How to Be Alone: 14 Quips and Tips

Even if you already know how to be alone, you may like Maitland's book.

Posted Dec 05, 2014

Several months ago, readers began telling me about Sara Maitland's new book, How to Be Alone. At the time, I was totally immersed in other pursuits, so I just bought a copy and waited for a chance to sit down and read it. Finally, that chance has come. I'll have more to say about the book and its themes in one or two future posts. For starters, let me just share a few of my favorite quotes.

Quotes from Sara Maitland's How to Be Alone

  1. "Being single, being alone – together with smoking – is one of the few things that complete strangers feel free to comment on rudely: it is so dreadful a state (and probably, like smoking, your own fault) that the normal social requirements of manners and tolerance are superseded" (p. 23).
  2. "…asking people why they like being alone or what they get out of  it (and of course listening to their answers) is one very effective way of learning about being alone and enjoying it" (p. 154).
  3. "It is not odd to live alone" (p. 195).
  4. "…very often when people say something is 'unnatural', they really mean 'I do not approve of it'" (p.112).
  5. "…the biggest danger of solitude is fear – and often fear mixed with both the derision and judgment of others…Fear is more likely to undermine health than being alone is" (p. 92).
  6. On why single people sometimes stereotype other single people, and themselves: "…if you tell people enough times that they are unhappy, incomplete, possibly insane and definitely selfish there is bound to come a grey morning when they wake up with the beginning of a nasty cold and wonder if they are lonely rather than simply 'alone' (p. 39).
  7. About "the two most common tactics for evading the terror of solitude": (1) "…denigrating those who do not fear it, especially if they claim to enjoy it, and stereotyping them as 'miserable', 'selfish', 'crazy', or 'perverse' (sad, mad, and bad)." (2) "…infinitely extending our social contacts as a sort of insurance policy, which social media makes increasingly possible" (p. 68). [Maitland believes that both if these are "singularly ineffective."]
  8. "The best treatment for a non-clinical fear of being alone is learning more about it and exposing yourself to solitude, initially in very low 'doses' (p. 76).
  9. "The joy of long periods of solitude has also increased my joy in non-solitude: I love my children, my friends, my colleagues as much as ever, and I attend to them better when I am with them – and enjoy them more. But, above all, I like me better. I think there is more of me to like – a deep spaciousness of self, joyful, creatively and professionally productive and alert to both my interior and exterior life" (p. 80).
  10.  "It feels strange to me that people who choose to be alone in the comfort of their own house are regarded, and too often treated, as weirdos, while those who to be alone several thousand feet above the snowline or in a tiny boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean are perceived as heroes" (p. 129).
  11. Solo adventurers "are doing these things to explore their own inner worlds as much as the external one" (p. 134).
  12. On why solitude is good for creativity: "…because creating something yourself, of your own, uniquely, requires a kind of personal freedom, a lack of inhibition, a capacity not to glance over your shoulder at the opinions of others" (p. 186).
  13. Talking to grown-ups about children: "Neither you nor they can know which sort of person they are if they cannot ever try out solitude" (p. 148).
  14. "Most of us have a dream of doing something in particular which we have never been able to find anyone to do with us. And the answer is simple, really: do it with yourself" (p. 139).

[Notes: (1) The ebook versions of many of my books are now available at the Kindle Unlimited subscription program and the Kindle Owners' Lending Library. (2) Thanks to Mona Bjork and the other readers who told me about How to Be Alone. I'm going to comb through the last few months of emails to try to find your names, but feel free to let me know who you are in the meantime. (3) Here's one more post on this book, "Can anyone come to love being alone?"]

Photo credit: Simon Speed / Wikimedia Commons