Alone time

Illustration: Sari Cohen

10 of 20
Do I Enjoy My Own Company?
In my early 30s, I moved from a small bungalow in the Bay Area to a hippie barn in Santa Fe to take a new job. The barn, with its tin doors and weathered wood, had seemed novel, a radical change. Here my boyfriend and I would explore our mellow sides, walking the dog on dusty horse trails, eating dinner at our picnic table. It sounded romantic.

But soon after we'd unpacked, he left for a month-long writing fellowship in another state. I found myself in this new, rural place alone. And I panicked. Though I'd grown up an only child, I no longer knew how to sit with myself for long stretches of time. And honestly, my childhood had been lonely. My parents both had busy, demanding careers and a penchant for budget babysitters—many of whom did little more than watch television and talk on the phone. I spent great swaths of time inventing games by myself in my room. As soon as I was old enough to drive, I hung out constantly with friends, a habit that persisted throughout my 20s. I wasn't all that interested in reclaiming solitude. In the first week alone in the barn, I called every person in my phone, even people I barely knew. But after I'd talked to everyone, after my eyes nearly fell out of my head from watching TV, I realized I couldn't keep this up for four weeks.

So I did something I'd always wanted to do: I signed up for banjo lessons.

At night I practiced, looking out at the sunsets over the chamisa flowers, the jackrabbits loping by. When I got tired of the chord progressions, I'd knit or read. And though I expected to be dogged by loneliness—that mortal childhood enemy—I felt, instead, a surprising calm. All this time, I'd been working so hard to avoid myself, but as it turned out, I liked being alone. Me and myself had so many shared interests, so much to say to each other! If I permitted it, I was good company. That felt like such a revelation.

The longest relationship we have with anyone is with ourselves, and yet that relationship is often the first one we let slide. Maintaining it brings such comfort, though: Liking your company means that you always have at your beck and call a person who gets you.

So if everyone departs and you're left feeling lonely and adrift—or if you never allow yourself to be alone—ask yourself what you'd do if you had a friend over. You'd be curious about her, you'd engage with her, you'd be compassionate. Why not treat yourself the same way?

—Robin Romm, author of, most recently, the memoir The Mercy Papers