I was talking to a friend awhile back about the concept of being alone. I’ve lived with two different boyfriends over the past ten years, and I never felt like I could be alone if one of them was in the house with me.
“Wait, even if you’re not in the same room as them?” my friend said.
“Nope,” I said. “Not even then. I can be alone if they’re asleep in another room, but then when they wake up I’m not alone again.”
I like to be alone. In fact, I need to spend a decent amount of time alone in order to function. I’ve never really looked into why this is, and it doesn’t much matter, because I’ve always been this way.
I have fond memories of the weeks-long Christmas breaks we had in high school. With no place to be every morning, I’d start staying up later and waking up later, and eventually I’d be up until 4 or 5 in the morning. My parents and sister would go to bed between 10 and midnight, and after they were asleep the house was mine for the night. I loved it. I never did anything I’d get in trouble for like leave the house or take the car somewhere without asking. Mostly I stayed in my room listening to music and reading. It was the knowing that everyone else was asleep that was important.
But why would anyone want to be alone? Try it for a moment. Lock yourself in another room, one entirely without the presence of other people, other voices. Disconnect your internet, turn off your phone. Allow yourself, for just a few minutes, to let the poses fall away. The angles. Let your public persona, so exhausting to maintain, disappear.
Breathe. There is your throat. There is the fly, buzzing in the ceiling corner. There is, also, something else: the silence. A silent room has its own timbre, its own weight. Breathe again; keep breathing. Allow life, with its heaviness, its dust, to slip away, unimpeded.
I’ve had this discussion with a lot of my couple friends. “Can you be alone if your boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband/partner is at home?” I ask them. They always say yes. Sometimes I think I’ll eventually meet the person I can be with and be alone at the same time, but other times I assume it’s impossible.
A few weeks ago I was at the MoMA in New York with two friends, and each of us were kind of going through the rooms at our own pace. My friends stopped to watch a video, and since I’d already seen it, I continued on into the next room. I sat down on a bench in front of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and realized that I felt like I was alone. I pulled out my notebook and wrote this:
These are the alone rules, and they match up with this part of the quote above: “Let your public persona, so exhausting to maintain, disappear.”
When I first got Maude, I was living alone in Houston. During our first few days together, I felt like I couldn’t be alone with her there. A dog can’t go out for coffee so you can have some alone time, so I was afraid that owning a dog meant that I’d never be by myself again. But that feeling went away very quickly and was replaced with the feeling that I didn’t know what I’d done without Maude for so long.
This is my hope for my eventual future relationship with a male human.
But is my “public persona,” as the quote says, really that much of a front? I wouldn’t have thought so, since who I am in front of people feels the same to me as who I am when I’m alone. But it’s sort of how the rules stack up, isn’t it? That I find it exhausting to be the me that other people see? Which of the mes is real? If it’s the alone me, does that mean I’ve never been real with anyone, ever?
I work from home now, so outside of seeing friends or family, my human interactions are limited to my time at the aerial studio and my time on the internet. Generally this is enough for me, but lately I’ve felt desperate for someone to talk to. In the evenings I find myself visiting Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, etc. ad nauseam. Has someone replied to my tweet? Sent me an email? Liked one of my photos?
This doesn’t bode well for my sanity, but it’s what is happening now. Sometimes people do reply to my tweets or like my photos or send me emails, and it helps, but it isn’t really enough. I want someone to talk to me.
I have a text file saved on my desktop with ideas for blog posts. It’s a fairly long file, filled with thoughts I might get to sometime, or thoughts I never will. The line of text at the very top of the file, the oldest line, says this:
a word that means lonely for talking about important things
Underneath that is some slapdash research I did for the post, mostly in the form of links to articles about untranslatable words from other cultures that I dug up in the hope that I could find my sentiment in a foreign language. The nonexistent word I feel like I’d use the most is just that: a word that means lonely for talking about important things.
I don’t know any other way to describe it, nor could I define “important things” without making an epic list that could be taken the wrong way. And I don’t mean “important things” like talking about them would have to be serious all the time. I guess I just mean that the way I get close to people, friends or family or otherwise, is in having open, honest conversation about the way we really feel about things. Without that, I get lonely.
The two states that make me feel the most fulfilled are being alone and talking about important things.
I haven’t worked out a way to balance both, especially in the context of a relationship. During the San Francisco part of my road trip, I was feeling super lonely, and I told a friend that while I enjoyed spending as much time alone as I was, I wanted there to be someone I could call. If I hiked up to the top of a hill by myself, and stood there looking at the view, I’d want to be able to pull out my phone, call that person and say, “I’m on top of a hill and you won’t believe how beautiful it is here.”
“You can call me,” he said. And I did, but it turned into a dumb mess and now I haven’t talked to that guy in years.
Because who is that person you can call? It’s a fairly romantic call to make, which implies some sort of relationship, and people in a relationship don’t normally quit their jobs and spend two months driving around the country by themselves. I can have someone to call, or I can have looking at the beautiful view by myself, but having both is a long shot.
For this reason I am worried about the initial months of my move to St. Louis. With no local friends to talk to, without a Person To Call, what will I do?
What would compel a person to do this, to run into the desert and wander, unabashed, until either her soul was scrubbed clean or she died? To love, sometimes, is to peel back the skin, and watch the bone bleach white beneath the sun.
(I don’t often want advice on the things I write about here, and I don’t want you to tell me you think I should join clubs in St. Louis or whatever, because I plan to. But I would like to hear about your experiences balancing relationships with loner-dom if you feel like you might have some insight. Thanks.)