Being Alone is Different From Being Lonely

I’ve always been afraid to do things alone. It’s not that I don’t like being alone, or doing activities independently; it’s more like an irrational concern that other people will see me by myself, and make automatic assumptions about my personality and social life.

Extremely superficial problem to have, I know. Nonetheless, it bothers me that I’m perfectly fine with something like, eating by myself if everyone else is doing the same, but feel self-conscious when everyone else is in groups. I remember my first day at work, and how anxious I was about the idea of eating by myself, not because I really cared about having company while eating, but because I feared judgement for not automatically being a popular people magnet. For some reason, I cared whether or not strangers knew that I had friends.

We’ve all heard the spiel on how “humans are social animals, and need social stimulation!” juxtaposed against the whole “take time alone for self-exploration!” tied together with the cliché, “you just have to find the perfect balance.”

Truly though, from the perspective of a 21st century teenager who has been exposed for my entire life to media that highlights the glamour of social gatherings and relationships more than an individual’s self-awareness/independence, it sucks to be alone. Based on observations of the media’s portrayal, the only thing that sucks more is other people seeing you alone, and then assuming that it’s not by choice.

Prior to having the opportunity of work experience in an office setting, I felt like my concern with being alone dulled my sense of aptitude to problem-solve by myself. I understand and acknowledge that collaboration with others is important, but that attitude of waiting for others to help, or always asking for advice, took away from my ability to trust my instincts and make good, independent decisions.

After realizing that a step towards independence is learning how to deal with being alone (and not looking totally awkward), I made the independent decision to use one of my lunch breaks to explore a nearby museum by myself. It’s a baby step; as soon as I got there, I realized that a lot of people go to museums by themselves. Still, I’m glad I took the opportunity to go!

Now my feelings about the Museum of Contemporary Art can be saved for an entirely different post where I explore how I’m completely ignorant about contemporary art, but here are a few snapshots of the trip.

I’m not sure if everyone reading this will think I’m ridiculous for saying this, but during the experience, I felt strangely very adult. After doing debate in high school, I’ve always been told that I present myself like a professional adult, and I’m flattered, but honestly, I feel like that was just me pretending to be a “grown-up”. (Being trapped in a suit for most of your waking weekend hours tends to make people more mature, at least temporarily.)

In the whole scheme of things, part of me becoming an adult, has been to be completely comfortable with myself and by myself. While my trip to MOCA felt a bit lonely because I didn’t have anyone to share the utter confusion I felt about most of the art pieces with, the ability to detach myself (if only for an hour) from other people’s opinions, was worth it. I can’t say that I’m 100% comfortable with being totally independent at this point in my life, and I definitely can’t say I’m comfortable with who I am at times, but through the past few weeks, I’ve see a steady progression and improvements.

So, MTV and HBO may never make a film inspired by my decision to chase after self-awareness and independence over a reality TV show about a group of teens, but all individuals can make a conscientious choice to not allow the media to dictate how they feel about spending some quality time with themselves. The experience definitely gets a thumbs-up from me.


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