"There's a difference between being lonely and being alone."
I was out to dinner with my parents and their priest friend Father Jim when he spoke those words to me. His statement was made in response to a question he asked me: "What are your hopes for the future Andrea?" That's always a tough question for me to answer because I often feel the need to say something profound. But this time, I went with the obvious. I quickly rattled off my immediate hopes. I said, "I want to sell many copies of my book. I want to have great impact on people with the messages in my book. And, I want a partner in life." To which he replied, "I'm all for two of the three." And then I jokingly responded, "Are you saying that you won't pray for me to get married Father Jim?" He laughed. And then, with wisdom said, "I know many people who are married and lonely. There's a difference between being alone and being onely. Are you lonely?"
My answer was an easy one. I'm not lonely at all. Sure, sometimes I wish I had someone to cook with, or a companion to join me for a beach vacation, or someone to take long walks and talks with at the beginning or end of the day. But very rarely am I lonely. In fact, over the years, I've learned to really enjoy my own company. And I have family and friends who are a short drive away when I do want someone other than myself to talk to (Yes, a side effect to living alone are impressive conversations with oneself). But my conversation with Father Jim got me to thinking about the idea of being alone. And also about companionship. I think companionship is something that a lot of people, especially women, think about when they reach a certain age. Sure, there may be people who truly want to be alone. But I'm calling bunk (my sister uses that word instead of bullshit and I like it) on most people who say that they don't care if they don't have someone special in their life. Who doesn't want someone with whom they can share their hopes and dreams? How nice does it feel to walk hand in hand with the person you love? How thankful are you that you have a nurturing hand to care for you when you're sick? Or someone to pick you up from the airport after a weekend away with friends? Of course we can get all of these things from friends and family (except the hand holding, that might be weird). But it's different, in a good way, when there's a shared intimacy between you and that special person.
A few years ago I thought I was going to replace my single status with marriage. As the cliched phrase goes, on paper he seemed great (although sometimes we should google the fine print). But the more time we spent together, the more I realized, he was not the companion I longed for. But I stuck around, letting my "aloneness" be replaced by loneliness. It was not a relationship that fulfilled me. It did not challenge me in a positive way. And it certainly did not make me happy. In fact, I could sense that staying in the relationship was causing me to lose pieces of myself the longer it went on. So not only was I lonely, but I couldn't even enjoy my own company anymore. Some might say I had the strength to walk away. Others might call it divine intervention. And some might chalk it up to "it wasn't meant to be." But in the end, I chose to be alone over loneliness.
A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Cleveland Magazine to give a quote for their February issue (an issue often dedicated to the month of love). The reporter wanted my suggestion for single readers who might be struggling with being alone on Valentine's Day. They asked for a short response. That’s tough for me because I often have a lot to say. I knew that the reporter would likely slim down my quote for editorial purposes, but this is what I originally wrote: "Valentine's Day doesn't have to mean a room for two at The Ritz at the end of the night. If you're single, you have two great choices: 1. Enjoy your own company! Have a "me day." Go for a run or yoga class. Cook yourself dinner (I recommend any Ina Garten recipe. They're fail-proof and always delicious). And watch anything BUT a sappy movie (stay away from “The Notebook!"); 2.Grab a friend and treat yourself to a fun night of good conversation and sushi. *** And ladies, buy your own gifts! My suggestion: a new lipgloss. It's affordable and may come in handy when you do meet the right person."
I recall when the reporter first contacted me, I was struggling with her initial implication - that single people struggle with being alone on a Hallmark holiday. As a soon-to-be quoted voice, I didn't want to succumb to the notion that people who are alone are struggling with their aloneness. But then, there I was (post quote), sitting at a dinner table with a priest telling him that I didn't want to be alone. Did I have to call my own bunk?
The truth is, I meant what I said! In both cases! When you're alone, you should be able to enjoy your own company. AND you can also want a companion... a partner in life... someone to call "your person." But Father Jim helped me to see another side of the equation. And that is, it's better to be alone than to be lonely.