Finding Solitude When You Don’t Live Alone

The inimitable Cathy Hay posted her Costume College vlog/recap last week and it was, of course, unique and brilliant. In it, she talks about attending large conventions as an introvert, someone who finds large groups of people exhausting and needs time alone to recharge. One of the things that stood out to me was when she referenced that fact that she lives alone in the country. I remember my own days living alone with some fondness, particularly when I was in college in a small upstate-NY city, but of course, I no longer live alone.

Anyone who knows me personally probably knows that I am an introvert. This may come as a surprise to people who only know me when I’m “on” — in stage shows or at work in my networking-heavy job — but I thrive on alone time. Of course, I’ve been married twice now and even have a child (plus I had to live with housemates most of the time I spent before moving in with Dan after my divorce), so I no longer live alone and have to find ways to get the solitude I crave. This has been particularly challenging since having Elliot, but it is still possible.

That said, I do think that any commentary on my solitary tendencies would not be complete without my waxing rhapsodic about the solo apartment of my later two years of college. I lived in a town where I could get a large one-bedroom apartment for less than a studio in the area where I currently live, so when my friend was trying to get out of his lease, I jumped at it. I had a large bedroom, living room, bathroom, and kitchen all to myself, along with a giant arched window to let in glorious amounts of natural light. And it was far enough away from campus to avoid much of the weekend partier traffic, while being close enough that walking to class wasn’t onerous. Of course, when finals weeks made my solitude even more profound (I would often go days without speaking), I would occasionally make a point to get breakfast in a cafe to have some interaction, but I was largely happy to exist alone.

Moving for graduate school made living alone financially impossible, and then I eventually moved in with my first husband. Then, the divorce again made living alone impossible, and the apartment I was finally able to rent on my own after that ended up being a poor fit for me. And then, I moved in with Dan, and eventually, we married and had our son.

So over the last more than 10 years since college, I’ve learned how to live with people and still maintain a sense of solitude. I now live in a suburb of a major city and work in the city, so I am almost never alone. Couple that with the fact that a new baby means lots of visitors, and I’ve had to hone my skills at finding alone time.

I think the cornerstone of my solitude practice is rising early. When I went back to work, I started rising between 5:30 and 6 a.m. to shower before Dan woke up, and try to make a cup of tea (or chocolate) and have some time to read before anyone else woke up. This time in the early morning is the only time that I feel truly alone sometimes. And it is especially nice on the weekends, when Dan sleeps in rather late (sometimes until 8am!) and I have a longer time to myself. Those who met me in the last ten years may be surprised to learn that I have not always been a morning person. I forced myself to start rising earlier when I started running in grad school so that I could take advantage of my time before classes started (and cooler weather in the summer). And I will say that training my body to rise earlier has been one of the single best ways for me to retain a sense of solitude, even while growing our family.

This weekend, for example, I woke up naturally around 5:30 a.m., and decided that, rather than trying to go back to sleep, I’d rather make myself some tea and have a quiet morning to myself while Dan slept in with Elliot. I wrote some letters, sipped my tea, and walked to the post box just before Dan and Elliot woke up. It was lovely and calm and let me reconnect with myself and my own interests before jumping into a day of family togetherness.

My Historically-Inspired Morning Routine

I’ve written before about my vintage-inspired routines, but lately, I’ve been finding myself going even further back in history for inspiration. Because the summer always makes me yearn for airy muslin dresses, I’ve been stuck in the Regency period lately. And because I never just limit myself to fashion or beauty, I’ve found the practices of the Regency period bleeding into my morning routine.

Since having a baby, the early morning is often the only time I get entirely to myself, and adding childcare to my morning routine has meant that I have to rise particularly early. While my hours may be more akin to that of a Regency servant, I’ve taken some inspiration from Regency middle and upper classes to carve out a few quiet moments to myself in the morning.

I rise between 5:30 and 6 a.m., and wash up. I shower every morning, although it is often a very quick shower to wash my body and face, while I keep my hair protected in a cap or turban. I spritz my clean skin with rosewater and apply a few drops of facial oil, put on a robe, and go into the kitchen.

One thing I’ve learned is that I no longer wake ravenous, so I don’t need to make a full breakfast immediately upon rising. In true historical fashion, I’ve started eating my breakfast around 10 a.m. in my office. But I need something to get me through my commute, so I’ve been making a cup of drinking chocolate. I’ll share more about my particular recipe a little further on, but while my chocolate boils, I usually have enough time to prepare the few things I need to bring to work for my breakfast and lunch: some sliced bread and cheese, a couple boiled eggs, some fruit, and a salad.

To make my chocolate, I bring water to a boil, add chopped chocolate, spices ground in my mortar and pestle, and sugar. I stir until the chocolate melts, and then bring it to a simmer. Then I remove it from the heat, add cream, and whip it to a froth. This is poured into a cup or mug and enjoyed with a chapter or two of a book. I’ve lately tried to keep myself from opening up my devices too early in the morning (although I often fail to resist temptation), and instead have been reading classic books. I recently finished Jane Eyre and enjoyed it immensely.

By the time I finish my chocolate, Elliot and Dan have usually woken up, so I sit and nurse Elliot while Dan takes his shower. Once both have finished, I can make the final touches to my skin care by applying sunscreen, and then dress my hair, dress my body, and put on a little makeup. Then, I can gather my things and leave for the train station, my little oasis of calm having thoroughly prepared me for the day.

Regency-Inspired Drinking Chocolate
(inspired by this post)

1 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2 cardamom pods
3 allspice berries
1 Tbsp. of sucanat (unrefined sugar)
1 cup of water
2-3 Tbsp. heavy cream

Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Break open the cardamom pods and empty the seeds into a mortar. Add the allspice. Grind the spices to a powder with the pestle. Chop the chocolate. Add the chocolate, spices, and sucanat to the boiling water. Stir until the chocolate has melted and blended with the water, then bring back to a simmer. Remove from the heat and add cream. Whip to a froth and serve. Makes one generous cup.