I spent most of my life wanting to be more alone: wanting to leave neighborhood pickup wiffle ball games early so that I could instead go read a book, wanting my own bedroom at home instead of sharing with my brother, wanting to leave home for college and, once here, waiting anxiously to have a single. No roommate for me; I just wanted to be alone.
That fantasy of seclusion is deeply carved into the American psyche, built into the narratives of every successful politician and every movie superhero. Even the Bible sends its protagonist to the wilderness for rebirth. We aspire to retreat into the backwoods when all else fails, and then to wall ourselves off in gated houses ringed by hedges when we succeed. While we work towards that lofty vision, we make do with white wires that plug music into our heads and lounges that have been converted into dorms because we don’t value the space that we provide as much as we value the contributions of a few more paying customers.
Even in our romantic efforts, such as they are for those in that awkward transition between youth and adulthood, we tend towards the solitary. There is no lonelier moment than the long walk home the day after a meaningless encounter, no deeper connection in a single drunken rendezvous with a stranger, where the conversation is scattered, not remembered, or entirely absent. We say that we would like to fix this, but we never take action to change.
We have become far too skilled at being alone together.
In a few days’ time I will graduate from a college where I have built a life and a reputation and say goodbye to the friends that have accumulated over the past four years, unsure of when – if ever – I will see them again. I will pack my possessions into my car and hope that it doesn’t break down on my way out of the state. I will finally have the option to be completely alone. I could call it soul-searching, or recharging, tell everyone that I need some space. But at long last, perhaps later than I might have hoped, I know that is not what I want.
We blaze trails not so that we might escape the world, but so that others might follow the track that we made through the snow. Every one of the experiences that we define ourselves by is better with the companionship of others; this fall I spent a lonely week in Norway and an amazing weekend where my friends and I barely left our house. We are not born alone nor do we die that way; we are born into the embrace of our families and when we die they gather around to recount the happy moments of our lives, and the moments in between where we steal solitude from company are the moments most likely to later bear the tinge of regret.
The best friends that I have found have come when I have given other people the chance to reject me flat out or welcome me into their circle; the times that I decided to show up at a new group or turned a conversation into an invitation to dinner, drinks, or skiing. Too many of my friends seem to fear that the sheer act of asking reeks of desperation, but the regret of not acting far outlasts whatever embarrassment it might cause.
As I move on into the next uncertain chapter, I do not regret the excesses of my time in college: the times that the night ended and the sun rose over the Green Mountains while my friends and I sat and talked about everything and nothing, the hours spent in the dining hall over many tiny courses, or the morning classes that I blew off to head to make fresh tracks at the Snow Bowl. What I do regret are the times that I held back. I regret waiting until junior year to try out the sailing and debate teams. I regret waiting to join my social house and the editorial staff of my campus newspaper until my final year. I regret the times where I valued solitude and “me time” over team spirit and hard work.