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Alone Is Not a Synonym for Lonely: A Single Woman Explains

After her divorce, Beverly Willett slowly became comfortable going out alone and realized to be afraid of that is to be afraid of ourselves.

After my ex-husband left, I developed supersonic radar for all the sad songs when they came on the radio. Gilbert O’Sullivan’s lyrics for “Alone Again (Naturally)” especially resonated with my thoughts of jumping off our roof deck along with questioning God’s existence. There was nothing natural whatsoever about being forced to be alone after 20 years of marriage.

Weekends had always been family time, but that routine gave way to scheduled visitation when my children were off with dad to the other life they were building without me—which left me home alone in a panic.  

I’d look at my empty calendar for the alternate weekend or school break ahead, and a well of fear would rise up that had nothing to do with my biological hardwiring to sense danger. We lived in a secure house in a safe neighborhood, but I felt scared nonetheless.

Read More: 40 Ways to Celebrate Your Birthday—or Any Other Occasion—Alone

Scared of Being Alone? The Busy Cure

I pushed away the fear with busyness. The lengthy litigation meant divorce papers to deal with during my time off. Our big house required constant maintenance. Errands never ended. But that still left chunks of time when even the most enticing book couldn’t quell the voices reminding me I was ALONE. Nights were the loneliest.

Nights were the loneliest.

Most of my friends were married, with weekends earmarked for family time too. So I nurtured friendships with other divorced moms and single women and planned outings to fill time.

Going out alone wasn’t an option. Most people travel in groups or with a companion. Alone people stick out, and I didn’t need to call additional attention to myself. I imagined the self-pitying glances I’d get from others who’d perceive me as an unworthy human too. And why on earth spend more time with myself than I had to?

Not Trying to Fill Time

Then I had an epiphany, perhaps triggered by my meditation class that week. But in the moment between examining my empty calendar and the fear that accelerated my pulse, a voice told me to do the opposite—don’t plan anything. Somehow I held onto that (what felt like) bizarre thought all week. And when no friend called with an invitation, after the children walked out Friday evening, the silent weekend lie before me. The next day an old client and his wife called. In town briefly, they wondered if I was free for dinner. I was! And I’d have missed out on this pleasant surprise if I’d scrambled to fill my calendar. (Note: I don’t cancel on friends when something better comes along.)

I realized later the obvious truth that the only person stopping me and shrinking my possibilities in life was me.

I repeated my experiment the next Friday to Sunday stretch. This time no one called. I survived the weekend unsupervised.

And then I ventured to the movies alone. I realized later the obvious truth that the only person stopping me and shrinking my possibilities in life was me. If others in the ticket line whispered about the poor woman at the movies alone, I never knew about it. They could as easily have been jealous. After all, I could choose my own movie, unhampered by the task of haggling with partners, friends, and children.

I added solo visits to restaurants and vacations to my activities. Silent meditation retreats became calendar staples. In 2013, I sold my NYC home and moved to Savannah alone where I knew no one and built a new life.

Divorce allowed me to get to know myself again. Along with shedding stuff, I shed the weight of so many fears. The fear of being alone was a big one.

Finding the Balance

Too much social isolation isn’t physically or mentally healthy. That’s not what I’m suggesting at all, but rather, a balance. I’m a confirmed extrovert. I love parties, and I love laughing with my friends. But I also enjoy my own company. Out alone, I strike up conversations with strangers, but sometimes I prefer a meal or concert by myself. The goal of going out alone is not meeting people. How else could I be happy either way?

“I could never do what you do,” a woman said to me recently. Statistically, women outlive men. One day she may find herself without the partner who’s always on her arm. She’s the one I feel sorry for. Will she be able to learn how brave she really is or fall into the trap of unhealthy loneliness?

Each time I chose to spend time alone, the braver and more optimistic I became.

Courage doesn’t come all at once. I worked my way to becoming bolder. But each time I chose to spend time alone, the braver and more optimistic I became. And the fear naturally dissipated.

I laugh to myself now when I recall that single mom of two living in NYC who’d once been afraid of a little peace and quiet.

Of course I have an occasional relapse into the “poor me” syndrome. A few years ago, I’ll admit, I did not look forward to sitting alone in the Superdome watching my youngest graduate while my cheating ex sat with wife number three, who’d sent me an unsolicited email with choice words even though we’d never met or corresponded. I couldn’t do anything about my ticket for one. But I could draw the line at sitting at the same celebratory graduation dinner with that pair, pasting on a fake smile and coming home with indigestion.

Mainly for the sake of my daughter’s own peace of mind, I told her to celebrate with dad on her own. I went off alone to one of the best restaurants in New Orleans, parked myself at the bar, and had a grand time. I extended my hotel stay—worth every penny—and my daughter and I had our own celebration the following evening.

Last year, “Alone Again (Naturally)” seemed to have a resurgence in airplay along with its 50th anniversary. Orson Welles said that we’re born alone and die alone. In between we live in community and often partnerships, but this, he said, only creates the illusion that we’re not in fact alone.

To be afraid of that is to be afraid of ourselves. I feel blessed to be back in communion with myself.

Alone is not a synonym for lonely.

Read More: Would You Ever Travel Alone? Here’s Why One Woman Loves Flying Solo


Beverly Willett is the author of Disassembly Required: A Memoir of Midlife Resurrection and the novel in progress, Nobody’s Fault. She wrote this article at home, alone, and polished it at a bar, alone.

By Beverly Willett


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