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.

The Solitude of the Water

My trip to Boyfriend’s parents’ lake house earlier this month re-invigorated my love of the water. I loved getting up and going for a morning swim every day we were there. Most of the time, Boyfriend would follow along in the kayak, as we got up a little late and there were other boaters out, but the last morning, I was ready to swim by eight in the morning, and it was early enough that only a few meandering fishermen shared the lake with me. It was lovely to feel the peace and quiet of open water in such a beautiful natural setting.

When I got home, I immediately missed being in the water. Despite not being very attached to horoscopes, I’ve always thought it was amusing that I’m a Pisces, as I love to be in the water. When I was a child, I would go to the pool and stay in the water until my lips turned blue and my grandmother practically had me fished out by force! So when I heard that a local aquatic center opened their pool at six in the morning, I thought I should start swimming before I left for work.

It’s largely a quiet bunch, mostly older, who inhabit the pool in the morning. There is the occasional person my own age, and the lifeguards are all quiet young, but mostly I see seniors doing their morning workout in the water. I’ve been fortunate to get a lane most of the time, but at a small community center, the lifeguards don’t mind if we rearrange the ropes a little to swim laps outside of the lanes. The water isn’t too cold, but also not bathwater-warm like some indoor pools, and even with people on either side of me, I feel alone, cushioned from the world around my by water.

I only swim breaststroke anymore. I used to try to mix in other strokes, but I like breaststroke. It’s peaceful and doesn’t splash, but I still feel my body getting stronger as I go. I think my favorite part of each lap is when I have just turned around and I have the entire lane ahead of me to peacefully glide through the water. Sadly, my skin still smells like chlorine, but it is a small price to pay for my little morning retreat.

Coming Back to a Cup of Tea

I’ve written a lot on this blog about cups of tea. And today, I shall write again about my love for a nice cuppa. The thing is, tea is a constant in my life, almost like a security blanket. I suppose I could have chosen a more self-destructive way to self-medicate. But I’m glad I didn’t.

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My cup of tea is my quiet place, particularly in these last few weeks of waiting for our house mate to move out. I recently picked up a book after a particularly hard week and weekend. It’s called The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You. It’s very appropriate, particularly right now. This past weekend, our house mate had friends over (many of them mutual friends) for a going-away party, but after a wedding the weekend before, and a week on a business trip, I’d used up my tolerance for lots of people. Or any people.

So I closed myself off in my room like an invalid and Boyfriend sneaked me food from the party. It wasn’t exactly quiet or nice, but it was as close to what I needed as I was going to get. I’m finding myself frazzled by the noise of the world lately, and I think having my own house, where I can control the noise level, finally, will be a help. It’s been so long since I’ve had that, having lived in apartments or shared houses for so long. It sounds callous to say so, but I am almost glad that Boyfriend has had to work longer hours than I have lately because I enjoy having some time to myself.

Although right now, the closest I have to quiet time is to lose myself in a nice cup of tea.