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Holidays and the New Alone: Give it a whirl

At this time of year when everyone is supposed to mingle in one big velvet-clad crowd clinking glasses filled with André champagne, it could sound odd and even non-conformist to say you just want to be alone.

Mary Stanik

In days not that distant, such declarations did sound odd and non-conformist to many people. But a recent Washington Post story shed some bright light into the closet one might call the New Alone. According to Census Bureau data included in the story, 107 million (or 45 percent) of Americans 18 and older in 2014 were unmarried. A total of 63 percent of those people had never been married. Perhaps more intriguing is the fact that 34 million households, accounting for 28 percent of all 2014 U.S. households, were headed by someone living alone. In 1970, only 17 percent of American households were headed by a lone dweller.

I do not believe anyone should be startled by these numbers, given the fact that we now are becoming accustomed to being alone at young ages, starting with kids coming home from school to houses absent any food preparing or entertaining parents to university students choosing to live without any roommates, annoying or convivial.

But what is different about the New Alone is the large and growing number of people, no matter their relationship status, who are doing all sorts of things by themselves. Things that, far from being ascetic retreats at cloistered monasteries, often involve being around many other people while not formally accompanied by other people. Things like vacations, dining in upscale restaurants, drinking in bars, or going to movies, plays, or sporting events. Things that would have marked one in many circles as bizarre or just pitiful if done alone not all that long ago.

Of course, for someone like me, a never married person who has spent most of her adult life living alone, the growing respectability of the New Alone is a most welcome occurrence. It’s rather nice to go to a bar without sticky floors and not be pushed toward the tables near the kitchen. Or hearing hushed comments indicating one might be there for a working mission other than the enjoyment of fine Canadian whisky.

The joys of solo meandering

For those who have not yet embraced the New Alone, married, partnered or not, I am delighted to act as a self-appointed Alone Ambassador and provide just a few examples of the joys of solo meandering.

Let’s start with bars. Oh, why not, it’s the holidays. Anyway, I cannot tell you how many free cocktails I’ve received from bartenders who were happy for the focused conversation and the better tips many of them have told me are distributed by people out by themselves. I’ve met lots of people while out alone, none of whom I have dated, people who have become good friends and/or business contacts. Once, while at a Washington, D.C., place popular with celebrities, my tab (including a very expensive dinner) was covered by one of those celebrities who was trying to have a night to himself but needed me to engage him in conversation so as to deflect two women who were most desperate to engage him in conversation. I don’t know if this might have happened if I had been out with a group of friends or on a date.

Then there are vacations. On one particular trip, I could not run fast enough from a couple engaged in a fierce fight (in an otherwise hushed room at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts full of other quietly fleeing patrons) as to why the man felt the need to visit so many museums and spend so much time looking at so many paintings. I wanted to tell them they should try solo vacations, or at least solo breaks. But as the woman was aiming her handbag at her husband in a manner that suggested a full blast, I scurried away. Two men caught me on my way out and asked if I could believe what we just witnessed and was I really traveling by myself (guess my French sounds more American than I think). We fell into talking. At lunch the next day, they said they would fix me up with someone, if only Montréal contained even one eligible straight man.

Then there’s really being by yourself

Of course, not every solo outing must result in interactions with others. The solitary walks in the woods made famous by Thoreau remain some of the cheapest therapy available. Sometimes seeing a Star Wars film by yourself is just what you (or you and your partner, or you and your kids) require to stay on the good side of The Force.

So go ahead and enjoy this season. When you’re done clinking glasses with the crowd, try sneaking off by yourself for a bit and give the New Alone a whirl.

You just might be astounded by what you discover.

Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, lives in St. Paul. She is the author of the novel “Life Erupted.” 

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Jim Million on 12/24/2015 - 09:04 am.

    Too True

    Good bartenders are traditionally excellent non-invasive therapists: no electrodes, needles or kindergarten block games…and no exhausting MMPI.

    Although long detached from such ritual, I do have fond memories of many friendly chats with mixologists who were always glad to see me, remembered my libation preference and were honestly interested in “how’s it going, Jim?”. You see, excellent bartenders know to not disrupt discussions among two or more gathered friends. They do often enjoy regular encounters with solo regulars, who appreciate harmless chatter after work or whenever.

    Don’t we all remember that TV program, you know, the one where “everyone knows your name”? Well, that’s a long ago ritual for me: 1980s at Dixie’s on Grand Ave. Good memories there, folks.

    Cheers!!

    [By the way, such ritual was maintained as a mission of many, many newspaper people who wrote many a column at the Lex or at Mayslacks and Nye’s. Am I the only reader who wonders where certain early MinnPostings are now composed? Have one for me sometime, (you know who).]

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 12/24/2015 - 09:07 am.

    There Are Probably a Thousand Personality Tests

    But among my favorites is the Meyers-Briggs, one of whose scales places people on a scale of Introversion-Extroversion,…

    but these are not what we generally think of in those terms,…

    but refer to how we get our personal batteries charged.

    Some among us get their batteries charged by being alone or perhaps with one or two other people engagement with whom is our own choice (the introverts).

    Others among us get their batteries charged by being surrounded with people and seeking to make some connection with every single one of them (the extroverts).

    At a typical gathering of people, the “E’s” will be the life of the party,…

    and the “I’s” will be in a quiet corner, observing what’s happening, or conversing with one or a small group of other, quieter types.

    If Introverts are forced into “E” situations and forced to interact with too many people, it drains their energy and, eventually, their sense of comfort and well being. Thereafter, they need some quiet time in quiet places to recharge.

    If Extroverts are forced into “I” situations with too much quiet and too few people to interact with, THAT drains their energy and, eventually, their sense of comfort and well being. Thereafter, they need to get out and do something in noisy places surrounded by other people to recharge.

    Most of us are somewhere in between and need a balance of “E” and “I” in our lives,…

    as if we have two sets of batteries we need to keep charged,…

    the quiet, alone, set,…

    and the noisy, interactive set.

    Just as a side note, ALL of us, as our adolescent hormones arrive, are pushed toward the “E” end of the spectrum until we settle into adulthood and return to our original, pre-adolescent balance.

    It’s up to each of us to recognize when we’ve had too much “I” or too much “E” and seek time and space to recharge in the way that works best for us.

    In the end, though, it’s important to remember that people who enjoy being alone are not necessarily feeling lonely and depressed; sometimes being alone feels wonderful to them,…

    nor are people who constantly need to be out among other people doing exciting things going through the manic phase of latent bipolar disorder.

    We’re NOT all alike, and it would be very healthy and helpful for all of us if we stopped trying to force others to be like ourselves,…

    and regarding others as unwell if they’re NOT like us.

    This applies, especially, to parents who may fall in very different places on the Introvert-Extrovert scale than their adolescent or adult children,…

    even as those children also need to recognize that their parents may be perfectly happy pursuing a much quieter or much more active life than their adult children.

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