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Al-Salem ’17: Brave up and be alone

By
Opinions Columnist
Monday, April 20, 2015

The first time I went to watch a movie alone, I tried to make it look like I was waiting for a friend during the entire movie. Of course now I realize that probably no one in that cinema even realized I was on my own, and I wasted a lot of mental energy when I could have been enjoying Wreck-It Ralph. But in my 17-year-old mind, this moment was so nerve-wracking for me that it had to consume all of my attention.

Now, I relish my alone time. I have taken breaks from my daily life by taking a random train to Boston to enjoy a day of proper “me time.” Visiting museums, eating out at an Italian restaurant, watching a movie alone for the second time, strolling through the park — all this with nothing but the sounds of the National blaring in my ears. But when I come back from this self-date and share my experiences with friends, they are all alarmed and uncomfortable with the idea that I did this alone.

“Don’t you feel lonely?” is the question I almost always get when I am caught doing something on my own. First, it is important to realize that being alone is not the same thing as feeling lonely. The former is an act of independence and choice; the latter is a feeling that can occur regardless of who is or isn’t around. Second, this stigma of loneliness and pity around being alone causes so many people to miss out on opportunities of self-care.

Research demonstrates that there are benefits to alone time, including alleviating depression, the Huffington Post reported. This stands out to me because most people see being alone as a cause for depression, and while there are valid reasons for that perception, being alone often gives you time to take a step back from reality.

The Huffington Post article also does well to mention that you learn to actually have fun by yourself. Once the idea of being alone doesn’t scare you, solitude is liberating. I realize that’s hard to do in college, since the college social scene normalizes constant socializing and the “fear of missing out” that people feel if they are not in the center of campus or at a particular event. But we all can get exhausted by others and need a reboot. Be it sitting in your room or taking a long walk by yourself, spending time by yourself is healthy and normal — an underrated version of self-care that can enable us to enjoy ourselves more, rather than what most consider a display of antisocial behavior.

Spring Weekend — the ultimate time of revelry, festivities and continuous human interaction at Brown — made this issue particularly relevant to me. I had a lot of moments during the weekend where I would choose to sit on my own because things got a little too rowdy for my taste. I found throughout the weekend that fellow students looking overwhelmed or in need of a break would come huddle by me — all of us together but separate and alone. But as soon as my friends rejoined me, these strangers would move away to find a more secret place to be alone.

Though I might be incorrect in assuming that people moved because they did not want to appear to be alone, I speak from personal experience in the difficulties of embracing being and looking alone. Most of the time, I would either try to make it look like I was waiting for someone or stare intensely at my phone as if I were dealing with a serious conflict that required separation from the crowd.

But now, rather than feeling self-conscious about my solitude, I openly sit alone as I observe my surroundings. It has been one of the best things I have learned to do in my adult life. Quality alone time is one of the keys to self-care, even for people who might be more extroverted than I am.

When you have time to collect your thoughts and reflect on your feelings, you have time to evaluate your experiences more clearly. In other instances, being alone is just a perfect time to have nothing on your mind but the things immediately surrounding you. It is a time to be wholly selfish without any guilt and to put your feelings before anyone else’s.

It’s almost a funny contradiction that when you are alone, you don’t have to follow any social cues and rules, but the very act of being alone is a red flag that makes others feel uncomfortable. If you see a person eating alone at a restaurant, the natural reaction is to pity that person. But there are plenty of people — myself included — who like doing social acts alone and who don’t have an accompanying feeling of loneliness. It’s pretty ironic that the only person who feels uncomfortable is the person who thinks being alone should be an uncomfortable thing.

When you are alone, you find out a lot about yourself that you wouldn’t otherwise. It is nothing to be ashamed about, and I tip my hat to those who choose to be alone sometimes because I know it takes a lot of bravery to do so. The benefits of being alone should outweigh any nervousness or insecurity. It’s the best way to tell yourself that your time and your life matter.


Sara Al-Salem’17 can be reached at 
sara_al-salem@brown.edu.

One Comment

  1. Salem Cigarettes says:

    So, what did you do with yourself (or to yourself)? Actually scratch that. I don’t want to know.

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