I like to do things alone. If you know me well, you know this. I’ve been to a concert in an abandoned warehouse in Brooklyn alone. I’ve enjoyed a candlelit dinner at a restaurant in a Manhattan skyscraper alone. I’ve flown out to Joshua Tree and camped in an RV in the middle of the desert alone.
It started as a practical thing. I found myself missing out on things I wanted to do if I couldn’t find friends who were free and willing to go with me. So, rather than not do things I wanted to do, I just went alone. It was uncomfortable at first. Would people judge me? Think that I had no friends? I quickly learned that people are too absorbed in their own worlds to look twice at me. The more things I started to do by myself, the more I found myself actively seeking to do things alone.
There’s nothing pitiful about being alone. I found tremendous value in spending time by myself. There’s no pressure to make conversation if what I really want is just to be alone with my thoughts. I’m also more likely to approach new people and strike up conversations if I’m by myself. Back in August, I took the train by myself to New Canaan to see Philip Johnson’s Glass House. I learned more about mid-century modern architecture that day just from chatting with the guides than I did in my architecture classes at Yale. I’m certain those conversations wouldn’t have happened if I were with other people. Learning to love being alone, while at first uncomfortable, was ultimately incredibly rewarding.
I was so happy with myself. I thought I’d achieved complete self-sufficiency; not only did I not need other people to have fun, but I was making myself happy. I was a poster child for those cringey self-help books. I loved that my happiness and self-worth weren’t tied to other people.
All of this came to a crashing halt at the start of this school year. I moved into my apartment in New Haven two weeks before anyone else I knew had even gotten back to campus. Even after my roommate arrived, she was happily spending all her time with her boyfriend, and another close friend had recently gotten into a relationship. One by one, my friends messaged me saying that they were taking time off or enrolling remotely from home. I felt completely and utterly alone — this time, not by choice.
Before, when I’d spent time by myself, it was always by choice and I’d never felt lonely even though I was alone. Walking in the streets of New Haven by myself in August, however, I’d never felt more lonely. I would pass by JoJo’s, remember all the time my friends and I’d spend typing away at our keyboards and instantly feel a deep sadness and longing for a virus-less and mask-less past. It pained me to walk around the city because I would see these reminders of just how alone I was everywhere I went.
I texted my friend one afternoon as I passed by Arethusa, “I miss you randomly asking me to get Arethusa,” mentally kicking myself for all the times I’d said no because I was deep in Bass working on a problem set. This friend was now halfway across the country and taking a gap year. He responded, “We will get there again at some point.” I don’t want to wait for “some point.” I want to share our two scoops of almond coconut ice cream now.
Not only would I be upset that I couldn’t see the people who mattered to me the most, but I would also get mad at myself for not being able to be happy on my own. It felt like I was regressing back to my old self, the one who depended “too much” on other people for emotional fulfillment.
A dear friend said to me recently, “I trick myself into thinking I’m more of an introvert than I actually am. It feels dangerous and hard for me to admit to myself that I actually do need other people.”
I tell myself that I am perfectly content on my own, and most of the time I am. I tell myself that I don’t need or want people looking after me — that I can take care of myself. I tell myself that I never feel lonely because to admit that I sometimes do would be a weakness, a flaw in my carefully constructed I-love-self-sufficiency narrative. Oftentimes, the things we say we don’t want are the things we want the most.
We Yalies like to think of ourselves as being perpetually unfazed. That boy we really liked who just ghosted us? No big deal, onto the next one. Those friends we really cared about who are all of a sudden being unsupportive? Not a problem, we’ll find new ones. Allowing ourselves to feel sadness is admitting our vulnerability – admitting that we cared. In a way, my desire to spend so much time by myself is a defense mechanism. I know I won’t ever tire of my own company, that I’ll never be too busy for me.
But in a time where the closest I can physically get to the people I care about the most is a socially distanced dinner on Cross Campus, I’m learning that it’s okay to admit that I feel a little more lonely.
ALICE YAN is a senior in Morse College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.