Anyone for Solitaire?

I’m here on the Jersey Shore with my brother and his wife and kids (and our mom) for a week of sand dunes, smashing waves, sun lotion and iced coffee.

At night when the small people have been tucked into bed, the card games start. My brother won’t play because he’s too busy with his own kind of cards — index-cum-flash cards; he’s got an exam next week that’ll test over 623 pieces of small trivia. In addition to a stolen hour or two at night, he might also grab a half hour of sneaky study in the morning as our entourage hits the dunes.

Watching my brother steal time to study reminds me that the most significant upside to my single lifestyle is the amount of solitude I get to enjoy.

I’ve often wondered what’s going to happen to me when I meet the right person and settle down — I fear I might malfunction without all that time to myself. I’d rather not be single, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I do worry about this.

Solitude has been frowned upon throughout history. According to the National Geographicsolitary confinement as a form of punishment dates back to the 1700’s (and was introduced by the Quakers of all people.) Not-so-nice experiments have shown that monkeys are prone to psychosis if they end up with too much alone time. And because of what’s known as social desirability bias, if you score high on introversion on a personality test you’ll collect bonus points that bump that score higher. Because introversion is considered far less socially desirable than extraversion, the test designers assume you are inadvertently downplaying your little flaw.

The opening line on Wiki states: “Solitude … may stem from bad relationships, deliberate choice, infectious disease, mental disorders, neurological disorders or circumstances of employment or situation (see castaway).”

Gosh.

I spend most of time writing, researching and reading. And I love that. It’s my choice. My work matches my personality. But equally I need a daily dose of time with friends and family. About 24 hrs of no company is the most I can genuinely enjoy. But I could never be a teacher — extraverting all day long, and I’d suffer if I had to spend my day in meetings or working as a team.

But my most ideal state is being alone together.

I love blogging from the beach chair right now with my 20-month nephew quietly burying my feet in sand. I love reading my book surrounded by the diffuse sounds of other people’s chit chat. And in terms of being single, one of the things I miss most is reading the Sunday papers with someone special. Separately but together.

Recently I downloaded OmmWriter. Omm is like Microsoft Word except that it’s Zen. The screen is pure uncluttered blank – no toolbars around the edges. Omm let’s you select the sound of your typing (my favourite: the old fashioned typewriter option), the background theme and colour  (my favourite: a vista of barren trees covered with snow) and the backing soundtrack which includes options like nighttime crickets or chimes in the wind (my favourite: random household noises.)

With Omm, I create my own writing environment where I type on my trusty old typewriter looking out at the snow all the while surrounded by the comforting sounds of someone busy in the next room sorting through some papers or shuffling down the hall to make coffee.

I guess the makers of Omm must have known — plenty of us want to be alone. Surrounded by the comfort of company.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

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14 Comments

Filed under On writing, Random idea, Relationships

14 responses to “Anyone for Solitaire?

  1. I think you’ve mentioned this to me before, but now I’m convinced: I’m going to give Ommwriter a try. It sounds like it might have the same benefits that Darkroom does while at the same time being a little more cheery!

    I’m an own-space person too. Now I finally have one, I would struggle to give up my Room of My Own.

  2. Heidi Barry

    Absolutely- alone time is extremely valuable and super important….. throughout my experiences of being alone, and in company, there needs to be a perfect balance of each- very hard to achieve. I find that with my friends and with myself who are in relationship or married, that alone time can be conveyed as selfishness. But this is imbalance, because, if we need that alone time, even once a week, away from our commitments, we feel guilty….Then we must do for ourselves what is best for us- WHEN WE DO WHAT IS BEST FOR US – we are better for those we love…
    In short- i LOVE and cherish bits of alone time, it is sooooo nice and comforting, and becomes what I want to do with my time… alone…..

    • nathaliehourihan

      I think this is a very difficult concept to get our heads around — that making ourselves happy makes us better able to make others happy and to give our best. It sounds sensible and yet it is very hard for some of us to pull off when we’re wired to make others happy first – or to base our happiness on whether we’re making other people happy. But I definitely agree and it’s a hard lesson to learn.

  3. Something people don’t talk about much is the way that not being single can seriously mess up the time you might spend writing.

    We find it a constant battle to get the balance right, and we are lucky that we both write so we share the same goal. But the dangers are you don’t have the alone time or freedom to write, or you spend no time with each other and let your relationship stagnate.

    My problem is I need total isolation. If any other human is nearby I will be distracted. I will probably talk to them. I always feel awkward in shared silences. I can manage them only with the closest to me. And when I can manage them they are as lovely as the ones you describe.

    The craziness you get, the strange headspace that you have when you are alone for long periods of time I really enjoy and find best for generating first drafts. The internet/smart phones mean you can have some human contact, even alone, which is good, but also is a distraction. I like travelling alone, being with people but being apart in that way. People watching, cocooned in the bubble of headphones.

    But then I get phone calls late at night from single friends who live alone who just need human contact and I know, because its in their voice, that aloneness is a nice place to visit, but when it isn’t a choice, when it isn’t a contrast, it can be horrible and it can make your writing stagnate in a different way. You can get lost in the lack of definition. You need to reach out even if it’s just over the phone.

    If I was single I don’t think I’d have flatmates, my dad has often lived alone, but I’d need to live near friends or family and see them most days. But I’d be able to lock in for two weeks solitary.

    That said when I’ve had flatmates that has been some of the best busy separately time I’ve had. With a partner the boundaries blur more. With a flatmate your separate but tandem busyness can spur you on. But if one of you is distracted it is less likely to distract you both. We both find it really hard to work hard when the other is slacking off. That is less acute when the connection is flatmate rather than lover!

  4. nathaliehourihan

    There;s a big difference psychologically between voluntary and involuntary solitude. I’m in a very good place these days where the balance has finally come right for me. I did live alone for years and with great trepidation accepted an invitation to move in with 2 other people about a year and a half ago. The time was right. I’d had a long run of living alone. The move hurried up the petering out of a long period (5 years?) of battling against a depression that I hardly noticed (because it wasn’t severe & had become my normal) which has convinced me that it’s proved a brilliant move. As for solitude & coupledom – I know for sure I’d need a tolerant partner — ideally someone who also needs a fair whack of alone time (or someone who travels a lot!). This has definitely proved a problem in the past with partners who don’t relate and resent the space I need. Clouding all the balancing acts most of us have in our everyday lives is of course the weird way in which guilt drives us to compromise in ways that don’t always help.

  5. Liz Athens

    Funny that you have been thinking about this…this is something that I have been ruminating about for the past year or so. when I take the MBTI, I always come out as an introvert, which no one who knows me believes for a second, since I tent to find myself in the spotlight. I talk and talk and TALK at work (since I am a therapist, you would think i was listening more, but no). I like this part of my life. But i find that I can literally stare at a corner of my living room for 20 minutes, with no change in my gaze, daily. I find that I really need time alone, with no stimulus. Like the MBTI says about introverts, I find myself gaining energy, coming up wtih creative ideas and motivation and gaining momentum to continue on by being alone (as opposed to those extrovery, who get that by being around others.

    i used to think that I should be wanting to have my life look different; as a single person, shouldnt I want my life to look a bit more like the rest of my cohorts? Marriage? Kids? Shared checking accounts? Luckily, the further I get in my life the more I realize that it is unfolding just as it should. My boyfriend and I love each other, and we love our lives away from each other as well. I am blessed to find someone who wanted the same thing that I did.

  6. nathaliehourihan

    Hmmmm…. I love that statement about how the further you get in your life the more you realize it’s unfolding as it should.

    Yes, few would accept I am introvert when all they have to go on is my group behaviour. But as you mention — it’s where you get your energy from, not how social or talkative you are.

  7. I’m a total extrovert, but I still need my alone time!

  8. Jessica

    Great post Nat. So glad to be catching up on your blog posts. I was off-balance for a while after my last relationship ended. I missed so much about the companionship, cooking for two, having someplace to be, or someone to care if I wasn’t where I was supposed to be etc. But lately I have found an equilibrium. I have time to write and to think and take long walks and go to yoga AND swim afterwards and I have wonderful friends and colleagues who give me the social interaction I require. I have caught myself smiling on occasion and thinking oh it’s good to be alone. Then I am gripped by the anxiety of what will I do if I fall in love. I WANT to fall in love but I want to be alone too. Luckily I never did stop cooking for two.

  9. Jessica

    Here is a post I wrote about cooking for two when you are one.

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