Alone, But Not Lonely
by reverend Charles M. Bidwell, PhD
June, 2000

There is a vast difference between being alone and being lonely. A lot of the difference is the life stance or perspective you hold. I hear many gay men worrying about dying alone and being lonely in their old age. I hear gay men complaining about being lonely and seeking their other half. I want to share my perspective on these concerns in the hope of helping shine a different light on them.

Lonely in Old Age?
Think about how you relate to people now. Do you set out to get involved, to volunteer, to help others? If you do, then you probably have many folks who are grateful for your presence and who enjoy your company. You are probably not lonely now and so the odds are that you will not be lonely in your old age. I can imagine you in the old folks home offering to help the guy in the wheelchair get down to the video room or pushing him around the block to get out and see the young studs tossing a ball around in the park. I can see you being the storyteller who keeps everyone amused at the dinner table. You need have no fear of being lonely. I'll bet folks will seek you out and you'll have to close your door to get some quiet alone time.

If you are not outgoing and don't volunteer your services, then you are at greater risk of being lonely now and in your senior years. However, there are people who crave solitude and you could be one of them.

Enjoying solitude depends on how comfortable you are with your own company and how much you truly enjoy solitary activities. Most of us are a healthy mix of outgoing "ham" and seclusion-seeking "monk." One balances the other. One nurtures the other. Your challenge might be to find the mix that is appropriate for you. Just as we all need some level of stress in our lives to keep us energized, so we probably all need some level of solitude to restore our energy and perspective.

Solitude is almost essential for reflection and meditation and these are the foundation of mental and spiritual health for all of us. It is often helpful to sit alone and close your eyes and imagine a place of retreat. See yourself walking toward a special place in nature where you enjoy being. Mentally create a space there that is comfortable and comforting. Spend some time there getting to know it and getting in touch with your feelings about being in that imaginary solitude. If you do that, then you will be gifting yourself with a retreat that no one can deprive you of and to which you can escape by just closing your eyes--instant solitude and solace.

Not only is solitude rare in our society, but also silence is becoming a rare commodity in a culture where the louder the music the more you feel it (quite literally). How long can you sit in silence by yourself without feeling uncomfortable? How well do you like yourself? How much do you enjoy your own company?

Singing Solo
After my partner died, I discovered that being single and living alone was not as devastating as I had imagined it would be. In fact, I got to enjoy the freedom of coming and going without having to check schedules and arrive at agreement about what and when I could do something.

It was also a time when I discovered that I was a whole person in my own right. I was not incomplete without a partner and I was certainly not looking for a new partner who needed me to make his life complete. I am now ready to meet someone new and to share my life with him, but he better have a life of his own and not expect that I'm going to provide it. I want someone who wants us to live the rest of our lives together, but not someone who needs me. Spare me from needy men; their desperate approach drives me away. I am too long in the tooth to want to raise a youth to responsible independence again. Been there, done that, and have the grandsons to prove it.

A Date With Myself Alone
I have come to enjoy my own company and sometimes I take myself hiking in the mountains or walking in the river valley or to a museum. There are even times when my calendar gets so full with committee meetings and volunteer work that I have to mark dates with myself on the calendar to feel comfortable about saying "no" to invitiations to help yet more.

Wisdom recommends that you love others as you love yourself. So you need to love yourself well before you can love others appropriately. If you can't stand being alone with yourself, how can you expect anyone else to enjoy being with you. If you don't love and respect yourself, you'll treat others that way also. Invest in some solitude with yourself.

Take an inventory of yourself. Ask your friends what they value about you. Get to know the great person you are and then take yourself out on a date. Talk to yourself as you cycle through the park. Comment on what you see. Hug a tree and express your gratitude about being able to do that. Being alone is not synonymous with being lonely. You can be lonely in a crowd, if no one will talk to you and you are discounted or ignored.

Solitude can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your attitude toward it and whatever else you have in your life to balance against it.