People eat alone, watch a movie in the theatre without company or travel quietly with headphones. How often have we looked at people sitting alone in pity? Some of us may even have approached them and “tried” to give them company because we feel “bad” for them.
In this article, we will explore the meaning of being alone and attempt to differentiate it from being lonely.
What is being “alone”?
More than 80% of the people we see alone are happy and content with their own company. It may be due to a variety of reasons. But what we can be sure of is that being alone is a choice or preference. This means that forced conversations and company are just not their forte.
When we assume they are lonely and try to strike up a conversation, we might intrude into their private space. But not all people who like to spend alone are introverts, contrary to popular opinion. They fall more along the lines of choice participation, where they can be an extrovert if the situation demands. So you can’t define alone as not having anyone present. But why do we assume that all those who are alone are lonely? We will debunk this myth in the following section.
How to differentiate between being alone and lonely?
The most crucial difference is that a lonely person seeks company. They try to fit in but feel alone because they cannot blend in or people don’t accept them. This may lead to frustration because the thought of them spending time with themselves is unnerving.
On the other hand, people who are alone are comfortable with their company to refresh their minds and mull over ideas or thoughts that bring them comfort. It’s not unknown that people with the best ideas or higher IQs prefer this alone time as they often cannot fit into groups. The inability to find people of the same wavelength is a significant issue.
Why do people prefer to be alone?
Forced interactions take up a lot of mental space and energy, and these conversations are often small talk. If forced to talk to a literature student about Shakespeare, an engineer who loves mathematics will find himself dwindling out of the conversation. One can be in a relationship or have a massive group of friends yet steal some moments to themselves on the crowded buses or a quiet coffee in the park. Here it is clear that the person isn’t lonely but prefers to be alone.
Certain mental illnesses like depression can also make it a chore to interact with people who do not understand the nuances of the disease. Or sometimes, we have a low mood and need some time to brood over the matter.
The critical point to note here is that though people may seem alone, they are preoccupied with thoughts and matters of interest within their minds or might simply be thinking of their next lunch. Therefore, people prefer to be alone unless they can find a conversation or a person that engages them.
In modern times, isolation and alienation are themes in literature and among people. We would’ve often wondered how our parents are social butterflies while we prefer to have one or two ‘to-go people’ whilst spending the rest of the time alone. It is fair to assume that as generations progress, the debate of quality vs quantity has settled, and deciding to be alone and spend time with yourself or enjoying your company may just be what you need to energize your social battery.
So the next time you see someone alone, try not to transgress their boundaries by sitting too close or trying to discuss with them. Also, remember, they don’t need pitying looks either; they are perfectly content being ALONE.