I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with being alone. I personally enjoy an empty house, a solo walk, or an afternoon for one. But as teenage girl, I also feel incredibly uncomfortable with solitude.
There are so many messages my peers and I have received, glaring red flags that bear the message, ‘NEVER BE ALONE.’ I would not be bothered if the argument for why girls should not spend time alone was solely based on the sad truth that solitary women can become easy targets. But it is not the possibility of danger that prevents young women from spending time alone; it is the threat of being judged that compels us to always have company.
Take a moment to consider society’s depictions of women who spend the majority of their time alone. Liz Lemon of 30 Rock lives in fear of choking alone in her apartment. Commercials for antidepressants feature solitary women gazing forlornly out of windows. And then there is the indelible image of the Cat Lady, the woman so pitifully alone she befriends hoards of cats.
It is assumed that women who spend time alone do so only because they have no choice. Between kids, husbands, and girlfriends (a la Sex and the City), no happy, normal woman should find herself unaccompanied.
I first began to reflect upon my complex relationship with solitude at the Girls Leadership Institute summer camp when I was fourteen. Rachel asked each of the girls to spend one day eating lunch in the dining hall alone and spend the time writing in our notebooks. This exercise would not be the first time I would sit at an empty table.
I spent many elementary and middle school lunches alone, peering nervously over the spine of a book. (Yeah, I was that kid.) I have always known that I disliked being alone in public places, especially in situations in which you are expected to be social (helloooo lunch in the school cafeteria). But until it was my turn to sit alone at GLI with my notebook, I never thought about the complex reasons behind my discomfort.
I read and reread what I had written, I talked with Rachel, I dug deep and I finally came to understand why I hate being alone in public. Here, ladies and gentlemen, members of the jury, is what I came up with.
I dislike being alone because I fear that people will assume I have no friends. I do not think I am alone in worrying about being branded friendless.
Many young women measure their worth in relationships. In a world where girls are taught to be nice to everyone, to be impossibly popular, friends are proof of that a girl is valuable, loved, and good. Ever wonder why girls travel to the bathroom in packs? When the only thing you have to assure the world that you are a worthwhile person is the quantity, not quality, of friends you have, you don’t abandon your evidence for a second. And if a girl does find herself alone, she will feign texting just so you know that she does have friends, people she must be in contact with, they’re just not here right now.
For the girls who sit alone, there is a gnawing fear that, without company, strangers will assume the worst. There must be something off with that girl. She must be doing something wrong because being a friendless girl, even if only for a lunch, is not normal. Sometimes the dread of being wrongfully judged by a passerby is so intense I end up spending time with people I have no interest in. Ironically, those are the moments in which I remember the reasons I love being alone.
If I could get over my fear of judgment, I would spend more time in solitude. I genuinely love going for a walk by myself and occasionally I eat without an entourage.
I know that, contrary to what pop culture would like to have you believe, a woman who is alone doesn’t have to be a lonely woman. There is nothing inherently sad about a woman who is without company. Though the people I worry are judging my empty table couldn’t possibly understand this, I know that sometimes being alone is a choice, not a state imposed against one’s will by their general loser…ness.
Sometimes it is important to choose to be alone because the beauty of a moment all to oneself is one young women rarely get to enjoy. I know I must embrace the reasons I love spending time alone, and stop fearing judgment. And I urge all of you to forgo the friends for an afternoon and venture out on your own for an afternoon. These are the little victories we must experience in order to call ourselves truly independent. These are the steps we must urge ourselves to take as we sit at an empty table, not worrying about what others may be thinking.