I Finally Learned To Love Living Alone. Then Lockdown Happened

Coronavirus made me realise how much I still need quality time with those I love to enjoy my solitude.
Courtesy of the author
HuffPost UK
Courtesy of the author

Last year, I coined the word ‘alonement’ to describe the feeling when alone time is joyful and restorative – think the opposite to loneliness.

Freshly single after ending the relationship I’d assumed would be my ‘happily ever after’, I was living alone for the first time – during a period where friends were moving in with their partners. And I couldn’t spend even an hour in my own company.

Although an extrovert, living in, overwhelmingly, an extrovert’s world, I realised how much my fear of being alone had influenced my life to date: the places I hadn’t visited, the cinema screenings I’d missed, the relationships I’d stayed in long beyond their sell-by date, and the self-knowledge I sorely lacked. As I nursed a broken heart, I was grateful that I could rely on close friends and family as a crutch – but I realised my relationship with myself needed work, too. Creating a new vocabulary around being alone was a way to thrive – not just survive – in this newfound situation.

It took time, but eventually I learned to lean in to alonement. Valuing alonement never meant ‘the more alone time the better’. A solo Saturday breakfast would be made infinitely sweeter because I was giddy with excitement to host friends for a cheese night later on. Treating solitude as ‘quality’ time transformed lonely nights scrolling Hinge into blissful evenings spent cooking spaghetti alle vongole and watching the trashiest of rom-coms. Alonement gave me the white space to work out who I am: everything from how I like to spend weekends, to what makes me feel calm and grounded at home.

“Lockdown, spent living alone, has shattered this newfound balance... As it transpires, three months without a hug is a long time.”

The process was empowering. It was a decision to choose myself over the hollow things: the flings that weren’t going anywhere, the friend of a friend’s party a 75-minute bus ride away, the ‘catch-up coffees’ with acquaintances whom I had nothing in common with. Valuing alonement gave me the bargaining chips to negotiate with: how would this situation compare to spending time alone? I’ve since launched the Alonement blog and a podcast of the same name, to help others celebrate and value their own solitude.

But lockdown, spent living alone, has shattered this newfound balance. Physical socialising was restricted, working from home became the uncomfortable new normal. And, as it transpires, three months without a hug is a long time.

When lockdown began, initially for a three-week period, I thought I’d be fine by myself. While this has mostly held true, there have been days – even weeks – where I’ve often found myself leaning emotionally on my close friends and family, rather than gaining strength through time alone. After quarantining with mild Covid symptoms, a virtual glass of red with a friend over Zoom made me feel the most ‘myself’ I had all week. I felt intensely grateful for each lockdown update that allowed for more social contact: meeting a friend for a socially-distanced walk in Regent’s Park, eating dinner in my parents’ garden, and more recently support-bubbling with a friend and her fiance.

“As life (tentatively) returns to normal, as pubs, cafes, restaurants and cinemas reopen, I’m excited to take the ‘edge’ off my solitude.”

While I’ve kept up the Saturday morning ritual of treating myself to a fancy breakfast (just ordered from Deliveroo rather than my beloved local cafe) and reading The Times, solitude has proved harder to value having spent most of the week by myself, anyway. I’ve also realised that my ‘solo’ lifestyle isn’t confined to my flat but also the public spaces nearby – the gym, the local Odeon, the cafe down the road – where I enjoy the lively buzz of strangers. These places aren’t just functional but an extension of my living space – somewhere to go other than my small flat.

In short: like so many others living alone in lockdown, I have struggled. But that’s okay. Almost everyone, in every living situation, has felt challenged by this time. What’s testament to the ‘rightness’ of my lifestyle is that I can’t imagine having spent the past three months in any other set-up.

It did, however, teach me a valuable lesson. I spent over a year learning that my extroverted lifestyle needed to be balanced with time alone; as the old proverb goes, hunger is the best sauce. Over lockdown, I’ve realised just how much the opposite is also true; that solitude loses its value if it’s not underpinned by social connectedness.

As life (tentatively) returns to normal, as pubs, cafes, restaurants and cinemas reopen, I’m excited to take the ‘edge’ off my solitude by spending more quality time with those I love, and to bring that all-important balance back to my life.

Francesca Specter is a writer, editor and founder of Alonement. Follow her on Twitter at @chezspecter

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