Do You Make Yourself Uncomfortable? A Defence of the Lone Wolf

(Photo credit: John Shortland)

In the soon to be Academy Award laden The Revenant, why was it that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Hugh Glass — having been mauled several times by a bear, and seemingly with two broken ankles — was able to travel at roughly the same speed as a horse-backed band of Arikara Natives?

Yes, he got a bit of help from a sympathetic Pawnee, as well as a day’s ride down the now Montana rapids. But the main reason, I consider, was that he was by himself.

It’s cited again and again in books on health and/or happiness that the #1 correlate of depression — as well as increased mortality — is social isolation. Such research is often presented in a way that suggests, you must urgently surround yourself with as many people as possible, or soon risk a heart attack as a result of chronic loneliness.

If we see someone eating on their own at a restaurant, for many of us, our reflex response would be to think, “loser”.

But there’s one variable that researchers have forgotten to measure, and that you might not be considering when seeing a lone-ranger grabbing a bite at Nando’s — and that’s crap company.

Despite having had an incredible group of friends in high school, I remember one particularly loud and obnoxious kid saying to me, “every time I see you, you’re on your own!” I’ve always been something of a ‘lone wolf’, and I suppose that this is because I am very comfortable in my own company and do not feel the need to be with other people.

In this article I argue why it’s important to be assured in your own skin, and hope to challenge your perception to say that the person on their own — whether travelling, shopping, or going to the cinema — might in fact be having the best time of anyone.

(Photo credit: Patrick Marioné)

There are people I know who simply won’t do things if they can’t find people to accompany them.

– Your favourite band is coming to town, but none of your friends want to go? Okay, I guess I can’t go then.

– You really want to go and see that new film, but everyone you know is busy? Have to wait till the weekend.

– Let’s pack our bags and travel to the other side of the world on a whim!
 … 
Oh, but why not? I really want to go and need you with me!

When I look at most groups of people, I see two things: indecision and sluggishness. But this isn’t a case just built on inefficiencies. Below the surface of group activity, there’s a lot more going on that you might not yet have considered:

– Constantly being around people can mean that when alone you feel like a fish-out-of-water and have no trust in your own judgement. I know people who need a tribunal of friends to decide on the smallest of details (where to eat, what to reply in a text message to someone they’re seeing, whether or not a winter coat looks good on them before buying), and who can’t work by themselves, needing to “collaborate” simply to flesh out a few ideas.

– In a lot of instances, when with others, you don’t make the most of the thing you’re trying to do. Oh sure, we’re going to “study together”.

You have to walk more slowly and down-time gets wasted. Where you would previously walk up an escalator, you’re now stood still, going at a crawl. When you’re on the underground or a bus, even if you’re not saying anything to the person you’re with, it would be rude to pull out a book and start reading.

– You’re on someone else’s schedule, and can be at the mercy of them not wanting to do things (or worse, being late).

– You have to put up with other people’s mess.

– We all do stupid things when we’re in groups. Compromise and dilution of responsibility can make for a cocktail that nobody wants to drink.

– You have to wait for other people to get ready.

– Groups can encourage you to bend and take on behaviours to fit in. As Benjamin Franklin wrote in his autobiography (arguing for what not to be like), “a benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself, to keep his friends in countenance”.

Alternatively, there are many benefits to doing things by yourself:

– You are in full control. You set the workout, you pick the music, you choose the time.

– When shopping (or doing any activity), you can be a sniper assassin and get in and out in minutes.

– The courage it takes to do something by yourself is rarely argued for. By doing things alone, you develop an edge to you; a steeliness in assurance that you know how to handle the task.

– It means when you are then spending time with people, you can make it quality time.

– You are solely responsible if things go badly.

– There is less of a fear of looking stupid, and in a lot of ways, you can be freer to do things.

– There is greater impetus to break out of your shell and meet new people who you otherwise wouldn’t.

***

This isn’t to say we should do everything by ourselves all the time — of course not. And a ‘comfort with oneself’ can be taken too far where it turns into reclusiveness and isolation.

There are incredible benefits to socialising and doing things with others, but, we shouldn’t always assume that groups are automatically better.

Seneca wrote on personal finances that it is not that the philosopher must have no money, it is that he must be ready to lose it. The same logic should apply to our relationships: we shouldn’t have no friends, but we should be ready to do things without them. Better yet, we should proactively seek-out opportunities to do things by ourselves in the way that Seneca suggested we practice poverty:

“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’”

If you’re not comfortable alone, you will have no standards for the company you keep, and you will be held back from doing an awful lot that you want to do in life.

Is there something that would make you feel uncomfortable to do alone? Terrified even?

Go and do that thing.

It might be small — going to the cinema, going clothes shopping, or going out one evening by yourself. Or it might be large and booking an adventure holiday by yourself.

Recognise that there are activities best done alone, make sure that the company you choose to spend your time with is worth it, and have your ‘lone wolf’ hat at the ready so life isn’t put on pause the minute your friends are busy.