December 3, 2018

The Importance of Solitude

People work hard to avoid loneliness. Growing up in suburban Cincinnati, the idea of spending time alone in public made me squirm. Flying solo meant you had no one to hang out with, which meant you had no friends, which meant you were a loser, which meant you were going to die alone. (That’s a flawless line of reasoning.)

As I got older and spent more time in contexts that naturally led to solitude (my college campus, downtown, airports), the idea of being alone became less intimidating. It’s okay if you eat alone downtown at noon because everyone you know is working, and therefore, it cannot be an indictment of your personality. Of course, context still matters. Most of us don’t mind reading alone at a coffee shop at ten o’clock in the morning, but even the most secure person might feel awkward eating dinner alone on a Saturday night at a romantic restaurant.

Living downtown for two years meant I was alone in public a lot. There wasn't much to do in a small apartment, so I spent most of my time wandering around the city. Coffee shops, happy hour, Fountain Square, Smale Park ... I was a man of the town.

When my wife and I decided to move across the street from Great American Ballpark, I was thrilled about the idea of walking to games by myself, drinking a beer, and wandering around the stadium in search of the best empty seat. I was intimidated about being by myself, but who cares what other people think, right? The first time I tried it, I ran into two friends I hadn't seen in years. When they asked where I was sitting, I casually changed the subject. (I didn't want to tell them I was alone.) After a quick chat, I wandered up to a section behind home plate, grabbed an empty seat, and I kid you not, saw myself on the jumbotron within two minutes of sitting down. Alone. For everyone in the stadium to see.

Text messages and tweets started rolling in from people at the game who knew me. Someone even asked me if I was there alone. I couldn't believe it. What are the odds I picked a seat that was on the jumbotron two minutes later? Great American Ballpark seats 42,319, so I guess the odds are 1 in 42,319.

Here’s what I've learned about solitude. It often creates connections that likely wouldn't form if you were surrounded by friends and family. I get to know bartenders when I’m alone. I’m more aware of the people around me when I’m alone. I hear fascinating life stories when I'm alone. I make new friends when I'm alone.

Being alone allows us time to think, reflect, mourn, plan, dream, and create. Friends and family are wonderful. I love being surrounded by people. But I also love being alone. And I’ve learned to overcome the stigma associated with solitude. Amazing things can happen if you just give yourself space for the universe to do its work.