Being alone doesn’t have to lead to loneliness

Civilization largely lacks the experience of solitary living. Since prehistoric times, people have huddled together for mutual protection.

Civilization largely lacks the experience of solitary living. Since prehistoric times, people have huddled together for mutual protection.

In dangerous times, protection trumps privacy, with tribal bonds subordinating the individual to the group.

Only in recent centuries have men and women separated their individuality from the communities to which they belong.

In the early centuries of Christianity, individual believers fled from pagan civilization to lead solitary lives.

But when those hermits became eccentric, they were lured back into monastic communities to enjoy the benefits and responsibilities of communal life.

Still, history’s heroes and heroines tend to be private persons — self-aware and secure in their solitude.

If the prospect of living alone strikes moderns as scary, it is because we are not nearly as self-sufficient and self-aware as our heroes.

The 2011 New York Times Almanac reveals that unmarried adult Americans outnumber married couples. They are going to have to embrace their solitude.

In his classic book, Solitude: A Return to the Self, psychotherapist Anthony Storr affirms that heroic men and women cherish solitary lives as an opportunity for personal growth, self-awareness and resolution.

Before embarking on his public ministry, Jesus of Nazareth went into the desert alone for 40 days and nights.

Following his ordeal, he felt hungry but not lonely. Abraham, Buddha and Mohammad were alike in embracing solitude.

My wife once enjoyed the opportunity of spending an evening with the actress Helen Hayes, who was an intimate friend of the reclusive Greta Garbo.

“Did Garbo really cherish solitude?” my wife inquired. Oh, yes, Hayes replied. Despite many friends, Garbo despised celebrity and enjoyed her own company.

Hayes revealed that she and Lillian Gish occasionally kept Garbo company. What subject dominated the chatter of that celebrated trio of singles? Men!

Merely being alone doesn’t carry the sentence of loneliness. We all crave solitude, if for no better reason than our need for privacy.

It’s only when time hangs heavily on their hands that singles are tempted to feel sorry for themselves.

How well men and women employ their time alone determines how successful and satisfying solitude can be. It takes effort to indulge enthusiasms, pleasures and good friends. The proper use of our time alone requires resetting our priorities.

Ironically, the loneliness that is blamed on living alone is shared by married persons. Loneliness is simply a part of the human condition. Marriage is not its remedy.

Sadly, couples sometimes separate, with one partner accusing the other of failing to cure an inner loneliness.

Perhaps those early Christian hermits were on to something.

David Yount is the author of 14 books, including Celebrating the Single Life (Praeger). He answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22195 and dyount31@verizon.net.

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