Guilty Pleasures of Being Alone

Photo by Joseph Albanese on Unsplash

It’s been troubling to see friends and family suffer from loneliness during the pandemic season. We’re not designed to be alone for this long — but neither are all aspects of our artificial, modern lives.

We leave that small childhood circle that previous generations would have kept friends for life — and say, it’s for the better.

Loneliness is inevitable — even in the tightly packed social circles of a college campus like Duke. We mostly talk to friends who never quite understand, professors and colleagues that subtly misinterpret your point, or family members who know you so well, yet misunderstand you at crucial times. I had trouble keeping long-term friends as I moved schools and countries as a child, as much of us do for love, work, or futures. We leave that small childhood circle that previous generations would have kept friends for life — and say, it’s for the better.

It’s natural to want a partner at this stage, as one’s values come less self-contained but more from the surroundings — and thus it’s especially crucial to define what being alone means for you. We advise to others: it’s okay to be alone, but very fact that we console loneliness and, in our more vulnerable veins self-deprecate or deny our desire for contact, indicates how starved we are for togetherness. We pretend to accept the transience of friend groups and seem fine with losing contact, but we bitterly miss the potential warmth forgone forever.

Moments of perfection — the minute feelings of, like how I can sometimes stare up at the night sky and feel like I’m looking at the universe naked, in its full grandness and feel unremarkable and cozy at the same time; or like, how frustrating it is that people miss the pleasures of a morning cup of coffee; nobody fully understands.

The first generation to be exposed to the world of endless entertainment and close connections online, are also the ones who can redefine the narrative of solitude.

How may we alleviate this tragedy? First is to realize that loneliness is a constructed emotion. Our ancestors may have had animals to hunt and farms to tend, so evolution taught us to feel bad about being alone — but we have a chance to fight back. The first generation to be exposed to the world of endless entertainment and close connections online, are also the ones who can redefine the narrative of solitude, providing an antidote to our evolutionary and social connotations of being alone. No longer are we bound to the voices that see dystopia in our screen-time — these are same voices that shouted that television is killing our social time or, even before that books destroy our social muscles. And no longer is our society constructed upon the presumption of complete collectivism and mutual dependence — we’ve moved on from hunter-gatherers a while ago.

Regardless of introversion or extraversion, the capacity to enjoy solitude is universal: quarantine has shown that we are clearly capable of connections while also growing inner capacities for being alone. Pandemic season is your forced religious retreat on growing inner loneliness—grab this opportunity to nurture it. Take on cooking with an admiration of amazon’s extensive cooking utensil catalogue; look through past photos and marvel at how remarkably rich, deep, and emotional your life has been; play games, maybe with friends, you’ve stocked up in steam.

Modern life demands us to be alone, and our natural inclination is to push back. But during this summer, try indulging in the guilty pleasure of being alone. You may realize you have a talent for doing so.

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Pyokyeong Son

Pyokyeong Son

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Korean, in Japan, studying at America. Undergraduate Duke University Student. pyoky.me