On being alone.

Is there a difference between being lonely and being alone? Can this loneliness be productive? Today I’ve been writing down some things I’ve been thinking about for some time.

Alone is an occupation where you choose to be apart from other people (At least in a normal setting). If you’ve purposely been put into a room, you might be alone, but you are also isolated – So there’s a new word too; Isolation. We have now Loneliness, alone, isolation and why not also solitude. Can solitude be a collected term to contain the others?

I’d say loneliness is a feeling of not belonging, and to be kept outside of something. What this ‘something’ is, is arbitrary, but it can be a social circle, a physical place you’re not allowed to enter or not being able to fullfil criteria etc.  If you are lonely, you probably want to engage in activities to make you less lonely. You have not chosen to be lonely. If you have chosen to be lonely, I argue that you have in fact chosen to be alone.

Jonathan Franzen wrote in his book How to Be Alone that

“Every writer is first a member of a community of readers, and the deepest purpose of reading and writing fiction is to sustain a sense of connectedness, to resist existential loneliness; and so a novel deserves a reader’s attention only as long as the author sustains the reader’s trust.”

I am aware of this being about writers and readers, and not random people. But aren’t we all readers? And sometimes we are the writer. We can perhaps replace the writer with the teller, and the reader as the listener. The book needs a reader, as the writer needs one. And the reader longs for a writer. This relationship is to me symbiotic. The reader needs to be trusted, and must take great care of his position. Loneliness brings people together through others experiences with loneliness. We circle around the bonfire, which in this metaphor is the great pit of raw unrefined loneliness.

Des Esseintes, the main character of Joris Karl Huysmans novel, Against the Grain decides to close himself inside with his books, his art and his music. He becomes a true follower of the aesthetic. He is more concerned about what to wear, what to read and how to be perceived as better than to address his troubles of loneliness and moral decay. This is also the point of decadence in general. A shift from the before where we move away from nature and God, and accept artificiality and hedonistic views. He chooses to be alone, and is therefore not lonely. On the other hand, ‘aloneness’ makes you socialize less, and makes people less likely to come to you, begging for you to join them, and is therefore making you lonely as an end result. Des Esseintes isolates himself so that he can hide from all the grimness reality has in store. This is also his downfall.
Des Esseintes is also a rich heir, with nothing to do, and with to much money. Being alone is for him, his job. He has the time and resources to be alone. One can argue that the occupation of being alone, is a privilege.

Solitude is a word with both positive and negative connotations. For introverts, solitude is a safe word. Solitude is (I argue) also a self-made predicament to find oneself in. On the other hand one might be trapped inside a cabin when an avalanche hits your front door. This is accidental solitude, but not loneliness.Solitude is a bit like religious asceticism where you seek the silence, and the stillness. It’s also the wish of being alone and undisturbed for a while.

To be alone and to be in solitude can reap many rewards in terms of calming oneself, and being in touch with oneself on a deeper level. This is not meant to be a cheesy conclusion. I just wanted to share some thoughts about solidity. I think people should learn to become more content with being alone. Sure, we love as a species to be social, but when was the last time you just sat down without any form of entertainment like a book, a movie, music, computer etc.? When was the last time you just sat and listened to nothing except for your own heartbeat and breath? It’s in the downtime you can hear the white noise of your life. And you would want to keep that tone as harmonious as you can, right?


Franzen, J. How To Be Alone. 2001, Harper Collins. London.


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