Olive Von Topp
How I Began to Like Spending Time Alone
A Tale of Getting Back in Touch with My Inner Introvert
I used to like spending time alone. I know I liked playing alone as a kid (I also very much liked playing with my brothers and friends). I needed a lot of alone time as a teenager, even though I was incredibly social. I liked going on adventures alone. I even travelled alone.
And then, I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I got less and less comfortable with it. Perhaps it was because I was in a series of long-term relationships, one of which was completely unhealthy and codependent. Or because of the trauma I had experienced, I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts. Or even worse, my feelings. And so consequently, I have spent a large portion of my adult life in the company of others. Which in many ways, is great. I love spending time with people I love, obvi and can often feel rejuvenated by it. I don’t know if I’m an extroverted introvert or an introverted extrovert. Or maybe an ambivert, but let’s just say for many years my introverted side was lost. And it became harder and harder to find her.
Then enter the pandemic.
And all of a sudden many of us were forced to spend a lot of time alone (although some people were forced to spend a lot more time with people in their households). All of a sudden I was forced to slow down (which my nervous system is so, so grateful for) and forced to confront being alone. And guess what?
I actually liked it.
I get it. I am saying this from an absolute place of privilege, but my lost little introverted self was in heaven. I spent so much time doing things I liked (imagine that) alone. I read, I wrote, I exercised. I went for walks. Sure, I lived with my partner so I had a human connection, for which I am very grateful. And I actually felt pretty connected to people online through work, social media, and intentional hangs. But there was a part of myself that I had been ignoring and I felt so, so nourished in ways I hadn’t for a long time.
Huge pieces of this were because of slowing down and focusing on what was important to me. But also huge pieces were because of tending to a piece of me that needed to be tended to: my introverted self.
And I’ve been tending to her more and more ever since. Truthfully, I felt a lot of anxiety as things began opening up again. Not just because of the risk of infection, but also because of the amount of socializing and social pressures to be part of things, which I don’t think we talked about much (there has been much to discuss in the last 3 years). I was terrified of being too busy. Of going back to old ways of going and doing. And seeing people constantly. And of not having enough alone time.
So since the “reopening” of the world, I’ve actively been working on making time to spend alone and on confronting some of the challenges I encounter when spending alone time. There are times it really scares me. There are times when I feel myself falling into old patterns. But I’ve been working on it. I’ve taken a couple of trips by myself and am currently on a 2. 5 month (fingers crossed) solo trip in Central America.
Here’s a few things I have been working on to try spending more time alone (and love it):
Cultivated routines alone- especially morning
This was something I started doing before the pandemic but the pani made it a lot easier to develop “alone time” routines. The biggest and most important routine for me is my morning routine, particularly during the week.
Even though I live with someone, I am intentional about spending my mornings alone (or mostly alone). I get up, I make hot water, I do yoga, ideally, I write and or read while I drink my coffee and eat breakfast, and I do my daily social media posts (I do not look at my phone for the 1st hour of my day, which is super important and helps me greatly), I get ready for work.
This routine has become super important to me and is really valued alone time that I try to protect at any cost.
Did stuff I liked alone
Perhaps this sounds obvious, but in order to enjoy spending time alone again, it was imperative to do stuff that I liked doing- so I could remind myself that being alone can be fun, not just spent being alone with thoughts and feelings (though important too).
It was like tricking my brain- “see, remember, we like being alone. We do fun stuff alone, not just hard stuff”
Ask what I was making it mean
I think many of us don’t like spending time alone because we are making it mean something to us. That we’re unloveable. That people don’t want to spend time with us.
I think this is especially true if we are single. Spending time alone can feel really lonely, especially when we want to be sharing it with someone else. But also, it doesn’t have to mean anything about us- like we’ll never find a relationship or that spending time alone is horrible.
Pay attention to the meaning you’re attaching to spending time by yourself. Even if we would like to be spending more time with others, we can still choose to enjoy our alone time and not make it mean something about us.
Assessed what I liked about being alone
I also needed to ask myself and pay close attention to what I like about being alone.
There’s good stuff (and good stuff about spending time with people). I love the quiet. The ability to set my day (morning routine). I love the space to reflect and do whatever I want without having to consider someone else. Like eating what I want for dinner. Or when I want. Or if I get an impulse to do something, doing it. As someone who has been in long-term relationships her whole adult life, this can feel quite foreign, but I think is good exercise and can be really liberating.
Realized having someone there doesn’t always make it better- sometimes I feel more lonely
I think we often want to share experiences with people (obviously). But I noticed this desire would sometimes rob me of the experience. Yes, it would be lovely to share this sunset with someone but also, how lovely is it to experience that alone? Just me and the sun.
To not have anyone impact my experience of it. It isn’t less magical, just because no one else is there to witness it (similarly your experiences are still valid even if you don’t videotape them or put them on social media). What I also realized, is that sometimes, having certain people there took away from my experience. I was either managing their mood/reaction/needs, or I had an expectation of what it would be like if it didn’t live up to it, I would be disappointed. And sometimes people can be there physically but not really present, which just feels more lonely than being alone (there is a big difference between being lonely and being alone and I tend to feel loneliness more in the presence of other people).
That stuff I wished I could share with other people (sunsets, the stars, the waves, etc), I realized could be just as romantic on my own. Tell me writing poetry to the ocean or dancing alone under the stars isn’t romantic af. I dare you.
I don’t think romance is something you exclusively do with someone else, I think it’s being present and revelling in the magic and energy of the universe (I know, I know you spend one month in Costa Rica and this is how you talk). Sure I love doing that stuff with other people. But I also love doing it with myself. I love lighting candles and making myself a delicious meal and drinking wine alone and staring at the stars. Or buying myself flowers. Or searching for sea shells. Or whatever it is you find romantic.
Did stuff that scares me and built confidence
Doing stuff that scares me has not only helped me build confidence but has made me enjoy being alone more. I like when I can figure things out on my own or problem solve or get through a really challenging experience.
Of course, we need other people and having support in your corner is paramount. But there’s something to be said about giving yourself the chance to figure things out that you may have previously always defaulted to someone else on. It makes you feel powerful. Like you can do hard things (and you can)!
Flexed that muscle
If you hate being alone, sometimes being alone is just a muscle you gotta flex that gets easier with time. Start with small things and in small intervals, and then build the confidence (and enjoyment) to move up to the bigger, scarier stuff.
Schedule it in
This one has been big for me as the world has opened up and is not something I always excel at. I often revert to filling my schedule with social things, so I need to be intentional about actually scheduling in alone time into my planner (like really, block it out), so I can prioritize it and consequently feel recharged enough to show up to the social stuff in the ways I want to.
I’m not saying we don’t need other people or we should spend all our time alone.
Quite the opposite. I’m saying I think it’s important for all of us to be able to enjoy our own company and spend time alone. For me, this reconnecting to this part of myself has been not only extremely nourishing but also life-changing.
Like I said, it allows me to slow down, my nervous system is healing, my creativity (and yes productivity) has increased, and I’ve gained some space to begin to tackle some really tough midlife questions, or as I like to call it, my unravelling. All of which could not have been possible without spending some much-needed time alone.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s an ocean calling me to come to write it a poem.