Alone vs. Lonely

I consider myself an outgoing introvert.  When I’m alone in a social setting, I feel equally as comfortable striking up conversation with a nearby stranger as I feel observing the scene quietly without the security of companionship.  I genuinely look forward to spending time with groups of friends at parties, concerts, and sporting events, but I’m just as enthusiastic about retreating to the echoing solace of my empty apartment.  I’m not shy about expressing my opinions, but I prefer to have a chance to process my thoughts alone before considering whether to talk them through with someone else.  (That’s probably why I write a public blog inspired by my private thoughts.)  From my perspective, the difference between being outgoing and being extroverted is that outgoing individuals are simply confident around people, whereas extroverted folks are energized by being around people.  I’ve learned that I need time to myself to recharge so that I have enough energy to give freely to others.

Because I’m sociable, people tend to be surprised that I consider myself an introvert. Recently, someone asked me if I get lonely because I spend a lot of time alone.  I replied that I don’t, but I didn’t put much thought into why that may be.  Now that I’ve had time away from the conversation to introspect, I can better articulate the difference, at least in my mind, between being alone and being lonely.

I try not to use the terms “alone” and “lonely” interchangeably because sometimes I experience one without the other.  For instance, my favorite way to spend a rainy Sunday is inside my apartment practicing yoga in a ratty sweatshirt without uttering a word to another soul.  On the other hand, sometimes I feel lonely when I’m in a room full of people who share a belief system or set of values that goes against mine.  I’m talking about people who say things like, “leggings aren’t pants,” and “nobody cares how high you can kick,” and “the store manager will escort you out of Trader Joe’s now, ma’am”.  Being alone is more about our state of being than it is about how we think, feel, or interpret our surroundings.  Loneliness stems from our emotions, perceptions, and reactions to our surroundings.

Loneliness feels like you’re not connecting with people around you.  Being alone means you’re taking time to connect with yourself.

Loneliness is fearing the rejection of no one wanting to spend time with you.  Being alone says, “I want to hang out with me, too!”

Loneliness stems from pursuing something outside yourself to avoid feeling bored, restless, anxious, or disappointed.  Being alone stems from creating peace within yourself.

Loneliness is mourning a connection you’ve lost, or longing for one you’ve never felt before.  Being alone is cultivating space in your heart to breathe new life.

Loneliness makes you feel isolated and vulnerable, as if you are a victim of the universe.  Being alone makes you feel liberated and empowered, as if you are ready to receive every gift the universe has to offer.

Being alone isn’t something I inherently avoid, feel ashamed about, or pity.  In fact, I see it as a potential remedy for loneliness in situations where we’ve been ignoring our intuition or stifling our voices to sustain a relationship that wasn’t meant for us.  Having said all that, I recognize that being alone and being lonely aren’t mutually exclusive.  Most emotions aren’t black or white, and it’s normal to feel like we fall within some grey area of “alonely?” on any given day.  Ironically, loneliness is an experience most of us can identify with and feel connected in sharing.  So the good news is that if you are feeling lonely, you are not alone.  The better news is that if you are open to allowing yourself to be alone, you may meet a version of yourself who changes your perspective.