I was a man who thrived on solitude; without it I was like another man without food or water. Each day without solitude weakened me. I took no pride in my solitude; but I was dependent on it. The darkness of the room was like sunlight to me.
― Charles Bukowski, Factotum
Saturday night was a big night. For this 41-year-old introvert anyway.
My husband and I were out celebrating his good friend’s fortieth birthday in a private dining room at a fine dining restaurant with 20 other people. Sounds lovely? Yes, it was. And the food was divine. However, it started at 7.15 pm, and by 11.30 pm, I was itching to go home, to bed and to recharge, as many introverts need to. But it didn’t seem that the others, including my husband, were ready to leave just yet.
So I stayed, because it was in honour of my husband’s dear friend. And it was 1 am, when the restaurant was closing, that most of us finally left (whew!), with a few carrying on elsewhere with the birthday boy.
The thing is, this ‘staying on’ affected me for the rest of my Sunday. I was meant to pop in to see my sister and my nephews on Sunday afternoon, but I couldn’t face any extroversion. I stayed home the whole day, venturing out only to go to yoga (where I don’t really need to interact deeply with others). I cooked, read, napped, coloured in (yes, I have one of those mindfulness colouring books!) and watched TV.
But I felt guilty for choosing solitude over visiting my family. So some of my Sunday was spent googling ‘guilty for enjoying time alone’. I found some great reads that made me feel ‘normal’.
Over time, I’ve realised that my dilemma is accepting my need for plenty of time in solitude. Should I be more self-accepting of this need, I’d be less inclined to feel guilty about hurting other’s feelings or perceive that others will think less of me (or that I’m weird).
I’ve become better as I’ve gotten older, as I’ve become more aware of myself, but the feeling of guilt does get me now an then, as it did on Sunday. It’s a work in progress, which will continue for the rest of my life, no doubt. Hopefully, though, this feeling will soften as I age.
During my Google search, I found on YouTube this video by filmmaker Andrea Dorfman and poet/singer/songwriter Tanya Davis on how to be alone. If you love spending time in solitude, it’s a worthy watch.
Do you feel guilty for needing to spend time alone? What have you done to handle such feelings?
Have you heard of the ‘jar of life’ analogy? Where you fill the jar with rocks first (i.e. the important stuff, such as family, health, purpose and relationships), instead of sand (the trivial matters and material possessions) – because, if it’s the other way around, you wouldn’t have room for your rocks?
For some reason I’ve been thinking about this lately, and the reason why many of us struggle with it. This year, I have found that ‘enforced’ boundaries help. My specific enforced boundary is my three-day-a-week part-time assistant editor job I accepted in January, after seven years of working from home.
Now, I have to fit everything else that’s important to me around this particular boundary. Such as walking my dogs immediately after work, as I don’t have all day as I once previously did, where I may not have got around to it.
So it’s fair to say my days are more structured. And I believe it is structure (aka boundaries) that helps you to fit in your rocks. What matters also, however, is using your boundaries to cultivate habits that help you live the way you want. For example:
Instead of snacking when you come home from work, why not go for a walk?
Then, after that, instead of ordering take away why not cook your own dinner?
And then, after that, instead of turning on the TV why not play with your kids, call a loved one or read a book?
Then, finally, why not prepare yourself for bed instead of browsing the internet or social media?
You get the drift.
So, what are your rocks? How will you put them in first?
And now matter how often you fail, just keep trying; it’ll soon become a habit – to prioritise your rocks first, before the sand. Just use your boundaries to guide you.