How to Be Alone

// 14 August 2010

A quick google search suggests that many women feel uncomfortable being alone, especially in public situations. It’s not that surprising, when we’re encouraged to define ourselves in relation to men, and told that we put ourselves at risk by venturing out by ourselves. I still hear tales of women who never go out without their male partner.

On the topic of being alone, this refreshing video poem, How To Be Alone by film maker Andrea Dorfman, and poet/singer/songwriter, Tanya Davis, has proved popular on YouTube:

“If you are at first lonely, be patient. If you’ve not been alone much, or if when you were, you weren’t okay with it, then just wait. You’ll find it’s fine to be alone once you’re embracing it.”

A transcript can be found under the video on YouTube.

Comments From You

Jessica // Posted 14 August 2010 at 4:23 pm

The idea that having a male partner in tow will make women safe from sexual assault is belied by events such as the recent sexual assault of a woman in the Allegheny National Forest who was with her husband at the time of her abduction.

Sarah // Posted 14 August 2010 at 5:50 pm

That’s absolutely beautiful. It made me cry, in a good way. Thank you!

Rose // Posted 14 August 2010 at 7:44 pm

That video’s awesome.

Bess // Posted 15 August 2010 at 11:37 am

what a lovely video. i am lucky in having friends and family i am really close to, and now a lovely husband, but I have always needed and still need to spend the occasional few hours in my own company, on a regular basis. while my loved ones totally accept this, it never ceases to amaze me that a woman by herself is assumed to want male company – I can’t count the number of times I’ve been approached in a horribly over familiar way in cafe’s, bookshops, while sitting on benches in public places, even in the library once, and been responded to rudely when I explain that I really actually want to be by myself (yes, really) and am not angling to be picked up. Etiquette hasn’t demanded that women need chaperones in public for a long time but somehow this appears to have passed many men by! How very quaint…

Hannah // Posted 15 August 2010 at 1:40 pm

I saw this video on the guardian round up the other week, it’s really lovely and makes some really smart points, I like how it stresses that being alone isn’t the same as being lonely.

The issue of being alone is a big one in feminism, but I don’t think it’s talked about very much. By which I mean, we’ll talk about the dangers of walking home alone, but perhaps not about the more existential fear of being alone that all the ‘advice’ seems to cause. I know that sometimes I feel uncomfortable being alone in the humanities study centre, or in my house, or out walking. I think it’s really important to know how to be alone, and in the ‘internet age’ (bleugh i sound like a 60 year old daily mail writer there), where you can have ‘contact’ with other people at the click of a button, we are perhaps less and less aware of how to be with ourselves. That’s more of a gender-neutral point, but it does seem like being alone is something that is particularly frowned on with women – women are social creatures, men are individualistic loners, as the stereotype goes. But always being around other people stops you thinking about things too much – it brings you back to the simple need for a room of one’s own.

Elmo // Posted 15 August 2010 at 2:26 pm


Laura // Posted 15 August 2010 at 10:35 pm

Love love love the poem, since i was a little girl my greatest fear has always been loneliness and I’ve never been great with my own company but it’s something I’ve been trying to work on, with varying degrees of sucess- I’ve always been very independent and so am happy to go to things alone but work very hard at connecting with others and forming mini friendships to evade loneliness. I find it far more difficult to attend events where there are less likely to be people seeking the same thing. I was tested in this way yesterday when i attended a friend’s wedding and had to go it alone through the ceremony and part of the reception before, to my relief, my partner arrived.

I think my struggle was exacerbated by having to face the question of why he and I were not married yet (after 7 years of being together) and explaining that in fact we’re never planning to marry. Somehow because i was on my own I felt that they pitied me and presumed that actually he just hadn’t asked me or that perhaps he didn’t really exist! Ridiculous! The overwhelming relief i felt when he arrived, just in time for dinner, was both wonderful and terrifying.

I wish I’d seen this video before i went and it’s really inspired me to work harder.

maggie // Posted 16 August 2010 at 2:36 pm

Elmo I second beautiful.

My husband left me recently for someone else. What I can’t understand is why he left me in this extremely hurtful way. He told me our long union was a sham. But he could only leave if there was someone else to take up the reins of partnership. I wish he left years ago if he was as unhappy as he said. I wish for his sake and our children he’d not done it this way. But what is done cannot be undone.

I’ve been enjoying my own company but mindful that others might see me as lonely and desperate. Something to be pitied and a little despised.

I think this video has said more to me than all the comforting mewlings from my friends and family, though soothing and grateful for them nonetheless.

Thank you for a beautiful poem.

Kate // Posted 16 August 2010 at 3:01 pm

I love this video, also saw it on the Guardian a few weeks ago.

I think it is important for feminism to talk about what it means to be alone. I was listening to Kathy Burke on Desert Island Discs yesterday and she stated that she spends 90% of her time alone and doesn’t “do relationships”. The interviewer was incredulous at the idea: how could Kathy write herself off like that?! The idea that she’d come to a positive decision was comfortable being alone was apparently a little too radical.

Hannah // Posted 17 August 2010 at 2:36 pm

Kate, I listened to that Desert Island Discs as well and was also a bit bemused by Kirsty Young’s remarks about Kathy Burke’s choice to be alone. I would like to think that Young is a bit smarter than to make those suggestions, but that she was just articulating what she assumed would be the thoughts of many listeners. After all, wanting to be alone is an unusual choice, or at least, it’s unusual to admit to being happier alone. Desert Island Discs isn’t about the presenter’s personality, and usually questions are just to tease out more information from the guest, which is then left to speak for itself rather than being challenged. Still, the way Young phrased the questions made them feel accusatory, especially when she talked about Burke writing herself off (which you quote, and which I think were the exact words Young used.) I think Burke was surprised as I was.

Shea // Posted 17 August 2010 at 9:38 pm

Very moving and very beautiful. I always thought of being alone as a gift.

Friends, family, work and society always seem to demand so much time and company (in the best possible way) that a few hours to be alone and contemplate are rare and valuable.

I agree with Kathy Burke, we are lucky to be able to be alone. Think, a hundred years ago a woman would not have been able to live alone, unless she was lucky, she would have been dependent on a husband or family or church for support. We are extremely fortunate to have the choice.

@ maggie – I empathise massively. I was in the same situation a year ago. My husband left unexpectedly after I was raped. I was devastated too, but I now realise it was blessing in disguise. It freed me from a relationship I would never have left voluntarily and has allowed me to become more truly the person I am. I went through the same thoughts – people will pity and despise me and the cries of “move on” from my family (which were more about making themselves feel better). But ultimately I am so grateful. We have a freedom so few women thoroughout history have ever had. The choice to construct a life without a man, to choose to be in a relationship or not, to discover the person you are without putting your needs second. To be on our own with all the adventure and opportunity that affords.

And you know? My husband changed his mind six months to the day after he left and wants to come back and to reconcile. But I have realised just how much the single life suits me, and odds are so will you.

There has never been a better time to be alone.

angercanbepower // Posted 24 August 2010 at 4:37 pm

Wow, that really was moving.

‘It’s ok if no one believes like you – all experience is unique.’

Maybe I shouldn’t be so angry. But maybe you need to be to change things. Argh.

Gregory // Posted 8 January 2011 at 5:30 am

I’m a 20 year old hetrosexual male.

I cried.

I love this video so much, and I love you too.

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