How to learn how to be alone can be happy and not lonely
You know who should be your most important Valentine? Yourself. With My Own Valentine, we’re sharing self-love essays, self-love products, and ideas on how to love yourself more—regardless of relationship status. your relationship.
When I was 6 years old, I loved having my own wedding. I would wear a white children’s princess dress and walk myself down an imaginary aisle in front of my fake groom and the guests. As the only child of a busy single mother making a living, I am used to entertaining myself and I love to dream of one day celebrating my love as my other half. a couple. I don’t mind being alone at the time because it’s always temporary; Mom always comes home. But when I was 22, she suddenly passed away and being alone was no longer a miracle.
When I was 8 years old, my mother had a brain aneurysm that left her partially paralyzed. She became my life purpose, with her daily routine being an important part of me. Every decision I made—whether small, like going out with friends, or majoring, like choosing which college to attend—had her safety in mind. After her death, every day I felt like an abyss with empty minutes that I didn’t know how to fill. I’ve been a caregiver for so long and I never learned to put myself first. I couldn’t understand how I could dedicate my life to anyone else – including myself.
My immediate reaction to my mother’s passing was to fill the void with romantic relationships. That’s Something Psychotherapist Meghan Riordan Jarvis, MA, LCSW, podcast host Grief is my side hustle, speaking is a common response to loss; Called reaction formation in the field of psychology, she says, is “the desire to replace one attachment with another strong attachment.” However, after trying to rekindle two old fires that only ended in smoke, I stopped looking for relationships – both romantic and platonic – and focused my full attention on her career. me. I convinced myself that I didn’t need anyone—as a defense mechanism or anything else.
Being alone has become a memory of loneliness
The focus on self-sufficiency is another response that Jarvis says is common among bereaved bereavements. She says the chorus in your head might be, “I love that person, that person is dead, and now this is the worst thing I’ve ever felt in my life,” she says. “There’s a part of your brain that says ‘Make sure that doesn’t happen again.’ Whether by avoiding another attachment or relying on self-sufficiency, it is protecting you from disappointment.”
I was able to mentally reframe not having any immediate family or partner to be something positive — I no longer felt like a victim of my life but a self-determined people make choices for themselves.
Yes, I’m afraid of being alone forever, but I’m afraid of falling in love and losing again. Now, at the age of 30—after eight years without a mother or a lover—I am no longer afraid or ashamed of my loneliness. I was able to mentally reframe not having any immediate family or partner to be something positive — I no longer felt like a victim of my life but a self-determined people make choices for themselves.
My approach to relationships has shifted from avoidant to intentional; Instead of building walls in a reactive way, I proactively set boundaries. Now, I prioritize my relationships for myself, not as a defense mechanism, but because I see the freedom of being single, living alone, and without a direct family to care for. It allows me to live life on my own terms — in a way that I enjoy and not to match anyone’s.
“If you think of the concept of being alone as an opportunity to learn about one’s own needs, wants, and desires, it’s phenomenal,” says Jarvis. I really now feel most comfortable in my own company. When I’m around other people, I’m preoccupied with their presence. Anything else in front of me—whether a scenic hike or a delicious meal—becomes secondary to meeting the needs of the person I’m traveling with.
That’s why I consider making a dinner reservation for one person as my ideal scenario. I can taste my food more mindfully because I’m not distracted by the conversation. A solo trip? Even better; that means I don’t have to arrange my itinerary according to other people’s wants or needs. I am also energized to look back on all the adventures I’ve had on my solo trips—trips that I won’t change despite the widely accepted story that Being alone means being the recipient of pity.
Being alone and being alone are really not the same thing
“When people say ‘you’re not alone,’ it’s a painful lie—I’m alone and it’s okay if I’m alone,” says Jarvis. “There are so many things in life that we exist alone. People think it’s bad to be alone, but it’s just To be.”
Loneliness and being alone are not fundamentally the same. And obviously, loneliness is not something I want or feel all the time. “Loneliness is a person longing for a feeling they once had, for example, with someone who is dead, or longing for something they imagine exists, like the ones they see in the books,” says Jarvis. romantic comedy. Suffering doesn’t come from being alone, she adds, but from wanting things to be different than they are now.
Suffering doesn’t come from being alone, but from wanting things to be different than they are now.
Valentine’s Day is an example of a time when I tend to feel lonely. Every year, I look forward to the moment when my mother and I become each other’s valentines, exchanging love cards and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. But then I remembered that even while she was alive, I still longed for a romantic partner on Valentine’s Day; I would surf social media, envious of couples who post pictures of each other with loving captions. Back then, I wasn’t alone, but I was still alone. It is possible to be lonely when you are not alone, and also – as I have known before – to be alone without being lonely.
“Having people around you doesn’t help you from feeling lonely, because it’s not the presence of people,” says Jarvis. “It’s about feeling connected that makes you human in a particular way.” It can be helpful to identify what type of connection — intellectual, spiritual, or romantic, for example — energizes you, she says, but it’s more important that you cultivate a strong relationship. with myself. Doing so allows us to better understand what fills our cups. “If you know what your needs are, you’ll be better able to meet them,” says Jarvis.
However, I believe that my relationship with myself is the most important one I have ever had. Learning to identify my own wants and needs after years of putting my mother first has strengthened my sense of self.
I’m still learning how to allow myself to fully enjoy the joy of being alone. The joy of not having to take care of anyone but myself was accompanied by guilt knowing that my mother had to die in order for me to experience this freedom. But I’ve learned to hold two truths in one hand: It’s scary and complicated to be alone, and that’s great, too.
I have all this space to discover what I really want and the autonomy to be able to define my life my way. There’s still that little girl in me that longs to be loved, but the difference is that now, instead of looking for that love from outside sources, I’m looking for it from within. I see now that there isn’t necessarily just one version of fairy tale life—being alone can be both satisfying and magical.