Opinion

Being alone is the key to being yourself

Technology has enabled us to never be on our own, to our own detriment

There is a 30-year-old man in Azerbaijan who knows all about the first boy for whom I fell hard. At 15, I had a habit of staying up until 3 a.m. on weeknights and chatting with strangers on Omegle. I liked to stay up late, but hated being alone; when the flow of updates on my News Feed fizzled to a halt, I found that there was still a way to escape that boundless loneliness that comes with being the only one left awake.

The phrase “No man is an island” has resounded since the 17th century because it expresses so closely and concisely the social nature of humans. It’s fun to think about what we’d bring with us to a desert island, but when asked what we would honestly do if thrust upon an island alone, Robinson Crusoe-style, we frightened social creatures immediately jump to guessing how long we would last before taking our own lives. Next to our fear of death is a dizzying fear of being alone.

Once a quality that contributed to our species’ survival, our hunger for connection has been satisfied and then some. Now, if we used our ability to connect to its full potential, the resulting lack of alone time might be detrimental to our individual growth and health.

We may subdue our aloneness through technology voyeuristically, scrolling through pictures and status updates to feel closer to our social worlds by virtue of seeing others’ activity. Texting is more intimate and is closest to real social interaction. There is then the method that I find most intriguing: the tweets and status updates divulging things we see or thoughts we have while we are alone. We expect other people’s awareness of our solitary moments to make these moments feel less solitary, and they do. A status that illustrates the fear of aloneness best is one that I’ve seen often: “Can’t sleep. Who’s up?”

This fear is not only expressed through social media. It’s what causes us college students to hang around people who don’t interest us at all. The fear also affects how we behave in romantic relationships, causing us to stay in bad relationships and to jump from one relationship to the next. To many, the thought of turning 40 without any marriage prospects triggers panic at a level on par with the desert island scenario.

Until now, there has been no reason to imagine what danger might come from the opposite extreme. Studies have suggested a correlation of one’s social cohesion with his or her happiness, but it will soon be time to examine the effects on one’s psyche of spending every second of the day connected with other people.

At the risk of sounding like your incense-burning yoga instructor, I would like to vouch for the importance of introspection to personal growth. When you are alone, you act and think freely of your expectations of other people’s reactions. However you identify on the introvert-extrovert scale, you are your most honest self when you are alone.

As hard as we try, we can never wholly communicate who we are to other people, and the one person on Earth who fully knows you deserves your attention. I’m of the camp that says it’s OK to sit at the bus stop alone, eat alone and go to a concert alone. I prompt you to consider that you could even die alone and still have had a life worth living. More importantly, I urge you to take time to be alone with yourself. No man is an island, but were you to be stranded, the only thing you’d be guaranteed to have with you is you.

Views expressed in the opinion pages represent the opinions of the columnists.