Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Enjoying Your Own Company

(Photo: Outside my B&B in Derby)

I finally unearthed my travel journal last night and had to read over what I'd written while I was in England. One theme kept coming up - the fact that I enjoyed my own company, that I wasn't afraid to be by myself, that I could go to a cafe and eat and be perfectly comfortable.

I've always been one of those people who enjoys being by myself. Not all the time, of course, because if I'm by myself too much I get depressed...but I don't mind doing a lot of activities by alone. I've gone to movies alone, the symphony, the theater, the mall. Doesn't bother me a bit.

But being a solo traveler in a foreign country is a bit different. For one, you have the opportunity to meet people that you otherwise wouldn't. When I was in Witney, a small town 7 miles from Oxford, I went to a small cafe for lunch. An older lady sat beside me, also by herself. And a few minutes after I arrived, we struck up a conversation. Her name was Ruth, she was 72 years old, and had been cycling since the age of 2. She told me stories of how she and her boyfriend have cycled over Ireland and Italy and Portugal. She was intrigued by the fact that I was a writer, and by the stack of books she'd just bought, I could tell why!

But something she said really struck me and it was at that moment that I knew I'd found a kindred spirit. She said she lived alone, but wasn't lonely. She plays her flute, loves to garden, and loves to read. But she also needs to be around people sometimes. Otherwise, she gets depressed. I feel the exact same way.

I can go for a few days without leaving the house. I'm perfectly content with my own company. But then I start feeling isolated and out-of-touch, no matter if I have the Internet or not. I need to talk to people face to face, to interact with them and share the common experience of being human.

Ruth and I also discussed how modernization, especially in this day and age, has taken some of that human experience to a new and sometimes troubling level. In my journal, I wrote:

Ruth was right about modernization - something has been lost in our world. The art of conversation with strangers...it's like we go out of our way not to speak to each other. People have their iPods, their laptops, their cell phones. And it's everywhere. Buses. Trains. In cafes. On the street. Why do we want to isolate ourselves from each other (in public)? On the other hand, we are very eager to interact on the internet, almost to the extreme. It's definitely sad. But I am glad there are some of us who don't cater to this ideal.

I sense a bit of a trend in myself here. I've given up t.v., and subscribe more to the ideals of the 1940s than 2008. I don't own an iPod. I don't have a cell phone that connects to the Internet or sends email. My phone is pretty darn basic - I don't really mess with all the gadgets. And more and more, I'm making it a point to smile more, to say "please" and "thank you" and to generally be a more happy and content person. In essence, I don't want to "isolate" myself in public. There's a big difference between being alone in public, and isolating yourself. Is that being old-fashioned?

What do you think? In this modern day and age, are we drifting further apart from each other as human beings in everyday life or have we created a new, virtual world that is somehow more real to us than walking through our neighborhood or shopping at a store?
(And don't forget - today is Veteran's Day! For my tribute to all the veterans, past and present, please visit my World War II blog).


  1. I really enjoyed this post and wished I knew you in person cause you could have been writing about me! I love my time alone at home but if too many days go by without seeing or conversing with people, I go nuts! I am so amazed and envious of you that you traveled alone as you did. I don't think I could do that for all the what-if fears but so would love to be strong enough to do it!
    You amaze me!

  2. I spend each working day in a room full of 80 people and live with three people (during holidays this increases by another 4). I love the chance of being alone, when I can get it, and ignore the phone at home more often than I used to.

    Maybe we're just getting more choosy about who we spend our time with. (Except when at work, of course).

  3. I have to resolve myself to being patient with strangers and folks I run into while running errands. I used to feel like they were "interrupting" me until I realized how unkind and unloving that perspective was. I do try to protect my time alone or with my family by not answering my phone every time it rings. Other than that, I'm working on the whole dying to self thing in order to care for other people.

    I have to say, Melissa, that I wouldn't have made it one morning on a vacation by myself. No movies alone, and definitely no restaurants alone. For me it's not a lack of self-confidence but rather a huge (read: flaming extrovert) desire to share experiences with other people. I just don't enjoy being alone for large periods of time!

  4. I love being alone and especially traveling alone, most of the time. Being with someone else is great too, but there are so many things you miss out on if someone else is there to tend to. When I'm alone, I can go through a museum at my own pace or watch people uninterrupted for as long as I like. When I lived alone for a couple of years, I did have to make a point to get out and do things with other people because if I'm left alone too long, I do start to get a little nuts. I think people worry about being alone with their thoughts a little too much these days and I've noticed more and more people who seem incapable of being alone for any time at all. I assume that of people who are on their cell phones all the time, no matter where they are. There are two people I work with who often call me at the same time every day and I know it's because they're driving home and don't want to be alone.

  5. I think we are and I think it is the constant plugging in and tuning out that is responsible.

    I have very few techno-gadgets and I will raise my kids to be the same way. When we grocery shop or run errands I don't have a phone jammed in my ear and my boys don't have a game boy shoved in their face. No, we look people in the eye, help old people with doors and things on high shelves, we stop when some one wants to chat or pinch my littlest ones cheeks :), and we talk with each other and learn new things together.

    We in tune to those around us. We are courteous and kind and tuned into what matters, people, not things.

    Several of the people who live in my neighborhood feel the same way and in a sense we are going back to the old days by just hanging outside with the kids, walking around the block, talking with other neighbors, being aware of what's going on and looking out for each other...it's an awesome thing.

    Great post Melissa!

  6. Terri - I think you'd be pleasantly surprised at how well you'd do traveling by yourself. Believe me, I was saying a lot of prayers while I was there - I definitely didn't do it by myself! God definitely helped me!

    RT - I, too, find that I can get grumpy with people, whether it be in rush hour traffic or trying to get through the grocery store when I'm stuck for time. That's a challenge for me, to be patient during the times when I'm feeling the most IMpatient.

    Lisa - You're exactly right. Some people just aren't comfortable with their own thoughts and would rather have music or something else constantly distracting them. It bothers me when I see people with iPods on in the store, while they're checking out in line and handing their money to the clerk. It just seems incredibly rude to me.

    Jenna - I am striving to raise my daughter the same way and I really admire you for teaching your children to tune into the world instead of out of it. What a great philosophy to have - and so neat that your neighborhood is like that! I always wanted to live in a neighborhood like that, where you could all get together for a picnics or celebrate birthdays together. Your experience gives me hope that those neighborhoods are out there. :-)

  7. Melissa - great post :) And I quite agree with you - it's so easy these days to connect to the virtual world, it can be easy (and tempting) for some to disconnect from the real one.

    That's why I love working at the library so much - I spend all my time connecting with living, breathing members of the community, from 9 months to 90 years of age (give or take). It's been wonderful to meet so many people over the last month :)

    Like you, my cell phone is just that - a phone. I don't pay for texting, internet or anything like that. Don't even have voice mail on it. And that's just the way I like it.

    Wish I could have been with you to meet Ruth - she sounds like a lovely woman and must have been fascinating to talk to.

    BTW, I updated my blog with a pic of the cenotaph in a local town, where we attended today's Remembrance Day ceremony.

  8. I love traveling alone. It makes me more mindful of people and places.

    Technology often isolates us more than it bonds us. While it's wonderful to get to meet people around the world with whom we might never cross paths, too much dependence on it is counter productive, I believe.

    I'm a bit of a neo-Luddite, although I rely too much on my computer to make my living.

    And I still prefer handwritten cards and letters to email.

  9. I really enjoy my own company too. I find I NEED alone time or I go nuts. I'm also a homebody and go days and days without leaving the house.

    One thing about modernization that I love? Connecting with people I would never have had the opportunity to 20 years ago. Now I log on and talk to other writers, other bloggers, other photography nuts. I can research things immediately online.

    Ruth sounds like a lovely woman. Glad you got the chance to meet her.

  10. Tess - I think working at the library would be a great place to meet people, especially fellow readers. I finally got voice mail on my phone a year ago after my dad got upset with me for not having it. He wanted to leave a message and couldn't! :-)

    Devon - I agree with you - traveling alone does make you more aware of your surroundings and other people. I know I really soaked that aspect of my trip in as much as possible. I did a lot of people-watching and really tried to immerse myself in where I was.

    Kacey - Oh yes! Definitely a great part of modernization is connecting with people, especially those you haven't seen for so long. And I love the blogging community. I have met some of my fellow bloggers face to face and I never would have met them without the 'Net!

  11. Bravo to you on the solo travel. Can you imagine how many important scenes and times you'd have missed if you were distracted or involved with a traveling companion?

    I agree with you about modern people being more removed and less conversational...except that doesn't hold true here in the Deep South. We don't have ANY trouble talking to perfect strangers and loving every moment of it. :)

  12. P.S. Is one ever really alone with a great book in hand? (I always bring a book when dining alone.)

  13. I think I'd like to sit down and have a long conversation with Ruth. What an interesting lady! And she's right, we have lost the art of conversation and talking to strangers. Everything is electronic these days and sometimes I wonder if in the future we'll forget how to interact face to face completely.

  14. Angie - Oh yes, a book is a must when eating alone! But I also enjoy people-watching, too. And I definitely was able to fully experience so many things being by myself - when I took the nature walk through the park to Chatsworth, I was in 7th heaven - I just absorbed all the beauty and absolutely reveled in it.

    Kelly - I think it's key that we continue to pursue face to face conversations every day, whether it be the grocery store or the library or what-have-you. Striking up conversations with strangers can sometimes lead to amazing things.

  15. I totally relate to this because I am a bit of a loner and anti-social. I love people watching much more than striking up conversations. And yes, I enjoy my own company - a little too much! I need to go out more!

  16. Ell - I get into hermit mode where all I want to do is stay home. Sometimes I have to force myself out of it. :-)

  17. It's a good thing for me that I'm a homebody, for the most part. I like people well enough, but too much socialization makes me very edgy.

    I can go a week or more without leaving the house, and be perfectly content with that. This might be because I am rarely ever alone, even at home. The four hours four days a week when my children are in school are golden to me. I go a little crazy during the summer and I am interacting with someone all day every day.

    I'm one of those people that just absolutely craves alone-time because I just don't get it very often.

    Internet interaction is a little different for me, I guess, in that it moves as slowly or as quickly as I want it to, and it's easy to make it fit into my life. Ah, I'm lazy! LOL

    Interesting post!

  18. We introverts gotta stick together :) --especially since the extroverts just don't understand us!

    I have to have alone time. Two consecutive days of work and I'm wiped out and craving the quiet of my own company. It's as essential as sunlight.

    And yet Ruth's observation about needing company rings absolutely true. Which is why, even if I hit the jackpot with the writing (probably as likely as winning the lottery) I would probably still keep the day job to keep grounded in the real world. At least, I think I would! Maybe I'd just go on a lot of coffee dates with friends instead. :D


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