How to be Okay with Being Alone, or Metrics for Emotional Wellness

I’ve heard a few different but similar assertions about what I should be doing with my life right now. I’m sure I’ll misquote the ones that I don’t forget to mention. Here are some of them:

(1) “Before you can be happy with someone, you have to learn to be happy alone.”

(2) “You need to take the time to focus on and learn about you before you get involved in a serious relationship.”

(3) “What you need right now is connection to other people.” (4) “You should start dating — it will really help you move on to the next phase.”

There have been plenty of other suggestions, all good, all sincere. I think these four cover most of the sentiments that have been expressed though. Even the casual reader will notice the contradiction between these. If the advice had come from just plain old people, I wouldn’t be too worried. Plain-old-people (a.k.a. not my people) say a lot of things. This advice comes from my people. Well, my people, I have some concerns.

A nerd, an introvert, a tinkerer, a person who likes being in his own head, I’ve spent a lifetime fighting the impulse to be alone. If there was a battle to win, I would say I had won it. I might even say I’ve won it so hard that I don’t even like being alone any more. Of course I’m still an introvert, and as such I will always need my recharging time, but it’s no longer the goal.

One of the obvious apparent contradictions in the statements above is that I need to be happy alone, and that I need connection to other people. Maybe it’s implied in the (1) that I need to be happy romantically alone. Lets say that’s the case. For my own benefit, lets rewite:

(1) “Before you can be happy with someone, you have to learn to be happy romantically alone.”

It follows that I need to establish connections to people, but that these should not be romantic connections.

Before I get too far down that road, I’m still struggling a bit with (1). I’ve been separated from my ex-wife since January 18. As of October 4th, that’s 261 days of being alone physically. It would not be hard to make the case that I had been romantically alone for quite some time before that, but I don’t suspect it matters. Lets say that I had figured out how to be happy without a romantic partner/interest. How would I know? Would I know because I no longer felt a desire for romance? I have a hard time accepting that because I would consider the lack of desire a failure on a whole other level. If we assume the desire for romantic connection is healthy, I don’t know how to measure when I have learned to be “happy alone”.

Is believing that you’re fairly self-aware a sign of a lack of self-awareness? I feel like there’s an implication in (2) that I failed at my marriage because I didn’t know me well enough. I’m confident that no one would state that outright, perhaps they wouldn’t even believe it to be the case. If I challenge the statement, though, I can’t see any other justification. Does this statement mean that I’m not ready for a serious relationship because I’m broken beyond some threshold, and focusing on and learning about myself with fix that? I’ve been an introvert my whole life, so I’ve spent a lot of time and energy learning about and focusing on myself. This didn’t change with the divorce. I want to understand how this applies to me.

Well I’m working on this one. Are there implicit qualifications about what a “connection” is? Here are some examples of connections. Which ones count?

  • I ordered dinner at a drive-through. When I picked it up at the window, I looked a person in the eyes and said thank you.
  • I wrote this blog and you read it.
  • I worked from home and chatted on slack with quite a few people — maybe 15?
  • I worked from home and was in video conferences with about 6 different people.
  • I went swimming and a person was swimming next to me. We made eye contact.
  • I played my piano and streamed it live to the internet. 5 or 6 people watched.
  • I played my piano and recorded it. A lot more people watched.
  • I played my piano and thought about if I was keeping my neighbor awake.
  • I chatted with friends online.
  • I commented on and made posts on facebook.
  • I played a game with some people I don’t know.
  • I played some games with people I know.
  • I froze with my kids while we watched Annie in the amphitheater at SLCC
  • I had dinner with my parents, sisters and kids.

The list is longer than this, but how do I know when it’s enough?

I don’t mean to come off argumentative. I strongly suspect that of the assertions made to me somewhere between 0 and 4 of them are at least a little bit true and relevant. I want a dashboard where I can see the things I should be working on and what my current status is.

That reminds me of another piece of advice I keep hearing:

(5) Don’t over-analyze everything to death. Wing it!

On that note, I’m out.


Originally published at blog.dunninteractive.com on October 5, 2016.

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