I like solitude. It’s different from loneliness, which is a whole big bucket of suck. I don’t get lonely anymore, though. Not since I discovered solitude.
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary tries to put similar meanings on the two words:
Lonely: 1. Solitary, companionless, isolated 2. unfrequented 3. sad because without friends or company, dreary.
Solitude: 1. The state of being solitary. 2 A lonely place.
But what does solitary mean? Well, again according to the COD it means ‘not gregarious, without companions, lonely’. But it also means ‘single or sole’. Or, in its more extreme definition, solitary is a noun meaning ‘hermit or anchorite’.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a hermit, not in the traditional sense of living in a cave and wearing a hair shirt and throwing ashes on myself. Nor, strictly, am I am anchorite in the sense of a religious recluse. But another meaning of anchorite is ‘a person of secluded habits’. I think that comes closest to being me.
I like being alone, not being lonely. When I was a teenager I was very lonely. I had friends, but they were exclusively male. I lacked a girlfriend, a female companion. In that sense I was lonely. But even then I enjoyed being alone, as in by myself.
This doesn’t make me odd. I am naturally a shy person. This may sound strange coming from someone who loves speaking in public, who loves acting and making people laugh. I do like all those things. But that’s because I’m performing. After the speech is over, after the play is done, I want to go back into my shell and stay there.
Which puts me at odds with many other people, those who like to party, who thrive on companionship and crowds, who love being with others. Sometimes they can’t believe I don’t want to socialise, that I am happiest when alone and doing things I enjoy, whether it be reading or writing or bushwalking or just sitting and thinking. I don’t need – indeed, I don’t want – anyone else to do those things with.
A neighbour asked me just a few minutes ago if I went to the Christmas Carols in the city hall last night.
‘No,’ I replied.
‘Really? Everyone was there.’
Well, patently not everyone. I wasn’t. But I let the generalisation slide.
‘Why didn’t you go?’
‘Because I didn’t want to.’
And that’s what she found hard to believe. That I wouldn’t want to go and be with thousands of others, including a plethora of children, to listen to songs I’ve heard playing in the shopping centres too many times already. I don’t deride others for wanting to do such a thing; I’m sure a good time was had by all. The thing is, if I had gone I wouldn’t have had a good time. And it’s not that I’m against Christmas carols or the holiday itself. I just would not have liked it. Too many people, too much commitment to pretending to be pleasant.
Maybe I’m weak. Maybe I’m selfish. Maybe I enjoy being alone simply because I don’t like being told what to do, and couldn’t care about anyone else. Maybe. I don’t know.
But solitude is good. I’m not married (I was, but I got better). I have no children. I don’t owe anyone any money. I have a career I love. I write books and tutor school students. I enjoy all that. I have problems, too, of course. Not everything is roses. But I enjoy being who I am.
Just because I don’t want to share that with others most of the time is nothing against them.
Solitude is when you can hear yourself think. It’s when problems are solved. It’s when the silence surrounds you and you can listen to it for a long periods of time. But it isn’t loneliness.
‘Don’t you get bored?’ people ask when they learn of my lifestyle. No, I don’t. Well, I do – everyone does – but I don’t need the company of others to relieve that boredom. I find things to do that amuse me.
So give solitude a go. Solitude is different to loneliness in that you can resolve solitude voluntarily – go and find someone to be with if you want. Loneliness is a horror, and not to be recommended.
I like my solitude. It’s personal space and time. And it’s mine.
Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com