Image: Erin Ho, Personal Photo
To be alone or to be lonely?
Oxforddictionaries.com defines to be alone as “having no one else present; on one’s own.”
Dictionary.com defines to be lonely as “being affected with, characterized by, or causing a depressing feeling of being alone; lonesome.”
These two words are often used interchangeably but they mean different things.
You can be alone but not feel lonely. You can feel lonely but not be alone. You can feel lonely while being alone and vice versa.
I think of being alone as a physical state where you’re just on your own. Picture one person reading on top of a hill. They’re not accompanied by anyone else, just their own presence.
I think of feeling lonely as a negative feeling where you feel no one understands you, which makes you feel alone in that sense. Picture a new kid sitting in a group with classmates who are close. The new kid isn’t alone, they’re with a group of people. However, they may feel lonely because they’re unable to connect and feel comfortable with that group.
I felt lonely during first year.
I didn’t isolate myself and stay in my room all the time. I went out and befriended a lot of new people in my program and dorm. We would all hang at each other’s places.
However, the more we hung out, the less alone time I had. The more time I spent with them, I started to realize the differences with the new group of friends I had. I started to feel uncomfortable with them. I decided to distance myself and focus on spending time with people I valued while trying to regain the alone time I had neglected.
Nobody tells you about the slow but creeping feeling of loneliness you’ll experience first year. They always focus on how fun and busy it gets with new friends and new adventures.
I started to feel waves of loneliness in class, in the cafeteria, and even at the dorm. I felt insecure. To compensate I would call close friends and family to fill up my time. Not saying they aren’t worth my time, they are. But that didn’t stop the feeling of loneliness. I would fill my head with negative thoughts of how no one wanted to be around me and how boring of a person I was. I would constantly check my phone and finally reply to text messages only when I was around strangers.
I realized I wasn’t comfortable being alone in public spaces because I was overthinking of how others saw me. I felt naked and judged for not having companions with me at all times in public like before. I would even place my value in others’ presence by spending time with certain people in public. People whose presence I didn’t even enjoy.
It took time for me to realize the differences between being alone and feeling lonely. I thought of them as the same which made it difficult for me to pinpoint my problem. I was letting my loneliness seep into my alone time. After talking with close friends, I realized I felt guilty for leaving my new group of friends and unconsciously wouldn’t let myself move past that and enjoy the alone time I had regained.
I’ve come to learn that I’m someone who deeply values and needs my alone time.
Alone time means to be in the comfort of my own presence and to have the time to reflect, relax, and be myself. Without it, I feel drained, tired, and annoyed.
I forgave myself and them. I realized that being alone in public doesn’t always mean someone is lonely but rather they’re taking the time and place to reflect and recharge in their own presence. We all get recharged through different means. A person’s value doesn’t dwindle whether their friends are around them or not.
This new mindset enabled me to feel a lot more comfortable being seen alone in public. I started to take pride and confidence in my alone time or “me time” again. Talking about it with close friends really helped me not to feel lonely but the key is to not just keep talking about it. But to do, by reflecting and taking steps to help improve your situation and feelings.
I want you to know that there is joy in being alone; you tune into your inner thoughts, you are more still, and mindful.
Human beings are social creatures; we crave and need love and attention.
Find a healthy balance between your social time and alone time. It will take some time and practice to be more and more comfortable with being alone in public spaces. It will feel uncomfortable at times and you may feel lonely, but that’s okay. Everyone experiences it. The more you practice positive and realistic self-talk, the more you find confidence in your own presence.
Don’t let negative thoughts and overthinking grab a strong hold on how you see yourself. It’s a waste of time and energy that can be channeled into better things (like studying, eating, and socializing)! Enjoy time spent alone and time spent with the right people.
Did you ever feel lonely at school? How did you deal with it? Share down below (if you feel comfortable), I would love to hear from you!