Alone, Not Lonely

When I am alone in Starbucks at 8:30 p.m. on a Saturday night, I am very conscious of the looks of sympathy and pity and genuine concern I receive. While I appreciate their concern, it’s worrisome that a simple, honest “I’m fine” from me doesn’t seem to quell their worries.

Kids who are seen alone on campus, signing into the dorm before 7:00 p.m. or eating lunch alone in Upper Left of Paresky Commons are pitied. Most students would assume that those are alone are either antisocial or have trouble with their social lives.

Like many people who naturally enjoy alone time, I often feel vulnerable to the judgments of my peers. Not wanting to be thought of as a loser or an outcast, I am sometimes tempted to turn to the unnecessary and uncomforting company of my smartphone, just for the sake of appearing occupied. The more I scroll on my phone, however, the more restless I feel. Instead of gaining the peace and quiet I seek from my alone time, I fall into a chain of self-doubt that spurs me to find the nearest person to talk to. I even start to wonder if my desire for time spent alone is only an excuse for not having friends.

Of course, it is important to recognize that loneliness and alone time are two completely different things. The latter is perfectly healthy, and should be acknowledged as such. There are many hidden implications in questions like, “Are you alright?” or “Do you need help?” By mindlessly asking these questions, you are suggesting that there is something wrong with my choice to spend time by myself.

At Andover and other high schools across the country, there is a pressure for students to prove that they have friends. This pressure is only intensified by the rise of social media. From day one, Juniors can be seen walking in packs and crowding around the longer tables in Paresky. Even now, as an Upper, I feel a sense of “F.O.M.O.”, a 21st-century acronym for “Fear of Missing Out.” The existence of the acronym itself just goes to show the universality and deeply-rooted nature of our social expectations.

Six years at boarding school has taught me that being alone is integral to maintaining wellness, as well as productivity. It is necessary to learn how to resist the temptation of telling a friend that you’re available to go off-campus on a weekday when, in reality, you’re burdened by homework or just want some me-time. Additionally, I feel that isolating myself allows me to regain a sense of my identity without the influence of others.

This is not an argument to encourage people to be less social and focus on schoolwork. Rather, the point is to encourage people to not label others as antisocial just because they occasionally blast music and jam out to a song alone. Spending time alone can be a relaxing outlet in an otherwise stressful day for Andover students.