College is weird. It is perhaps one of the few environments wherein we (I speak for myself, but I think this applies to many college students, particularly on small campuses like those of the Claremont Colleges) are surrounded by other people, in some capacity, at almost all moments of the day, every day.
Being in the company of others thus becomes the norm. Spending time alone deviates from this norm, and it can be a challenge to make space and time in order to truly feel alone.
Even if we find this time and space, the state of ‘being alone’ is stigmatized. The nature of college, the sheer quantity of people present within a small-ish radius, seems to render ‘alone time’ unnatural. A recent study at the University of Virginia even found that people would rather subject themselves to an electric shock than spend time on their own.
I am currently a senior and have been grappling with the theory and practice of alone time since the start of my college career. Speaking with the conviction of experience, one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in the past three-and-a-half years is the importance of taking time for myself: closing the door – physically and figuratively – on everything happening around me at all times, and spending time alone.
What exactly does this alone time look like? Of course, it is different for every individual. It might mean going on a solo walk or run, eating alone, getting off campus by yourself (whether that be going to The Village or Los Angeles), or hanging out on your own in your room (this can be difficult logistically for those not living in singles), etc. The common thread, I believe, is simply choosing to go at it alone. It is finding a break from the intense social matrix of college.
Only recently have I gotten the hang of this skill, and I certainly have yet to master it. Sometimes, I still feel an obligation to be with others – or maybe it is more accurate to say ‘be seen with others’ – even if I would prefer to be alone. For example, I did not feel comfortable eating by myself in dining halls until fairly recently.
But when I am able to take time for myself, I am reminded of how important that time is. For me, alone time can be restorative for my mind and body; it gives me space and time to engage in and explore hobbies (like doing crossword puzzles). It allows me to check in with myself physically and emotionally. It can also be an opportunity to get non-schoolwork tasks done, such as cleaning my room.
Sociologists and psychoanalysts agree that spending time alone has its benefits. These include increasing productivity and creativity and fostering self-exploration and discovery. Alone time provides a unique opportunity to look inwards. As sociologist Jack Fong explains in a very informative Atlantic article, “when people take these moments to explore their solitude, not only will they be forced to confront who they are, they just might learn a little bit about how to out-maneuver some of the toxicity that surrounds them in a social setting.”
The science behind the benefits of solitude is still young, and hard evidence of these benefits continues to grow. Regardless of any scientific corroboration, I can say that alone time is some of my favorite time.
I feel most in touch with myself during alone time. I also feel most in touch with the world around me during alone time. I suppose we have to know ourselves first in order to be able to know other people, much less an entire community or an entire world of other people.
So, if you can, take time to be alone. It might take effort, but close your door, go on a walk, sit by yourself. Embrace the discomfort that you might feel; I know I felt it and still feel it at times when I am alone.
I will not be in college for much longer; I will not always be in this odd environment, constantly surrounded by other people. But I am grateful to have learned, perhaps out of necessity, the value of alone time. In college, it has been a source of much-needed rejuvenation, but I think it will always be, no matter where I am, a helpful skill to have in my back pocket.