From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were;
“Alone” ~ Edgar Allen Poe
I’ve spent a good portion of my life alone.
I don’t mean alone in the sense of being unattached; I’ve been married for more years than I’ve been single. By alone, I mean in a solitary state. I’m tempted to say not in the company of other people, but I can be alone in a crowded room as well as in an empty room.
If you’re not an aspie, this might make you feel sad for me.
Don’t. I enjoy being alone. I know this can be hard to understand. The Scientist often tells me that I should go out more, that it’s not good for me to be home alone all day. One of the enduring themes of my childhood was that I needed to make more friends. It showed up on report cards and in parent-teacher conferences. At one point my parents discouraged me from visiting my best friend, in the hopes that it would force me to make other friends.
Mostly it all made me angry. I didn’t see the point of interacting with a lot of people. Having a couple of friends left me plenty of time to do the things I liked to do alone: riding my bike up to the reservoir, walking in the woods, listening to music, reading, organizing my collections, shooting baskets, rollerskating, throwing a tennis ball against the wall, playing board games.
Some of the best games of Risk and Monopoly were the ones I played against myself. One of my big childhood fantasies was that I’d find a friend who played Risk exactly the way I liked and we could play together. While I was waiting for that pipedream to come true, I kept staging epic battles with myself.
I can see how an adult would look at nine-year-old girl spending a Saturday afternoon in her room playing Monopoly by herself and think, “how sad.” But honestly, I was having a great time. No other kid my age (that I knew of) would play so seriously for so long, without getting bored. And don’t me started on the kids who wanted to change the rules or who cheated.
Hiding Out and Hiding in Plain Sight
Because I could be such a handful, I think my parents were happy when I was out of their hair. They gave me a huge amount of latitude in what I did with my free time–the kind of freedom that few kids today would be allowed. Our house backed up to acres of wooded land. I could walk from the backyard into the woods and spend an entire afternoon wandering. All I had to say was, “I’m going for a walk in the woods” and my mother would remind me to be home for dinner. Off I’d go, my Mickey Mouse watch strapped around my wrist to remind me of the time. No one ever asked where I was going or what I was doing in the woods. Until I had a child of my own, I didn’t realize how odd this was.
In time, I came to know the woods like the back of my hand. I walked the same routes so many times that trails emerged. I walked and walked, climbed trees, sat alongside the creek. In fifth grade, I got a 10-speed bike for my birthday. Now I could ride for miles. Up into the hills, where the houses thinned out and became sparser. To the reservoir. To a hidden spring where ice cold water bubbled up endlessly from the ground.
Even when I had to be with people, I managed to somehow be alone. When my family visited my aunt and uncle’s house, I’d spend the visit playing solitaire at the table where the grown-ups were talking while my cousins played outside.
My aunt, another solitaire player, taught me complicated variations of the game. She also gave me coloring books and my cousins’ cookie tin full of crayons. She showed me how to give the ladies in the coloring books “plaid” dresses using a ruler to make colorful patterns of lines. Some nights I spent my whole visit making every single item of clothing in a coloring book plaid.
When I grew too old for coloring, I retreated to my older cousin’s room. Like my aunt, she seemed to get my need for being alone. She loaned me books to read and albums to listen to, fueled my obsession with The Doors and my love for rock and roll. When she went out with her friends, she closed the door and left me lying on her bed with the music turned up and my head buried in a book. When it was time to go, my parents would send my sister up to retrieve me.
The Beauty of Benign Neglect
While my parents pushed me to have more friends, they didn’t seem especially concerned about my tendency to do things alone. They rarely told me to go outside and play with the neighborhood kids. They never told me to not to go off on my explorations. They didn’t care that I spent hours alone in my cousin’s room during our visits.
As long as I was occupying myself, I had a lot of freedom to do what I pleased. Out of sight, out of mind. It was the seventies. Parents weren’t expected to know what their kids were doing 24/7. There was an element of benign neglect at work that was a blessing in disguise for a young aspie.
Eventually, as I got older and started spending every moment at home in my room with the door closed, they started to grow concerned. They instituted rules about when I could close my door and how much time I could spend in my room. By this point, adolescence was in full swing and I’d started having meltdowns. I think my parents assumed my isolation was responsible for my emotional instability, but in fact the opposite was true. The more they tried to force me to interact and limited my alone time, the more emotionally fragile I became.
I started lying about where I was going, saying I was riding my bike to a friend’s house when I was just going out to ride around alone.
Thankfully, as an adult, I get to choose how much time to spend alone. Having control over the amount of social interaction in my life is one of the fundamental ways I keep myself on an even keel and avoid exhausting my internal resources.
Alone ≠ Lonely
When I look up alone in my thesaurus, I find a long list of negative and depressing synonyms: abandoned, companionless, deserted, desolate, detached, forlorn, forsaken, friendless, hermit, isolated, lonely, lonesome . . .
The times in my life that I’ve experienced this type of aloneness–the lonely, companionless isolation–I’ve nearly always been surrounded by people. I still remember how I felt, stepping off the bus at the YMCA camp, on the day of my fifth grade end-of-the-year field trip. The other kids scattered immediately and I was left with the sinking realization that they’d planned their activities–and secured partners for them–in advance. I wandered a bit until I found a deserted swing set–fifth graders don’t play on the swings–and was soon joined by the kid who would try to hang himself at recess the following year.
Later, I joined the nature hike, played tennis with some kids from another school who needed a fourth player, went swimming by myself, and was told that I sucked at ping-pong and should go do something else. I spent most of that day feeling lonely, though I was surrounded by my fifth grade class.
Yet, when I’m alone, I rarely feel lonely. If I were writing the thesaurus entries for alone, the synonyms would include: authentic, free, individual, indulgent, open, peaceful, protected, pure, quiet, rejuvenating, solitary.
Thanks to the amount of time I spend alone, I’m on intimate terms with myself. I have a running internal dialogue that informs my life, my writing, my relationships. I observe and absorb the world around me.
Thanks to years of practice, I’m good at being alone. The sense of inner security this creates is one of the hidden gifts of Asperger’s. It gives me strength and certitude in life. It anchors me in long hours of silence. Like an experienced swimmer thrown from a capsized boat, I’m confident that I can make the long journey to shore.
73 thoughts on “Alone”
This rings so true and sounds so familiar! My parents were similar: as long as Mom had an idea of where I was going and when I’d be back, she didn’t really care. I had so much imaginary play going on in my head when I was away from everybody (horseback riding was awesome!) and didn’t spend all my time trying to tune out distractions. I made a beeline for the bookshelves when we visited others, too. On the playground, my inner feelings of loneliness vs. alone had to do with whether it was sanctioned…a teacher who was all about getting everyone into the activity would make me feel “wrong” for wanting to sit by a tree stump and make up stories in my head. Another teacher (few but precious, these were) letting me know that it was okay with her if I stayed by myself left me feeling very okay and like I’d actually had some recreation.
The best thing about retirement (or at least in the top 3 best things) is that I can be alone for long stretches of time. Alone = haven for me. I adore my husband’s company (probably because he’s a lot like me) and enjoy doing things with 1-2 friends at a time, every couple of weeks or so. But if I were a kid nowadays, that pattern of socializing would likely keep me in the counselor’s office.
One of the hardest things to accept in child welfare social work was the idea that responsible safe parenting now means knowing where your kid is all the time, preferably within sight, when I know neither me nor my mother could have managed that at all. It absolutely would have been torture for both of us. (Disclaimer: not an endorsement for letting kids disappear for hours at a time these days).
I feel the same way when I think about being a kid today. Without the huge amounts of alone time I had, I’d probably be the kid melting down every time my parents turned around. Things have changed a lot, though, you’re right. Which is kind of sad and makes me feel old. 🙂
I like your differentiation between the teachers who were okay with you sitting off by yourself and those who weren’t. Maybe if we can’t give kids the freedom to go off for hours, we can at least let them sit on the sidelines and do their own thing if they’d rather.
Actually there’s no reason for parents to keep a constant watch on their kids except for the fact that
CPS might get nosy. Check out the free range kids movement – they make the very good point that things
are less dangerous than in the past, it’s just more media attention that leads to this feeling of fear.
Oh this was so lovely to read! My idea of a great day is to leave the house before anyone has woken up yet, go to my studio and spend the day there… alone. I do my best work alone. I can think and write and design. I feel annoyed when the phone rings. I really hate “visitors”. As a child I was blissfully happy playing alone. My mother said I was terribly “bossy”. I know I was. But I didn’t see why that was so terrible. I liked things the way I liked them. What’s the problem? 😀
I’ve never been one to have hundreds of friends. I have three really close friends, people I can confide in, but literally we’re talking about three or four if I count my husband. I like it this way. I am very, very happy with my life. Being alone is highly under-rated!
That sounds like the perfect kind of day. I think people who are creative as a profession especially have to comfortable with being alone. How else can you know what’s inside your head, wanting to express itself as art?
Ah, this post brought a smile to my face… oh so similar we are. Just a few days ago a fellow blogger asked me what I liked to do as a child and I replied, “…loved playing outdoors (back when kids could), loved riding my bike, climbing trees, walls or anything else that could elevate me off the ground and then jump from. I played in the lake, digging for clams, catching tadpoles and frogs. I listened to a lot of music. I remember the first career I wanted to have, I was in the 3rd grade and I so very much wanted to be an archeologist. Then in 5th grade, when my father bought a race car that was in the Indianapolis 500 I was all about wanting to be a race car driver! I memorized all the winners of the 500, what kind of chassis and engine each car had, speeds, etc. I was fascinated by geography and memorized all the capitals of most countries throughout the world and designed my own city with schools, libraries, streets, housing developments, etc. I had a rich inner life.” No mention of friends and structured social activities for me, and I am still like that. Love my little world. And I watch Ted love his little world and I am so very happy that he is happy. My husband would say the words you found to go with alone were chosen by extroverts and would add, “The tyranny of the masses!” Thanks for making me smile, and celebrate how very not alone I am in loving to be alone!!! 🙂
It’s so nice to read these replies from my fellow devotees to being alone. It’s really glorious if you know how to do it well. 🙂
As a kid, I participated in some structured activities but there were literally all individual sports/hobbies. And even then, they were much less frequent than what my friends were “signed up for” by their parents. I guess my parents instinctively knew I wasn’t cut out for team sports, etc.
Lucky you, I felt envious at times of my friends and cousins for they had their parents together, and had a sibling they could talk to when they wanted to. While I enjoyed being alone, and playing videogames I felt so conflicted inside. I didn’t have an easy childhood as I experienced trauma at the age of 3 being torn away from my parents and sent to a foster home for 3 days until my mom picked me up. That was 27 years ago, and in truth has been part of the reason I grew to fear people. Growing up I dealt with lost of verbal abuse from people, and by the time I was 13 I grew to hate the world. I wanted to spend the rest of eternity playing videogames. Sure I had friends, but god did I hate the people who bullied me. I’m surprised I didn’t kick their asses. Until recently I found out my step dad didn’t want to be bothered by me cause I pushed him away everytime he was trying to teach me something. I didn’t know you could push people away until I was in my 20’s. I was already behind people socially and nearly went into alcoholism because I was growing tired of life itself.vi felt like because of my past that my future would be meaningless, and that no matter what I did people were going to judge me. I even started pleasing people believing they deserved to be happy while I deserved nothing. All these people talking about happy childhoods and yet I felt like I got the short end of the stick
I hate how people act like they could’ve dealt with my past far better when they have no idea what it was like. In the end people will judge you, so screw those judgmental humans.
Dysfunctional home life here. I was just so accustomed to bullying, teasing, etc. that I assumed the world was just a dark place full of mean people in general. I understand.
Rather late in the piece so please forgive. I remember a particular incident where on having to move to another school, the bullying started up again and on one occasion, I heard the back-chatter among my tormentors, specifically an aside between a couple of them ” he’s just taking it, I thought he’d fight back”. I didn’t know how. I just retreated into my miserable shell and hoped for nothingness.
o, I really loved this one, Musings. I can so relate, I am incredibly introverted. i love people, they fascinate me, I can’t imagine being without some of them, but they exhaust me. I crave being alone. It is hard to explain to so many people what an incredible thing it is to just get to be alone and lost in my own world, that’s it’s not so much about being away from people as it is about the glory of being with myself and tripping freely and endlessly through my own mind’s paths, like you walking in your woods.
Yes, you hit on the key difference! It’s less about being away from people than being with yourself. That’s where the joy and wonder and sense of peace lies.
I can so relate to all the hours spent alone as a kid. When I became a teenager it became more difficult to find alone time. My Aunt, Uncle and their two sons moved in with our family of 5 (small 3 bedroom house with 1 bathroom!). Yeah, it was as cramped and crazy as it sounds! They lived with us for 6 years. I would escape to our treehouse and sit in a branch and read for hours, or go for walks while reading. We lived about 7 miles out a dirt road so this wasn’t as difficult as it sounds.
These days it is extremely difficult to get time alone. I’m a homeschool mom of 3 kids so I’m with kids 24/7. Now that my kids are getting older I can leave them for a bit and go for a run. My other favorite way to escape these days is by plugging into an audiobook while I crochet. Yep! I still love my books!
Oh my gosh, that sounds like a super-full house. I think I would have moved to a tent in the back yard, nevermind sitting in the treehouse. 🙂
Being a mom makes it so hard to find time alone. especially if the kids are home all day. I remember how much I treasured Saturday mornings when my daughter was little because that was the day her dad would take her out to breakfast and I’d get a few hours of guaranteed time by myself. It gets much better as they get older, though I struggled some with the teenage years and the unpredictability of a teenager with her own social life.
I think this is the most beautiful thing I have ever read: “authentic, free, individual, indulgent, open, peaceful, protected, pure, quiet, rejuvenating, solitary.”
It is beautiful to me because it is exactly how I feel in the bliss of being alone, that feeling of expansiveness, openness and deep peace. No judgement. No confusion. No performance.. I feel that my entire life is a quest for time alone.
I asked my dad once what I was like as a child and he gave me a one word answer. “Reclusive.”
Go figure 🙂
Aw, thanks. That feeling of authenticity you describe is so perfect. It’s nourishing and liberating and always makes me happy.
Ha, playing Monopoly against yourself reminded me of myself as a 10 year-old, ever so competitive, I would get annoyed with myself when the token I was rooting for did not come first. I also had to play in secret, in my room with the door closed and without my brother’s knowledge or he would crept in, wanting to play and all that fun would be ruined. I always looked forward to riding my bike exploring the neighbourhood, like your parents, I was allowed to roam so long I know when to go home for dinner. I always cherish my alone time and never felt lonely, in fact, I feel lonelier in a room full of people.
It is comforting to read your words knowing that I wasn’t alone for being alone 🙂
PS: I miss my Mickey Mouse watch!
It’s amazing how much fun those games played against ourselves were! I’m finding all of the comments here comforting as well. There is a whole tribe of us, cherishing our alone time.
I used to play against myself too and I hated when the side that I wanted to win didn’t.
Beautiful post! I love this one. and it all sounds very familiar… like with the other kids scattering having already planned in which groups to belong during the stay, having thought about in advance how to take measures to avoid the stigma of being abandoned, companionless, in a social vacuum. Also, how painfully awkward loneliness in a crowd is VS the serenity of solitude.
And growing up in the 70s… I remember that what may translate into ‘free upbringing’ in English was a trendy, or at least acceptable child rearing strategy in that time – to basically let kids have very loose ranges and work things out by themselves with minimal control and interference. It was my mom’s child rearing strategy of choice. I think she was forced by the circumstances to adopt that approach;-) I was super easy when minding my own business, but extremely easily frustrated (and physically strong) when someone tried to interrupt my flow and enrol me in various social agendas. Big drama .. So I suspect that I sort of ‘trained’ my mom with negative reinforcement (= the reward is to avoid a negative event) to adopt the trendy 70s child rearing strategy of peaceful non-interference;-) That ensured relative peace and harmony through most of my childhood (and independent learning and intellectual development, just like the theories said). BUT the social requirements of adolescence and young adulthood came as a massive shock about my own cluelessness whereas my age peers seemed to know intuitively what was expected, how to change and grow into the next life phase in a socially capable manner. I am not sure how much of that has to do with my basic personality (=quite solitaire, happy on my own, easily frustrated with people) and how much have to do with getting away with not paying attention to people’s needs, feelings and social agendas… Not being forced to participate and learn standard social norms. I think that a bit more of that would probably have meant more conflicts, a less peaceful childhood and more anxiety, but possibly better social know-how and less of a shock in adolescence.
I love the illustration too;-)
I do too. I was overjoyed when I saw that it had a Creative Commons license.
The 70s were such a different time. My parents were pretty traditional people, certainly not hippies or anything like that, but they were very hands off about many aspects of parenting and that really suited me. Your point about it perhaps being a blend of needing to be away from people and also being solitary by nature is a good one. I tend to forget people exist until they remind me, so I think I’m more of the latter, but I also get worn out easily by people so that’s a factor as well.
It is probably just two aspects of the same ting
I find being alone wonderfully restorative. It is not that I am antisocial: there are times I enjoy the company of others, but it can be tiring and when I feel overloaded I have to get away on my own and find somewhere quiet for a spell. Growing up I spent hour after hour in my room building Lego models, and then when I was older and my dad bought us a computer I would spend even longer sat there programming. Reading and listening to music on top of that, and my parents left me to get on with it
There is a lot of pleasure and comfort to be gained from time spent in solo pursuits, when one may focus entirely on the activity without fear of distraction. Some of my happiest times have been on my own, while some of the most uncomfortable have been in company. I am at my most relaxed when I feel that I can come and go as I please, talk when I want to and remain silent when I do not; when I do not feel any pressure to conform to others’ expectations or wishes. There is a certain selfishness about this but only as a means of promoting my own well-being and peace of mind: I don’t think ill of myself for it.
Yes, being able to indulge in something alone and just follow where it leads is such an enjoyable way of passing the time. I think we were all very lucky to have parents who “got it” and left us to our own devices as much as they did.
Brilliant post (as ever!!) and one I can definitely relate to. The people at uni are brilliant and I’ve never felt like the others have been excluding me, which frankly is more than can be said for my school days. However, I still frequently find myself “lonely in the crowd” as everyone else has already started conversations and generally just know what they’re doing, and I know they don’t mean it but I sometimes feel really out of sync. On the other hand, I can sometimes spend most of the day alone in my room without even really thinking about it!
That out of sync feeling is so frustrating. It’s what often leads me to end up sitting at the edge of a conversation group, half-engaged in what’s happening and half-daydreaming. Group conversation can be hard work and I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault. It would be nice to have a “slow motion” button to dial down the speed of conversation once in a while. 🙂
Yeah 🙂 Also, I struggle with filtering out background noise, so in large social gatherings sometimes I can’t follow the conversation at all.
In restaurants, I often find myself accidentally following a conversation at a nearby table.
Haha, I find myself in similar situations a lot. Trains is the other big one. XD
Oh, yes, *so* true. Restaurants, busy coffee shops, etc. It’s so hard to follow group conversation, and hard to follow conversations when there are a lot of them going on.
many of your posts leave me feeling as if I’ve finally found someone like me. It’s heart warming to say the least. I was very quiet, almost mute sometimes. My grandma understood, she didn’t try to get me to talk, she would tell everyone that still waters run deep and I always knew that she was right. I talk now but only when I need to.
It’s great to hear that you an relate. I felt the same way when I discovered autistic bloggers–like I wasn’t alone in how I felt and how I experienced the world. Your grandma sounds like a wise woman. 🙂
Alone time was always precious time for me. My parents may not have meant to, but from the time my younger sister was born (I was two) I was pretty much left to do my own thing, because I could and she was violently allergic to a whole bunch of things, which meant that she needed an eye kept on her. It got to the point when I was a kid (pre-adolescent, I think) that when I was being punished, I was no longer allowed to be down in my room, because I had all my books there and it wasn’t a punishment at all; instead I had to be in the dining room for the 5 minutes or so of the punishment.
I also found that on family get-together occasions (Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, etc.) I would get pulled out of my room by my parents or my sisters because they didn’t understand the need to be alone – partly from trying to avoid overload, and partly from the fact that I was just much more *comfortable* alone. When I was alone, things were peaceful. I didn’t have to deal with other people trying to get my attention, or anything like that. I could (and can) do what *I* wanted, and not have to worry about what concerned other people.
Now, occasionally I’ll go to a coffee shop to write, and I consider that “socializing” – at least enough to get people off my back about doing socializing. It’s spending time with other people present. (The fact that I’m not involved in any way with those other people doesn’t matter, as far as I’m concerned; there are still other people present in the same space that I am in.) But alone is better.
It’s more comfortable. I don’t have to try to control things.
(Note, though, that “alone” does not necessarily include being left alone by cats. They’re different. ;))
I wasn’t allowed to be in my room for punishments either! It was my preferred place to be too. I remember once getting punished for cursing and every night after dinner for a week I had to sit in the living room (which we never used) between dinner and bedtime.
Going to a coffee shop to write or work is my preferred way of “getting out of the house” these days too. It’s enough to just be around people without having to interact with anyone beyond ordering coffee. It makes me feel like I’m not falling into complete isolation and satisfies my husband’s occasional suggestion that I “get out more.” It’s funny how closely our experiences match on this one!
You know I do tend to feel lonely or left out more often when I am with a group of people. When I am alone, I tend to have plenty to do. Read. Music. Sing. You name it. Alone time is precious for me to find a calm space. Now, I don’t like too much time alone. It can lead to perseveration or a meltdown if I get stuck on something and there is no one to distract me.
I know what you mean about too much time alone being dicey. When my husband is away for a few days, I’ll sometimes find myself forgetting to eat properly or shower because I’m so engaging in something and don’t want to break away. But overall, being alone in big doses is quite nice.
I have always loved this poem. I’ve never been big into poetry, but I memorized this poem at 9, and when we had to do a poetry recital for English class, I recited this one. It felt like he was writing in my voice, and that the words themselves are carved straight into my brain.
I relate to it strongly, is what I’m saying.
When I finished reciting it in high school, my English teacher only had one question for me: “You relate to his words a lot, don’t you?”
“It feels like I could have written them,” I replied.
… nobody else had any questions.
I, rather smartly, did not choose a poem laced with symbolism because I was always horrible at interpreting symbolism. To me, the green light in the Great Gatsby is most likely a signal light on a pier or buoy (yeah, that’s what I answered in English class. The English teacher sighed in aggravation; I think he thought I was taking the piss until I expressed genuine befuddlement at his answer of “hope.” How does a green light mean hope? It’s just a green light!).
I think the only poem I’ve ever truly “gotten” is Song of Myself. Which does have a lot of symbolism, but not nearly as much as the average poem.
Um, I had no idea that the green light was symbolic of something until I read your comment. I thought Gatsby liked going out to look at it because it reminded him that Daisy was across the harbor . . .
Loneliness, even in its negative aspects, just doesn’t have the same “sting” for me as it does for other people, but I always chalked that up to the (usually negative) way in which other people treated me…
That makes sense. If being around other people tends to be a negative experience, then being alone is comforting in comparison.
Bless my mother, she was proud I was self sufficient and didn’t require constant entertainment. When I went into our woods, she’d simply say “watch for snakes”, although she admitted she was terrified I’d get bit. (And I stopped going in the woods after a deceptively tame encounter with a rattlesnake. Scared the heck out of me!)
But my parents were more antisocial than I was. I wanted just one friend when I was younger, but couldn’t really have any because they were so annoyed by other people. Being a good little girl, I made do with the pets. They didn’t like them either because they were noisy and it’s hard to take vacations without somebody to feed the goats and chickens when you’re gone. So I got really involved with writing stories and turned all my emotional attachment to the characters, then other people became concerned about how much I started rejecting other people. Eh, my parents didn’t like company and I hated being told how much of a weirdo, freak, and loser I was. Win/win situation to just write stories, much to the horror of the “normal” people. Of course now, I’m starting to wonder how much of my hermit personality is hereditary and how much of it is from being an Aspie.
Mom always had suspicions I had a touch of autism, but she definitely knew putting me in “time out” was a horrible punishment. For one, that gave me time to think how to get away with it next time. For another, I was great at amusing myself and it was a good experience to have some peace and quiet. So she made me be around her until time was up.
My teachers at school only made me “sit on the fence” once at recess as punishment, and then they had to nearly pry me off of it when my “punishment” was done.
Aside from being a guy, I could have easily written this. It seems that even in our isolation, we are alike and share the same experiences.
My life in the “woods” started when I was 3 (and an only child), we lived on a dead end road (with few houses and no kids). I loved being alone in “My” woods. Not only was there a Creek, there were 2 Ponds to explore. We always lived in the country, and am very glad we did.
I totally enjoyed this, thanks for sharing!
That sounds like my childhood exactly, except that there were plenty of kids in the neighborhood and I often went wandering to escape them. 🙂
It’s disappointing that people are shunned when they are viewed as being lonely. I was affected by this, too; I used to think I was “a bad person” (my catch-all for anything that didn’t meet social standards) for being alone. But when I revisited old haunts, I realized: Wow. I had the best time of my life.
Being lonely means you want to share your experiences with other people, but being alone means you enjoy sharing it with just yourself.
“Being lonely means you want to share your experiences with other people, but being alone means you enjoy sharing it with just yourself.”
Beautifully put! 🙂
I love this post! I decided recently to become more personal on my blog,as there doesn’t seem to be much literature on adult NLD, so when I read this I started writing down some similar thoughts I’ve had myself. I had some of the same experiences in my childhood.
The more I read and think about my own history and present experiences, the more I question the popular belief that NLD is not a diagnose, and certainly not on the spectrum. According to the literature I’ve read on NLD, one of the main things that separate NLDers from aspies is that we, unlike aspies, want friends. We just don’t have the skills. It sounds like they imply that aspies don’t care, that they are indifferent. Is that really true? That doesn’t seem to apply to all aspies, at least, and I don’t think you can find all characteristics in everyone. Itæs not that simple. There is a lot that doesn’t make sense to me. Do you have any thoughts on this?
The idea that aspies or autistic people don’t want friends is a myth. I know people on the spectrum who have many friends or a couple of friends or just one friend or no current friends or only online friends. It’s all over the place, though I’d say that not having the skills to make and/or keep friends is a very common experience among all of us.
There are a lot of strange ideas out there about autism/asperger’s so you really have to read critically and hold up the notions that some professionals put forward against the actual lived experiences of people on the spectrum, I think. Like you said, a lot of it doesn’t make sense in light of how varied real people are.
I know others have frequently expressed the same sentiment, but seriously every single time I read one of your posts (old or new), I feel such a strong kindred connection. I appreciate so much that you share your thoughts and experiences, it has helped me so very much as I travel on my own journey.
When I was in grade school (I think I was about 10), I found a plaque at a Hallmark store that felt like a personal motto. It was a beautiful photograph of a rocky ocean beach, with a wave captured mid-swirl through the rocks and the saying below was “When you find me here, do not think me lonely, only alone.” I still have it, 42 years later.
I value greatly friendships and connections, but I need periodic solitude as much as I need to breathe.
That’s a heavy quote for a 10-year-old! It’s amazing that you still have it and the quote is perfect. I have one that I “liberated” from a classroom in high school that says “In the midst of winter I finally learned there was within me an invincible summer.” I’ve been hauling it around for a couple of decades, first as a print taped to the wall and now in a nice frame that my husband picked up a few years ago.
I’m so happy to hear that you’re find so many things relatable. Thank you for letting me know. 🙂
That’s just reminded me that I was going to have a game of Trivial Pursuit with myself 🙂 I get two counters and either way, when (if) one gets filled up, I win, yay! And no-one to tell me I’m pronouncing words wrong. Alone is the best.
Most, if not all, my pursuits are solo, but I can’t be totally alone due to disability, & the fact I might – or more accurately *will * need something to be done for/with me at some point. Nothing wrong with making up stories in your head; mine usually feature knights & dragons. I love woods, tangled trees, forests. Even my dog is called Merlin. Always found it easier to have a conversation with someone who shares my interests, but don’t live with that many who do, so find interesting people, mostly online, but sometimes off. At school, if you didn’t have people talking to you at ALL times, you were a loser. That stung, but I soon found salve in various Goths/sci-fi/fantasy fans like myself, to varying degrees of success. Ironically I’m usually the one who wants to chat to people where I live the most, the others are the ones who aren’t bothered. Which is great, it takes the pressure away from me .
“Thankfully, as an adult, I get to choose how much time to spend alone. Having control over the amount of social interaction in my life is one of the fundamental ways I keep myself on an even keel and avoid exhausting my internal resources.”
At what point in adulthood does that start? I’m 42, married, 6 kids, 4 of whom still live with us. I get hunted down in my home if I’m alone for more than 5 minutes at a time.
I don’t think moms are allowed the luxury of alone time. I have a husband and just one kid though. I can’t remember the last time I had time to even get a glass of water from the kitchen without being asked to do a dozen things. What bit of time alone I get by shutting my door so I don’t snap I have to pay for when I open it back up.
Trust me, it’s not just moms. I think my wife is probably allowed more alone time than I am, though not by much.
All spouses and keepers of offspring then. 😀
My husband is in charge of Netflix when the kid is up. Don’t know why toddlers must have a television going the whole time they’re awake when they only spend a fraction of the time actually watching it. I think they just like the background noise.
I have a dog and 2 cats and I don’t get peace and quiet either! If I stretch out on the sofa you can guarantee that it’ll be that precise moment that the pooch needs to go out…
At 52 i have just realised that all the issues i have experienced my life are a result of aspergers. When i was a child teenager growing up i had no friends. my parents had no concerns about this and if anything were happy for me to spend hours of isolation by myself and it seemed to please them cause they didnt have to spend any time with me. they actively discouraged me having any friends over or socialising with my peers. at 52 i still have no friends but feel an almost parental abuse/neglect that i never learnt social skills in my formative years. i actually dont like not having friends but seriously have no idea how to make any. the acquaintances i have made over the years seemed to just take advantage of me as a backup friend when it suited them. apart from 2 people in my life i cant say i have any genuine friends who would ever have my back.
This article is spot-on. I have worked alone without staff or co-workers for 20 years so far and I far prefer it to being in an office environment. Being alone has rarely been lonely for me.
I love that quote about being alone but not lonely. This article is great – some of the best moments of my childhood were spend walking in the countryside, playing the piano and swimming in the sea on my own. I had the opposite experience to some of you in that my Mum became concerned about my lack of interest in socializing and we spent years in adolescence clashing over it. Solitude is for me, almost like a safety valve, if I can’t get any for a while things quickly start to go downhill. What I like about it is it gives me chance to really appreciate what is going on around me and to slip into my own little world – in some ways it is almost like going on vacation!
As a young person with aspergers and lifelong social setbacks I agree and fully understand, there is an invisible fine line between loneliness and being alone, despite feeling in general lonely, i can appreciate certain things alot more in my own company and in my own comfort zone then i can with the presence or involvement of other people. As already mentioned, it is basically like escaping to your own private little universe.
I just wanted to say thank you for this post.
I generally dislike people, or at least think I do. Don’t get me wrong, most peoole are decent people. And I’ve been lucky enough to have met way more good people than bad. But they’re not me, and I’m rather fond of being with me. I’m the best listener there is (to/for me). I’m the only one who understands me, and I quite like just spending time with me. I’m not lonely when I’m alone, I’m solitary. Those two things are hugely different ends of the spectrum (no pun intended).
I saw an interview with Henry Rollins recently. He’s an interesting character, one I’ve always be enunsure about. I’ve liked some of his work but thought he took himself a bit too seriously. The interviewer pointed outut that his life sound very lonely. He immediately shot back “I’m not lonely. I’m not lonely at all. I’m solitary. They’re different things.”. Suddenly I saw him in a very different light. I saw me. And things became clear!
It’s funny how society typically doesn’t appreciate this. We’re buffetted on all sides by self help books and so called experts telling us that we should improve our mindfulness, have some reflective time, get away from it all, etc etc, Yet the expectation is still that our standard preferred situation is surrounded by a group of people.
It is also telling that 4 years on you are still getting comments from people saying how much this article resonated. So thank you again. I’m off to have a good old chat by myself.
And the best things about having a chat with yourself are that you don’t get interrupted, you can talk about what you want, and if you want to digress wildly you can 🙂 My in-head conversations are going most of the day. I can’t imagine how dull it must be to need to have another person to hold a conversation…
It must be terrible. Fancy having to rely on someone else being involved!?! What’s also great is that if you’re talking to yourself and something doesn’t come out right, not only does it not matter, you can keep going over the same sentence until it’s right!
Now. If only talking to someone else was easy…
Thanks for this amazing read and for the entire blog, I’ve really found myself here after being puzzled and confused about my inner mechanisms for the most of my life. I’ve been told that socializing is fun -going to clubs, gatherings, or going to parties. I told them that I do not enjoy these activities at all, and on the contrary it is very taxing for me to be participating in them.
They told me I was wrong and I need to live a little, to loosen up which I did not understand. I enjoy being alone, it gives me predictability, free-reins and comfort that I do not have in presence of others. I find a mounting pressure to pass or act in a socially acceptable manner, which I find it quite tiring to do so but then it comes to others easily. That’s when I knew something is off.
I have a hard time explaining to others that what gives NTs pleasure or fulfillment might not apply for me. I also understand that to function in this society, we will have to socialize one way or another, although I tend to keep it to a minimum. Can anyone give me some examples of your jobs where workplace relationship and friendships won’t be strained due to a lack of participation? Is once every few months fine? Do I have to meet with people every week? How often do you have to idle chit-chat with colleagues?
Wonderful post. I kept smiling the whole time reading it. The last few days I have spent alone finally, after a whole week of socializing. A new semester at a new university is stressful to me as I met many new people, participated in small talk and had to find my way around campus and the new city. Eventually, my body responded and I got ill.
Thank you for sharing your experiences so openly on this page. I came across autism only the past few years when starting university and having severe meltdowns for no obvious reason.
Now I try to read everything about it and it is comforting to know that my need to be alone is valid and ok. 🙂
Hi Musings, I’ve just read your book ‘I think I might be Autistic’. I’m a mid 40’s man, who was recently reading about Anthony Hopkins being diagnosed with Asperger’s. As I read the article about him and how he views the world I was sitting nodding thinking ‘Yes, that’s how I see the world too’. So I did an online aspie test and scored into the autistic spectrum. When I told friends they said they weren’t surprised. I have some elements of my personality and wiring that don’t seem to be classic Aspie, but others very much are. Anyway, I was reading this post because I too have a need to be alone quite a significant portion of my time. I find I get very drained around people when I don’t get time to myself. This has always caused issues for me in intimate relationships because my partner (naturally you might argue) wants to spend more and more time together, while I find myself desperate to keep a significant portion of my time to myself, alone, and finding excuses to do so. I was wondering how you’d managed to navigate your need to be alone with your long term relationship and marriage? It seems to be a puzzle I can’t find an answer to at the moment.
I am a 26 year old female and just starting to reasearch ASD. I think I may have been living with it all my life. It certainly explains a lot. I am looking into getting a formal evaluation. I am trying to remember my childhood, but I’ve always been bad at remembering it (I think because there’s a lot my brain would rather just forget.) I’m able to remember bits and pieces, such as what you described in this post – I remember always feeling alone and enjoying it. I would make up excuses to not have to play with other children. My question is – how do I go about getting more information from my mom about what I was like as a child? I think it would help me to understand myself a bit more and would be helpful when I go for the evaluation. I feel so funny just asking, “hey mom, was I really weird as a toddler/child?”
Are there specific questions I could ask her that would be helpful – certain traits or behaviors to ask about? Is there any article written about this already? I don’t know where to turn for help on this subject. Your blog is one that I find myself returning to often so I figured I would reach out. Maybe even one of your readers could help me out if they see this and have any advice
Thank you so much and hope you all have a lovely day.
I’ve just come across this site and relate so much to all of it. Especially the loneliness of growing up and knowing you are different but you aren’t sure why. I was always told I was just painfully shy but in reality I couldn’t make eye contact with people so therefore people used to think I was ‘aloof’ and uncaring. But in fact I was desperate for someone to reach out to me and comfort me and guide me through those awful teenage/young adults years. I’m 47 now and I still struggle socially. I am alone most of the time, sometimes it’s great and sometimes I feel isolated and wish I had the gift of the gab to just pick up the phone and talk to someone.
There are still times now when I’d like someone to reach out to me and comfort me. Knock a year off your age Gina and I could have written your post!
I’ve always enjoyed doing things on my own and enjoy my own company. At least I understand me. Even during my working years I wasn’t a “team player”. I did want friends at school but was never able to fit in. Besides, my electronics is pretty much a solo exercise and I enjoy just playing my guitar to myself.