I’m alone, I’m not lonely

Every so often, an article appears on line about loneliness, and many refer to the UCLA Loneliness Scale (here from an NIH article). The survey questions are careful to distinguish between ‘lonely’ and ‘alone’ and don’t treat them as synonyms, although I’ve seen variants of the survey that do confuse the two.

Lonely is a feeling; alone is a state. They may co-occur but there is nothing automatic about their co-occurrence. How lonely you feel hasn’t got much to do with how alone you are.

Although most people understand the difference between the two conditions when it’s pointed out to them, they routinely conflate them in daily life. If I am alone, people assume this is an undesirable state and take measures to ‘relieve’ my aloneness. This is of course kind-hearted of them – they believe they are relieving my suffering – except it’s not what I want.

I am aware that the health consequences of loneliness are serious and alarming (in one article I read, the equivalent of a 15-cigarettes-a-day habit). What bothers me is the leap from “x% of people are lonely” to “people are social animals and no-one should be alone because it’s bad for them”. Therefore, anyone who is alone should be forcibly socialised for the good of their health.

Except I’m not lonely: I’m alone and I’ve chosen to be alone because I enjoy being alone. Humans may be social creatures, but that doesn’t mean we all have to socialise all the time. For me, the consequences of forced socialisation have as harmful an impact as the consequences of loneliness: stress, fatigue, and physical symptoms like upset stomach.

I like sitting in a cafe on my own, enjoying the break from conversation and people.  At a party, I’d rather stand around the fringes and watch people than be part of a circle of people talking and laughing.

So in the nicest possible way: please leave me alone. You’d be doing me a favour.

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