It’s noon. Liz grabs her copy of The Daily Pennsylvanian, breaks out her peanut butter and jelly sandwich and nestles into an armchair on the first floor of Houston Hall. No, her friends didn’t blow her off. Her appointment didn’t cancel last minute.
College sophomore Liz Thom just wants her “me time.”
“In college you always see people and you have to be ‘on,’” she explained, “It’s nice to take time to be alone. I find it refreshing.”
Don’t get us wrong — Liz is one cool chick. This Philadelphia native, Vagina warrior and die-hard sports fan probably has a line of people (including us) just dying to dine with her.
So why were you so quick to pity her? It’s simple: in today’s world, solitude has become stigmatized.
Technology has complicated our notion of what being alone really means. If you’re by yourself in your bedroom with your phone on and Facebook open, are you really alone?
Despite our literal solitude, we’re constantly connected — on call. Perhaps today’s definition of solitude requires a conscious decision to cut ourselves off from our surroundings.
Following our definition: Liz, flipping her phone face down and blocking out the bustle of Houston, can be truly solitary in the largest of crowds. But in our digitized, connected world, we’re quick to judge those who lunch like Liz — by themselves.
In a recent column in The Boston Globe, staff writer Leon Neyfakh spells it out: “Those who prefer solitude and private noodling are seen as eccentric at best and defective at worst, and are often presumed to be suffering from social anxiety, boredom, and alienation.”
We start imposing an inferred narrative on the Lone Luncher, when really we’re the ones exhibiting unsettling behavior.
Most of us avoid being alone because we’re afraid. Whether it’s our fear of missing out (as College senior Zachary Bell described so well in his column this week) or the notion of being alone with our thoughts. Being by ourselves, even just to pee, terrifies us.
College sophomore Emily Hantverk needs to be tapped in 24/7. Literally. She doesn’t sleep without her phone right beside her. “It’s always in my bed with me,” she said. “I’m the kind of person that feels like I always need to be connected.”
We’re so anxious about being alone that we have neglected the benefits of “me time.” Social people could also take a dose of solitude every so often.
Henry David Thoreau gets us. In Walden, this author and philosopher tells of the power of introspection. “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude,” he wrote. When he chucked his iPhone equivalent into the river and headed to the woods, he discovered he could really think.
Many people feel a void when they’re alone. So they reach out for company or entertainment, instead of looking inward and learning to entertain themselves.
Because our friends are only a click away, our generation has become excessively needy and dependent upon socializing. We need to work on being more self-reliant.
“Teenagers, especially, whose personalities have not yet fully formed, have been shown to benefit from time spent apart from others,” Neyfakh wrote. “It allows for a kind of introspection — and freedom from self-consciousness — that strengthens their sense of identity.”
You don’t need to trek to the Poconos or deactivate your Facebook page — a heinous suggestion, we know. But carve a chunk out of each day for your “me time,” however you choose to define that. Whether it’s five minutes before bed to reflect on the day or a walk to Clark Park, either could be the perfect vacation for your mind.
“When I’m alone my thoughts go to different places,” Liz said. “I can think about things.”
In the cocoon of noise and people that surround us in our day-to-day, it’s nice to take some time to step back and sift through it all.