Party of One: aka How to be Okay with Being a Total Loner

Today, someone else’s blog post title jumped out at me: HOW TO GET OVER LONELINESS. I scanned through it, and quickly saw that it contained all the usual advice. Join groups! Know and love yourself! Talk to people!

It’s well-meaning advice. It really is. I’ve read dozens of other blogs and articles (not to mention self-help books, and studies, and news reports, and podcasts…) that gave very similar, well-meaning advice. But it doesn’t work for everyone. I have joined a number of groups and attended regularly for years. I engage in small talk at groups and at work. And I love myself and know myself so well, that i can genuinely say that if I were someone else, I would love to be best friends with me. I’m kind and cool and funny and smart and genuine and totally into accepting people and mutual respect and stuff.

But I am alone.

Okay, not 100% alone. I have three kids, ages almost 15 through 19. But they’re kids/young adults with their own lives and interests. I’m just the mom. As they grow and venture off into jobs and college, I find myself with more and more free time to myself.

Anyway, I already decided some time ago that I am done trying to make friends or seek intimate relationships, whether platonic or romantic. It’s really not worth the emotional turmoil, anxiety, or suffering when someone I’ve grown fond of and attached to decides that they are bored with me and disappear from my life. That has been the inevitable ending, no matter how much I give, no matter how caring, or generous, or open, I am, no matter how un-clingy I am, no matter what I say or do or don’t say or don’t do. So, fuck it. Who needs it?

I have learned that being a total loner can be pretty fulfilling in a number of ways. It certainly doesn’t have to suck to not have friends or relationships. In fact, there are quite a few positive benefits from doing your own thing:

  1. You can almost always find good seats at the movies, at concerts, at live sporting events, and plays. It’s amazing how many single seats there are scattered around arenas and theaters. Last minute great tickets? Yes, please!
  2. You get seated faster at restaurants. It’s much easier for hosts to seat a single person at a table for one than to seat a group. And the extra bonus? You can read a book while eating, and it’s not even rude.
  3. Your cell phone rarely interrupts you with phone calls or text messages. In fact, hardly anyone sends you text messages or responds to yours. You could probably cancel your cell phone service, and you wouldn’t miss anything important.
  4. You can schedule your free time however you want. Feel like working out at 5am some days, but 5pm other days? Want to be impulsive and take a day trip to the seashore, or cancel plans to attend one of those group Meetup events you signed up for? No problem! Your time is yours, and you can do whatever you feel like doing without disappointing or inconveniencing anyone else.
  5. You can take long runs while listening to your favorite music, or take long walks while listening to great audiobooks. No need to try and hold conversations while panting for breath.
  6. You can Netflix-binge all you want, and you don’t even have to wait for other people to be ready before going to the next episode.
  7. You never have to be afraid that someone you care about will be cruel to you, or be secretly annoyed and wish you’d just go away, or will leave you. You can wake up every day knowing that you are fully loved and accepted by someone who will always be there for you — yourself.
  8. You can be fairly confident that your ideas and opinions are truly your own, as you are less likely to be influenced by groupthink.

Fewer social obligations means more free time to explore hobbies, workout, discover interesting new places around town, find new music and books, meditate, try out recipes, sleep…Of course, being a total loner can suck sometimes. Especially when you have exciting news to share, or crave human connection — another person’s opinion, or perspective, or fist bump when your favorite team just scored a goal. Even the most dedicated loner can occasionally get lonely, with no one to turn to. When that happens, I look for healthy outlets, like Twitter or blogging, or I escape through exercising or storywriting or playing The Sims.

Of course, being a total loner can suck sometimes. Especially when you have exciting news to share, or crave human connection — another person’s opinion, or perspective, or fist bump when your favorite team just scored a goal. Even the most dedicated loner can occasionally get lonely, with no one to turn to. When that happens, I look for healthy outlets, like Twitter or blogging, or I escape through exercising or storywriting or playing The Sims.

Being part of an intimate relationship or group can suck, too. Honestly, I’ll take the sting of loneliness over the anxiety of wondering if today is the day that the axe will drop, and your friend or romantic partner will abandon you, and the never-ending pain that you’re left with afterward. In fact, I’m starting to forget what exactly was so good about having a friend or a boyfriend. Those good memories have been almost entirely swallowed up by the suffering of after.

I choose to continue focusing on that which is within my control. Being a loner means complete freedom to be oneself, to pursue one’s own goals, to be free of meaningful criticism of one’s life choices, freedom to choose, rather than the prison of being subject to the choices of another person.

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Bend, Don’t Break (aka: Flexibility)

Every athlete knows the importance of stretching. During training or before the big game, you have to take the time to do slow, gentle stretches. You do it to stay flexible. You do it to avoid injury. A tight, rigid muscle is a muscle that may tear.

It’s a pretty natural concept. You see it all the time in nature, too. A palm tree’s flexible trunk can sway with strong winds and stay intact. But put a rigid oak tree in its place, and the same wind storm may snap its branches, or uproot it from the ground.

Palm trees bending in the windBroken oak treeFlexible bends. Rigid breaks.

Really, we can apply the need to be flexible to nearly every part of life. In our careers, for example, it’s important to keep learning, keep pushing ourselves to grow and to expand our skills. The jobs we do today may change in the future. Our ability to perform our jobs may change, too. But if we stay flexible, if we keep our minds open to how we may best adapt when changes come, then we will be more prepared to handle it.

Switch directions

Years ago, I used to be a public school teacher of young children. But then, changes came. I outgrew the work I was doing. I also outgrew the paltry salary it paid. And state budget reductions caused my job, along with many others in my field, to be slashed. I was jobless. I was also overqualified for similar, even lower-paying teaching jobs in the private sector.

Luckily, I was flexible. I had a backup plan — a career field I had been thinking of switching to for years. In my mid 30s, with no work experience in that field, I went back to school, got an internship, and made the jump. Today, I am established in a career that I adore, doing things that challenge and stretch me, and earning a decent salary, too.

Being flexible means being willing to change direction, and considering a new plan when the old plan fails. Your oven breaks just before you’re due to cook Thanksgiving dinner? Fine. You buy a catered meal this year. Or borrow a neighbor’s oven. Or take the family out to a restaurant. Bend, don’t break. Rain interrupts the holiday barbecue plans? Bring it indoors. Turn it into a board game or sports-viewing party. Pull together a taco bar instead of grilled burgers. Bend, don’t break.

Flat eartg

Of course, it’s not possible to be flexible in all things. While it’s healthy to keep our minds open to other possibilities in many things, it’s just as healthy to stand firm in our convictions in some things. Believe in God or don’t believe in God. Feel strongly about your political views. Fight for causes you know inside to be right and just. However, if you just learned that the earth is actually a globe, and that science has proven it in many different ways, you may just want to reconsider your uh…worldview. While you could choose to hang on to those old beliefs you grew up with about the earth being flat, why would you when evidence to the contrary is staring you right in the face? Not all beliefs are worth breaking for. Just saying.

Stay flexible, peeps.

Small Boat for One (a poem)

Small Boat for One

So you want to be a passenger

on this small boat made for one?

I will raise the sails

hand you a glass

a toast – to us!

Look out toward calm blue seas

and warm, golden sun


But this boat was made for one

and I know how it ends

how it always, always ends


If I lift the anchor

let the breeze carry us too far

you will feel the cramp and quiet

wish for a crew with verve and polish

who talk more and think less

(or think more and talk less, I’m never quite sure)

Then a yacht will float past

bigger and shinier

and you, starry eyed, will hail the captain

abandon ship

sail away into the sunset

I may return to shore

or swim, or sink alone

no matter

for who looks back at a small boat made for one?


You want to be a passenger

so you say

Well I have no more tickets to give away

so let’s skip the tragic ending

my sails stay lowered

anchor dropped

saltwater eyes stinging

turned away from you

journey ended before it begins

this boat only has room for one

We all Deserve (aka: Movies are for Everyone)

Around a week ago, I jumped on the bandwagon and purchased a ticket to see Avengers: Endgame. Not just any ticket, either. Since I was going to see the highly anticipated movie by myself, I decided to splurge and see the movie in 3D XD. The ultimate film-going experience, with a giant screen and unbeatable surround sound. The price? $19 per seat.

I know. Way too much money. But it was my Solo Date Night. I wanted to have fun luxury-style, with cushy leather reclining seats, extra butter topping on my popcorn, and a frosty-cold cup of Blue Moon beer with a twist of orange. (Because that’s how we do cinema in my neck of the woods).

As the previews were beginning, I was vaguely aware of a trio of people taking their seats just to the left of me. They were a little talkative, but hey, it was only the previews. So I munched my popcorn and settled in, waiting for the movie to begin. Soon enough, the lights went down, and our feature film began.

Somewhere to my left, someone’s voice cut into the silence of the theater. I ignored it. But just as I was getting absorbed by what was happening on the screen, the person to my left began to talk again. And again. This continued throughout the first half hour or so of the movie. I am a patient person. Very patient. But I was beginning to grit my teeth a little. I mean, come on. $19 tickets, people! Don’t we all deserve to relax and enjoy a good movie without one person messing it up by talking through the film?

At first, I tried an innocuous little shh! Usually, that’s all it takes for people to get the hint and clam up. (Although once, the shh approach escalated the situation, and I found myself sitting next to a hostile noisy person who was apparently offended that I was offended by her rudeness). The shh was ineffective. My neighbor continued to chatter. At last, now quite distracted from what was happening on the screen, I whispered to the person to my immediate left, “Can you please ask your friend to quiet down?”

The woman responded with, “He’s autistic.”

Ugh. I immediately felt like the worst person in the world.

Here I was, so focused on my feelings of irritation, and my own sense of what I deserved. But for people with autism, many things, even sounds or lights or touch — things that wouldn’t bother many of us, can cause just as much irritation to them as the sound of one person’s voice in a movie theater was causing me. In fact, for some people with autism, their reactions to such stimuli can be pretty intense.

And deserving? Sure, for $19, I deserved to be relax and be entertained by a good show for a couple of hours. But then, so did the people to my left, including the patron with autism. So do people in wheelchairs. So do families who care for people with autism and other disabilities. We all deserve a break from reality, and movie theaters (and restaurants, and other public places) should not be exclusive spots where only certain people get to spend their recreational time.

Funny how easy it was to tune out the talking and enjoy the movie once I adjusted my attitude about it. The movies should be a place for all of us to sit back, enjoy our buttery popcorn and beer, and slip into a world of fantasy, if only for a couple of hours.

Pluck! Pluck! (aka: Swimming Against the Current)

While shopping at the mall, I came across a gorgeous bracelet, strung with polished stones in varying hues of grays, blue-grays, and green-grays.

“That is so you,” my daughter said. “You have to buy it.”

Ten minutes later, the bracelet was paid for and dangling from my wrist. It really was a perfect piece of jewelry for me, because more than half of my wardrobe is gray. Gray sweaters. Gray dresses. Gray flats and tights and t-shirts. I even own a gray overcoat and a gray faux-leather jacket. Such a smooth, sophisticated color. Neutral enough to be a blank palette, but far cooler than beige, and softer than black. Ambiguous. A mystery.

My love of all things gray doesn’t end there. I find comfort in gray, cloudy skies. Our living room furniture is mostly gray. My car is gray. In fact, I even identify as a heteromantic graysexual, or gray-asexual.

Which is what makes this little problem so ironic.

Sometime during the past several years, a tiny sprig of gray appeared among my off-black locks of hair. When I first discovered it, my heart sank. Oh my god. Here it is. The first official sign that summer has come to an end.

But then, I plucked it out, and all was right with the world again.

A year later, the sprig had multiplied. I had two — count them — two strands of gray hair. Pluck and pluck.

Now, at the age of 43, I have counted as many as six tiny sprigs of gray among my curls. Possibly more, hidden in the back. This has officially become an invasion. A takeover. I can still pluck the little suckers, but they come back with friends. And they’re so unruly! Not at all as well-behaved as my other soft, springy curls. The little gray punks like to poke out from my head in unpredictable directions, making their appearance super obvious.

It’s silly and vain of me to care so much, I know.

I’m middle-aged. The appearance of crepey skin and gray hair is perfectly normal. Although I’ve often been told that I look quite young for my age, I couldn’t expect that to last forever. The other silly thing is that gray hair on other people doesn’t bother me in the least. Never do I look at another person’s salt and pepper tresses and feel the temptation to start plucking. So why does the appearance of gray in my own hair freak me out so much?

Maybe because it is a reminder of my own mortality. Youth is not eternal. Life does not last forever. Like a tree, we blossom, then bear fruit, and then the leaves, like our hair, begins to change color. And we all know what that means.

Winter is coming.

Unlike a tree, we don’t lose our leaves and vibrancy only to have them return again, green and new, in the spring. For us, once the lively browns and blacks and reds and yellows that graced our heads throughout our lifetimes have faded, that’s it. They’re gone. Nature’s not going to give us brand-new hair.

Something about knowing that something good is only going to be in my life for a limited time makes me want to savor it. Capture it. Hold onto it for as long as possible. Change is inevitable, of course. Nothing lasts forever (except maybe the diamonds in my old wedding ring, which still sits around, useless, in a box somewhere). But if that means I have to always go with the flow, to accept it as it comes, to age gracefully, then I have one thing to say.

Screw that.

I think that Dylan Thomas said it best:

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I will not accept that beauty is chained to youthful age. I refuse to lie back and float along with the current that will eventually dump us each into the sea. I will not go gentle into that good night. Instead, I plan to keep struggling, keep swimming hard against the current until my body is too old and too sick and too tired to take another stroke.

Last week, my cousin died of breast cancer. She and I were around the same age. Both single moms, though her children are mostly younger than mine. Since our teen years, she was the cousin I went to get my “hair did.” Thanks to her skill and deft fingers, I went through hair phases of long, braided extensions and sleek, straight, flat-ironed styles. When I wanted to try a new color, I sat in her salon chair, and we gabbed about family members, raising children, and TV shows as she worked her magic, transforming my ordinary black hair into a honey-streaked marvel. She snipped and shampooed and braided and styled so many women, and made so many of us feel beautiful.

Cancer robbed my cousin of her own hair, her beauty, her youth, her life. Far too soon. If not for cancer, I’m sure that she would have continued to help women in our struggle to look and feel our loveliest, no matter our age. Gray hair? Why settle for bland, unruly gray hair? Why not dye it auburn, raven, or gold? Why not curl it or straighten it or try something new? Why not try new makeups that decrease our wrinkles or bring out the shade of our eyes, or wear clothes that make us feel sexy, or cute, or strong, or alive? Why should we settle for frumpy, dumpy, and bland, just because we’ve arrived in middle age?

I love the color gray. But I do not love the gray hairs reminding me of the end we must each face. So I reject the idea that fighting them is vain or silly. Instead, I choose to make myself look as young and alive on the outside as I feel on the inside. If my cousin were still here, I would ask her to highlight my hair to hide the gray intruders. Hair dye — such a fun and simple way of raging against the dying of the light. I wonder how I’d look as a blonde?

Apples to Apples (aka: Dealing with Unpleasant People)

Do you ever find yourself in situations where you have to get along with an unpleasant person?

Believe it or not, in real life, I usually get along pretty well with most people. Whether or not we share the same background, or socioeconomic class, or culture, I can usually find common ground and hold a decent conversation with them. The trick, I think, is understanding. When I make it a point to try to understand the person I’m speaking with, it paves the way for positive interaction.

Usually.

Today, I had an unfortunate encounter with an unpleasant person.

No wait. Let me reword that. Today, I had an unpleasant encounter with a person. Because we are all people, and our bad moments do not necessarily make us bad people.

I went to a Meetup event, which I do from time to time, or else I would have zero social life (other than kids and water cooler chats with coworkers). This particular meetup event was for the purpose of speaking Spanish with other Spanish-language learners and native speakers. These events are often low-key — a couple of hours of exchanging polite, informal conversation with people of all ages, walks of life, and levels of Spanish.

For most of that time, I chatted with a group of three other people. We sipped coffee and tea and talked about all sorts of topics — pets, travel, work, music, even politics. We didn’t always agree, or share much in common, but we were able to enjoy one another’s company while helping each other to fill in that occasional Spanish word or phrase that eluded us.

That was the pleasant part.

However, after the others left, I turned toward the two remaining speakers, who had been engaged in their own conversation. It didn’t take long, however, before I noticed how one of the speakers was quite opinionated. Which only bothers me a little. The part that bothered me a lot, however, was that he gave of this air that his opinions were the only ones that counted. To top it off, he also had a tendency to not only correct other people’s Spanish, but to do so in a rather superior way, often cutting them off mid-sentence, and adding how he can’t stand it when people say things a different way, because it’s so wrong.

Still, due to my desire to get along with people, I continued to smile and ask questions, and encourage the flow of conversation. Perhaps, I thought, he was on the autistic spectrum, which could account for his hard-to-stomach interpersonal skills.

The last straw, however, came when the other speaker and I were discussing the importance of being familiar with the various ways Spanish speakers talk. I suggested that the most important thing about language is not to always speak with the best grammar possible, but to know how to best speak and be understood within a group of people. Well, he not only shot down my idea, but attempted to invalidate it completely. This happened more than once in the conversation. While I am perfectly at ease with differences of opinion, or with considering new facts that I may not have known, I cannot tolerate blatant disrespect.

“You know,” I finally said, when tactful hints failed, “you’d be easier to get along with if you were willing to admit that you don’t know everything.”

Now here, many intelligent people would say, “Well, of course I don’t know everything! There are many things I don’t know.”

But this guy says, “I know a LOT of things. I’ve taken some doctorate level classes.”

Seriously?

Just like that, I was done. Conversation over. The moment people demonstrate that they are not willing to learn, or to consider that they may not always be right, is the moment an exchange of ideas between intellectuals becomes a pointless waste of words. And honestly, life is too short for that.

My parting words? “I find your arrogance unpalatable.” To which, of course, he responded that he found me unpalatable. I laughed. It was like saying goodbye to an egotistical child. Too bad. His Spanish was actually pretty good. I could have learned something from him.

I guess I’m pretty lucky. I don’t often have to deal with unpleasant people. At least, not on a regular basis. Most people I encounter are generally pleasant. Or at least, polite. Coming across one who behaves to the contrary is like finding an apple with a worm inside. That person may actually be pretty decent once they cut away the bruised, wormy spot. Who knows? It’s not up to us to cut it away. Perhaps it’s not even up to us to point out the worm (though I did, in no unclear terms).

The part that is up to us is how we choose to react. When we encounter arrogance, or rudeness, or lack of respect, are we able to find the strength to respond with politeness and positivity? Or do we respond in kind, and expose our own wormy parts? (We all have wormy parts, buried deep inside).

Honestly, I’m not sure how I did today. Was it wormy of me to call him out on his arrogance and rudeness? Or did he need to hear it? Later, we exchanged messages on the Meetup app, both apologizing for our part in the conversation that went sour. Which was cool. We could have just as easily have never spoken again, in any language. But part of being a good person is being forgiving, and offering people a second chance to prove that they’re willing to cut the worms away.

The Many Flavors of Love (a Valentines Day Love List)

I love the sound of rain drumming against the roof, splashing against the pavement, trickling down the windowpane while I watch, warm and cozy indoors.

I love the way a good book transports me far away from the world I know, inserting me, like a fly on the wall, into the lives of other characters, in other places and times.

I love my three teens, who are now 14, 17, and 19. I love spending time with them, sharing laughter, traveling to new places, enjoying meals. My middle daughter is getting ready to graduate from high school soon, and head off to university. Then I’ll have three years left before my nest is empty.

I love trying new foods, and incorporating recipes from around the globe into my daily repertoire. In our house, vegetarian curries and Asian soups are just as common as spaghetti.

I love my sister and her kids. We talk surprisingly little for sisters who actually get along (She doesn’t respond to texts or phone calls often). But on rare occasions we do manage to connect, it’s pretty positive. She began her family much later than I did, so she and her husband have three very young daughters. Two of them have finally reached an age of comfort with being away from their mom and dad, so now we are beginning to have Auntie outings. Since my own kids are nearly grown, it’s really nice to be able to hang out with my young nieces. The next best thing to being a Grandma.

Fun outing with my daughter (right) and two of my young nieces (center)

I love my ex-boyfriend, who I refer to as “Z.” (The last letter of the alphabet for the last man I will ever date or fall in love with). Yes, it’s been more than a year and a half since we were together. But that means nothing to my heart. I hate that he is gone from my life. I love remembering the wonderful, though brief, relationship we had, how kind he was, and how happy we both were together.

Z and me perfect date San Francisco Japanese tea garden
“Z” and me on a couple of unforgettable dates during a weekend together in my favorite city.

I love my career. I love what I get to wake up and do every day. I work in IT, designing and building software systems that revolutionize business for many people. It’s very fulfilling (and pays well, too).

I love that feeling of euphoria I get at the end of a really intense workout or a long weekend run. Runner’s high is not a myth! Now if only we could experience that in the middle of the run, instead of the burning lungs and aching muscles…

I love writing. I especially love to write stories for other people to enjoy. If you read my stories and find yourself transported into another time and place, like a fly on the wall in some character’s life, then my job was well done.

I love a perfect cup of coffee (Decaf dark roast with cream and Splenda), or a perfect cup of tea (earl gray or chai, splash of milk, plus Splenda). Especially with a good book. Long ago, when I had friends, then sharing a perfect cup of tea or coffee while spending time with a good friend was pretty much nirvana.

Hot cup of tea

I love that this list is actually far longer, filled with music, and flowers, and candles, and soccer, and great movies, like Amelie, or Pride & Prejudice (2005), or Shakespeare in Love. I also love how this list continues to grow throughout my life, as I travel more, try new activities, and grow. Ideally, much of this list would be people-based, since really, things and experiences, while worthy of loving and enjoying, can’t love you back. (But then, I have grown quite used to not being loved back. That has never before stopped me from loving).

Whoever, or whatever you love, may you love them fully today, and every day. What’s more, I wish for you what I have always lacked most in life — that you feel fully, completely, and unquestionably loved in return.