The capacity to be alone is the capacity to know enough about yourself and who you are, and be comfortable enough with that. That way, when you are with another person, you’re not trying to make that person into somebody you need them to be in order to buttress a fragile sense of your own self. You can actually turn to a person and see them as another person, and have a real relationship with them.
Now, the person who can’t do that is going to be one of these people who nobody wants to be with, because when you see them coming, you know that they’re going to use you to make themselves feel less terrifyingly alone. Those people are very lonely, because they can’t form relationships. They’re using other people as spare parts.
The capacity to be in a relationship requires the capacity for a genuine solitude. One of the gifts of a successful childhood is that you develop this capacity for successful solitude. And you learn it, paradoxically, by a caretaker being with you, but able to leave you a little bit of space.
I remember walks with my grandmother to Macy’s in Brooklyn. And we were just quiet together. Every once in a while there’d be a word, but we were just side by side in our thoughts, and sharing a thought once in a while, and you knew that there was someone there protecting you as you learned to think your own thoughts. People have many different models of what that was: sitting together sewing or reading or playing or giving a child a bath and letting them have the privacy of their thoughts. These are the moments of childhood where children are not abandoned, but they learn to be alone with. And that capacity means that when they come to other relationships, they can form them successfully. If instead of that, you put them in a baby bouncer that has a slot for an iPad or an iPhone or a laptop, they’re always mirrored in some other outside thing and they’re not brought back to their own self and their own resources and their own mind and their own imagination.
There’s a wonderful idea that you have to learn that the most interesting thing in the environment is your own mind. And if you never learn that, it’s not good.
Excerpted from Sherry Turkle's blog post: Relearning how to talk in the age of Smartphone addiction
SEED QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: What does successful solitude mean to you? Can you share a personal experience of a time you experienced successful solitude with another person? What has helped you develop the successful solitude muscle?
Thanks for sharing this. Being alone and lonely is two different things and those will affect the mentality so much.
Solitude is good for me as it is a 'Dil Ki Baat', Dil Ka Dil Se and Dilaram ( Dil + Ram + Aaram).It connects head,heart and hands with the soul.This brings out a natural smile of happiness and peace while connecting with anybody to create a mutual bond.Every soul is just abundance of purity,power,joy and love.Meditating on the innate,ever present qualities of the soul- the very life force may prove quite helpful to develop our own inner self on a solid sound footing.
Some of us never had a good caretaker, so I feel the way the author framed this can feel a bit condemning for those who didn't. I've had to learn 'successful solitude' in my life simply by finding peace and depth while alone because there was no alternative. It also feels a bit harsh to say that people are very lonely "simply because they can't form relationships." I was married for 17 years, but then I divorced and have been single for over 6 years since then, and in mid-life I do experience loneliness because I have not re-partnered, and my daughter has gone to college, and I find it very hard to find close companionship/intimacy when most people already have their 'primary' loved ones as priorities in their lives. Also, I'm not interested in superficial relationship, and prefer my own company to that, but it's harder the older one gets to find people with whom one genuinely feels sympatico. So, while I have many acquaintances and friends throug activities I've done with them for years, they haven't become "relationship" material as most of their time is spent with their own families and primary loved ones. You might say I am one of those people who is lonely, but I don't know if it's necessarily because "I can't form relationships." Nevertheless, I agree with your premise that solitude can be a great gift. I just don't agree that one should be labeled as someone who 'can't form relationships' if one never had a good relationship with a caregiver as a child, or if one is a mid-life adult who has gone through divorce and the deaths of multiple loved ones (I've had 6 in the past 7 years).[Hide Full Comment]
If with someone who does not yet understand this concept, they often think something is 'wrong' if you are not interacting or speaking. "No, I am not angry or lost or uncomfortable. No, I do not dislike you. Please understand me." This article sums it up nicely. I wish everyone would read this and understand that not everyone is like they are. Thank you for sharing.
I love it. The story, the voice with my mind reconnecting thoughts to my deep needs for stillness and bonding
Successful solitude means being able to be content and at peace while alone with myself. Being able to be happily alone is a prerequisite for successful relationship. When I can be happily alone and secure with myself, I am free to be happily alone with another, being me while relating to the other for who he or she is and not, as the author says, "using other people as spare parts" to buttress myself. I have had experiences of successful solitude with another, and they are times of love -- not romantic love, but times of I being I with he or she being he or she. Those are times of independence and togetherness, successful solitude with successful relationship. What has helped me develop a successful solitude is time with myself, growth in knowing self, in valuing and liking myself, and in becoming secure with myself. What has helped me is being in relationships with others who possessed successful solitude while with me which encouraged me to develop successful solitude for myself while with them.[Hide Full Comment]
A beautiful reflection! Indigenous cultures have traditionally recognized & cultivated the art of solitude as exists even while immersed in community. An interesting dimension on this concept is the practice, manifesting differently across cultures, of women retreating as needed from usual responsibilities to be in the fold of other women, to rejuvenate and to heal. Some women practice abstention from physical touch for several days per month to acknowledge & honor a sacred, cyclical cleansing of the body-mind. Elders inspire a deepening into ourselves through their simple modeling of successful solitude in whatever form is authentic for them.