Every lunch, all of the students would be playing outside. All minus one. It was fourth grade, and I liked to spend my lunches by myself, in a corner of the classroom, because there would be no one there. Many times I would be “caught” by teachers, and I would be encouraged to engage more with the other kids, as it was “not healthy” for anyone to be alone. They said I needed to interact more. I would reluctantly get up and go out.
One of these times, when I was by myself in my corner, a teacher asked me if I was okay. I did not understand why she would ask me that. I replied that I was. The teacher did not seem to believe me and I was asked to go out and play with the other kids, but I resisted by saying that I would rather be by myself.
That was a mistake. The teacher called my parents and told them about my “abnormal” behavior. I was scolded by my parents and had to be around more kids of my age and engage in conversation. From then on, the teachers would always just keep an eye out for me.
I have gone through similar situations countless times where I have been told that I should be more outgoing and interactive instead of being alone and lonely.
It is not just about me; many think that there is something wrong with people who like to spend their time by themselves. Susan Cain — an advocate for introverts, co-founder of the Quiet Revolution, and the author of multiple bestsellers about the personality types — said in her TED Talk, “[T]he kids who prefer to go off by themselves or just to work alone, those kids are seen as outliers often or, worse, as problem cases.”
When someone is seen alone people often think of that person as being lonely, because to be alone is to expose oneself as not being able to make friends. At Woodstock every time I have any meal by myself some or the other person will call my name and ask, “Why are you sitting alone? You are welcome to join us.” When I reply, “Thank you, but I’m good,” they either think that I do not like them or that I am depressed, but neither one is true. Sometimes I just like to have my meals by myself.
Being by oneself does not equate to being lonely.
Woodstockers do not understand the fact that some people would rather spend some of their time by themselves. They view being present as a way to show love and care for each other. Here people are accepting and they are always there for you. Always. There.
Our world has a preference for extroverted traits and being by oneself is seen as a taboo, because people believe that traits like outspokenness, spontaneity, and an outgoing nature are the “right” way, and they cannot understand that being alone can be a choice made by people in the pink of their health. As Cain explains in the same TED Talk, “[Some people] feel at their most alive and their most switched-on and their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments.” I too enjoy quiet and alone time, but just as I had been conditioned, most of the world has also been conditioned to believe that there is something wrong in being alone.
People who would rather spend their time alone do not do so (outside of their house) because they have a fear of being judged by other people. Bella DePaulo — a social psychologist and author of books on being alone — writes, “[I]f you go out … on your own, other people will think you are a loser.”
Being by oneself was not always seen as heresy. Most world religions have people like Muhammad, Buddha, Mahavir, and Moses who spent time alone, and people look up to them. But with the introduction of a business-styled society from an agricultural-style society, people now had to live close to other people and “qualities like magnetism and charisma suddenly come to seem really important,” says Cain.
Companionship has become the new black. As social media promotes a big (public) friend list, being alone says that the person cannot muster companionship and thus is seen as “uncool,” and people who prefer to be alone are suffering because of that.
Even as I write this, in the dining hall (sitting by myself), people come by and sit next to me. We do not engage in dialogue other than the initial “Hey,” and “Hi.” I understand that they are trying to be nice, but they too need to understand that I need some personal time and space. Alone.