaged in writing, or listening to music by myself or something else that requires me to be solitary, but not aware of it.
But, solitude is one of those great life lessons. Even I can see that. The older you get, the more streamlined your relationships get with people. You have less time to waste, and so you give your best to those who matter, whether they are strangers commenting on your blog, or your family. It doesn’t mean you can’t be lonely when you are young. Everybody has, throughout their lives, whether they want to admit it or not. I can’t imagine there being anyone with a considerable amount of life behind them who hasn’t been in circumstances where they wanted to connect with somebody, but there was no one there. Or, even if they were, they just couldn’t connect meaningfully at that moment. Some explain loneliness as a disease for the privileged, or just symptomatic of modern life, but it has always been possible. And probable, whatever your life may be.
I find being alone so very difficult, because I make people the whole business of my life. I like engaging with my species both in theory and in practice. I’ve always been fascinated by you, it’s only because I am stuck with myself so much of the time that I end up studying myself more. Even if I mastered solitude, I’d still like to fill it up with the lives of others in literature, music, film. And life, of course. That’s why I’ve got mine, isn’t it? Not just to get to ‘know myself’ (yes, yes doctor, I am working on that), but primarily to know everything around me. Is that too much to ask?
Do you enjoy your solitude?
For my poem on solitude, click Solitude