“Loners” get a bad rap. “Loner” is the label we affix to criminals, outcasts, and just about everyone else we find scary or unsettling. In my all-time favorite book on the topic – Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto – author Anneli Rufus offers a whole different take on the true meaning of “loner.” A loner, she says, is “someone who prefers to be alone.” That person is so very different than all those who remain on the outside feeling isolated but so desperately wanted to be on the inside, feeling that they belong. The intense but thwarted craving for “acceptance, approval, coolness, companionship” is what sometimes sets off people who go ballistic on the objects of their desires.
There used to be a fashion for scaremongering surveys about single women, saying things like: "8 out of 10 women are going to die alone, surrounded by 17 cats." But to that I would mentally add: "Or it could all go horribly wrong." To my mind, aloneness never necessarily equated with loneliness. It wasn't a negative, something to be avoided, feared or endured.
In the tradition of Anneli Rufus (and everyone else who recognizes that alone and lonely are not the same thing), Ellen knows that the kind of solitude that is chosen is a whole different experience than the type that is unwelcome. Riffing on a headline proclaiming that “Britain is the loneliness capital of Europe,” Ellen offers an alternative perspective:
This study could just as well be interpreted as saying that many Britons are self-reliant problem-solvers, respectful of others people's privacy – and what's wrong with that? Isn't this the modern British definition of neighbourliness: not over-chummy and intrusive, but friendly, considerate and, most importantly, happy to sign for your Amazon parcels?
Barbara Ellen also poses a question that we should all ponder: Why is it that sociability is considered a skill, whereas the ability to be alone is seen as weird? As she notes:
Personally, I'd be more likely to distrust people who can't bear time with themselves. What's wrong with them that they can't abide their own company – what are they trying to hide in the crowd?
[Notes: Thanks to Carol Hynson for the heads-up about Barbara Ellen’s commentary. Perhaps also of interest: “Where in the world do people live alone?” and “Quotes on singlehood and solitude.” Also: "Living Alone: Everything You Always Wanted to Know."]