The importance of being alone

Long, long ago, before I got married and had children, I wondered about the lives of the adults I passed while running between class and work. They were out in the middle of the day, doing nothing. I saw them in book stores, sprawled out on armchairs immersed in comic book and poetry. They lounged around coffee shops, enjoying a nice dark roast Columbian half-caf. They languished over meals in restaurants, debating between something healthy like soup and salad or the chicken parmesan lunch special. They joked with the waitress. And they had the gall to jog, right through my neighborhood, in the middle of the day. What was the deal with these freewheeling slackers who wandered around my supermarket, reading labels off the side of cereal boxes? They looked perfectly content just being alone.

Eventually, I married and had kids, and I became one of those people you see out alone in the middle of the day. In between dropping off my kids at school, and picking them up, there's a nice gaping hole smack dab in the middle of my day. It's taken me awhile to adjust to this hole. It benefits my family more for me to be at home than work outside, and I cherish the rewards being a stay-at-home mom offers. But managing, and embracing, my alone-time has been another matter.

There's an emerging body of research which suggests that despite the fact that we are social animals, spending time alone can be good for us. Blocking off enough alone time is an important component of a well-functioning social life — if we want to get the most out of the time we spend with people, we should make sure we’re spending enough of it away from them. Just as regular exercise and healthy eating make our minds and bodies work better, so can being alone.

That said, there is an important distinction to be established between solitude and loneliness. From the outside, they look a lot alike. But loneliness is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation. Solitude is being alone without being lonely. Solitude is a means of enjoying the quiet and whatever it brings that is satisfying. It is refreshing; an opportunity to renew ourselves and replenishes us.

Being by yourself is one thing when you're at home, within the safety and privacy of your own space. But it's something else entirely when you're out in public. To sit alone in a bar or bookstore or restaurant full of people is a liberating experience. No one cares what you're thinking or wearing. No one cares that you've ordered dessert for dinner. And no one cares whether you've made a habit out of being alone, or are attempting to enjoy some solitude for the first time.

I've gotten pretty good at filling up my alone time, and I've grown to look forward to an afternoon with no one to entertain except myself. So now I present to you a list of my top five favorite things to do alone:

  1. Seeing a movie: A midday movie is not only cheap, but surprisingly joyful. Theaters are usually empty, and you don't have to share your popcorn or soda with anyone else. There's no need to make small talk while waiting for the previews to start. And if you hate the movie, and want desperately to leave before it ends, there's no one stopping you. 
  2. Drinking in a bar: There's a lovely little Irish pub near my house, with snug little booths and a fireplace and an enticing selection of bourbons. I'm not much of a drinker, but on a chilly winter evening an escape to this pub is a simple refuge. Yes, it takes courage for a woman to sit in a bar and enjoy a drink alone. But bartenders don't care.
  3. Reading in a bookstore: I love everything about bookstores - the way they smell, the easy escape a stack of books provides, the quiet hush that surrounds me and my fellow readers. Give me a stack of magazines and cup of coffee in the cafe and I'm a happy girl.
  4. Going for a walk (or run): I doubt few of us would have a problem leaving the house for a walk around the neighborhood. But have you ever done so without listening to music, or talking on your phone, or checking for texts every few minutes? I'm always surprised by the little things I notice when I'm out for a walk with just my thoughts for companionship.
  5. Thifting: I love thrifting, period, whether with friends or on my own. But there's a certain amount of pleasure in wandering around a thrift store by myself. The act of thrifting lends itself to leisurely browsing and daydreams about how items ended up getting donated and who owned them previously.
Now I ask you: Do you enjoy spending time alone? What are some favorite things you enjoy doing by yourself? Have you ever found it challenging to enjoy alone time?


  1. About a year ago, right around this time of year, my boyfriend had a Christmas dinner with his co-workers (employees only). I was to be the designated driver. After I dropped him off at the restaurant I didn't feel like going home. Instead I went to a very chic lounge bar and ordered a glass of wine and some tapas.
    The waitress was about my age and was visibly shocked over the fact that I was dining alone and seemed very content. She even asked me if I felt uncomfortable being out alone. Until I read your post, I had completely forgotten about this incident.

  2. I'm a confirmed loner!

    I do my best thinking when alone and exercising. Lately, I've been running/rowing/lifting with an audio book and find I miss that reflective time. Instead, I find my real "alone" time at swim practice. There is a little chatting between sets, but once my head is underwater, it's just me and my thoughts. I am sometimes so engrossed in thinking that I forget to stop after the specified yeardage!

  3. I think enjoying being alone is really important for everyone. Dining alone (no book or ipad!) in an actual sit down restaurant is something everyone should do. Feeling comfortable on your own and entertaining yourself, in my opinion, is something everyone needs to master.

    Personally, I enjoy so many things on my own. I love running early in the morning with nothing but my thoughts. I love movies alone. I love shopping alone. I love quite evenings at home alone. I love people watching anywhere alone. I would love to take a vacation all by myself. That would be the ultimate alone time! Some might disagree, but I think enjoying being alone makes you appreciate time with others much more.

  4. I've seen a movie alone before. It was 11:00 in the morning and I needed to kill some time so I saw The Queen and ate a movie theater hot dog for lunch. I also eat out alone a lot, usually lunch. And I shop alone. Can't seem to get my husband to go to Old Navy with me. :)

  5. I've thought about these things so often. I am generally a loner, just me and my book. I don't usually venture to restaurants or bars alone but I love a good solo spree at my local thrift stores, book store, or cafe. I love it so much, but with a M-F/ 9-6 job, I very seldom get to enjoy alone-ness. You're lucky to have that, being a stay-at-home mom in NYC is basically unheard of unless your hubby is stupid rich. Haha. As per usual, I have to tell you how much you enjoy your writing. :)

    -Aly @

  6. I love being alone, and have a fair amount of time in solitude! My husband and I fully recognize the importance of personal space and try to give it to each other often.

    I also love eating out alone! Of course, I like to read and eat. :-)

    Great post, Elissa!


  7. Oh I just love this: "Solitude is being alone without being lonely."

    I definitely enjoy solitude. I grew up an only child with a single mother who for several years was out of town three days a week... so I am comfortable being alone without feeling lonely. I love going to a coffee shop and catching up on blogs or reading on my kindle or flipping through a magazine.

    Thrifting by myself always feels so indulgent! I get to spend as much time as I want going through all the racks and trying stuff on and debating... and no one is rushing me. I also enjoy going to movies by myself, though it doesn't happen too often.

    My favorite evening alone recently involved watching a movie on my computer from my bubbly bathtub with a dinner made up of edamame, dry italian salami, spicy hummus, and multigrain chips. And a glass of wine.

  8. I feel I've actually gotten a big too good and comfortable being alone. I like it a lot and I spend a lot of time behind my computer. My challenge for now is actually to get out more, get my exercize done and socialize!

  9. I've always been a bit of a loner-lover of solitude. When I graduated from college my uncle gifted me his frequent flier miles to visit him (&family) in Belgium after my first year of teaching was done. I spent 20 days using their house as my home base, backpacking Europe...alone. I slept on trains alone. Met new people in youth hostels on my own. Dined out in Paris alone. Rode the canals in Venice alone. Wandered Florence alone. I treasure the memories of that trip and the things I learned about myself those days. I love to travel alone now. When I go on my annual counselor's conference I make a point to get off on my own to a bar, a restaurant, or some local haunt and soak up the atmosphere. You see more when others are not there to distract you:).

  10. My husband and I both need a fair amount of alone time. We both work in very social environments, me in retail and he is a counselor so a respite from that is quite nice.

  11. I thought you would include blogging as well :)

    As to the bar, I wish I had a neighborhood bar - you know, like in Cheers. This whole post fits my thoughts recently - we are planning a family and often think if I would work or not. If not, what would I do.

    Anyways, enjoy your "me time".


  12. I love being alone and just browsing around places! I actually need to make an effort to do these things with people rather than just doing them by myself.

  13. i'm always hanging out alone. this is especially so with all the activities you mentioned....except the bar. haven't gathered the courage to do that yet...maybe next year.

  14. I LOVE being alone. After a super hard day at work I go to this teeny bar also with a fire place and have a good drink w/ good vodka just for me.

  15. I live alone and love it! I'm definitely someone who needs their alone time. I've seen movies alone and my friends have gasped "oh the horror!" It's not that scary people. I'm glad you are independent. I feel like people get into a bad habit of losing themselves in relationships. I think it's important to find some balance between your independent life and your couples life.

  16. I recently realized that I panic at the prospect of being alone. That's why I planned to spend this whole weekend all by myself, to get over that.


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