When I was much younger, say between the ages of five and 14, I used to feel sorry for people I saw dining alone in cafes and restaurants. I’d especially feel sorry if they had a book, as I thought their reading was some sort of cover up for not having friends. (I also used to fake a limp when I walked past physically disabled persons, as I felt guilty for being able to walk perfectly. I regret ever having done this, but perhaps my owning up to it here is some sort of atonement.)
Now, years down the track, I’m the person sitting in cafes alone. But please don’t feel sorry for me – I do it by choice. You see, I’m lucky to be loved by many, and to love many in this world. If I needed company – which I often do – there is a spilling handful of wonderful people who would come running. But sometimes, I need time to myself. Every so often, when I have an hour or so free, I’ll go to my favourite cafe, sit alone, and treasure every minute of selfish solitude. Does it make me an ungrateful friend to admit that sometimes, these moments alone are the best part of my day?
As I’ve grown older, I’ve realised there is a big difference between being alone, and being lonely. Loneliness is sad, something we’re all bound to experience whether for short moments or long ones. But being alone, and enjoying it, is something entirely different; something we should all make time for, something we should treasure, something we should absolutely not feel sorry about. We spend our entire lives conversing, arguing, debating, exclaiming, shouting, discussing, stating, saying things to people – we owe it to ourselves to spend some time in silence.
I’ll admit, it takes a certain kind of confidence to do something alone. Once upon a time, I’d never have done it for embarrassment of people thinking I didn’t have friends. But as years have passed and I’ve hopefully developed some maturity, I care less about what people think. I’m happy to do something for me. And if I walk past someone who’s sitting alone, I respect and appreciate their chosen moment of solitude. Of course some of these people might be lonely, but I no longer jump to the conclusion that lonely are the majority.