Here we are in social isolation in Canada, a land know for huge expanses where no one lives. Depending on where you live, I think, you are already in some type of isolation. Many friends live on farms and already don’t go into the local town more than once a week. Some choose to live as I do in the big, bustling city with a quiet need to spend a lot of time alone writing or creating. However, I still need to see and touch others, to share space, to be part of a community. We cannot live without other humans in our lives, especially if we are struggling with any mental or physical health issue. But do we need to constantly be in touch, via email or text or always with another person? No. But how did we get to thinking we needed constant contact with the world 24/7?

When I don’t have to hear you screaming on your phone on the bus, I feel happy!

When in history did being alone become bad?

History Extra published a great article on the History of Loneliness. Historian Fay Bound Alberti explains that the language of loneliness didn’t exist before the 18th century in the Western world, as seen in personal journals of the average person demonstrated. It was possible to be and feel alone, but that was called ‘oneliness’. As well, faith played a huge part. If there was a god, people reasoned, you were never truly alone. People also disagreed over the importance of being alone: having solitude (derived from the Latin solitudo, meaning, like oneliness, the state of being alone). Alberti points out that some, “…believed solitude was damaging to a person’s physical and mental health, while others held that it was crucial to stay sane…Besides which, solitude alone produced strength of personality and will.”

Solitude and being alone only as a negative thanks to those darn Victorians. Alberti writes that in the overly dramatic Victorian mind. We can cite the focus on the individual that began in the 19th century, “…linked to industrialization, secular humanism and romanticism, put more emphasis on emotions linked to abandonment – especially loneliness.” Look at Queen Victoria: she wore black after her husband died for 40 years, and seem to wallow in the misery of being alone as a desirable thing. “In the individualistic, go-getting western world of the early 20th century, extraversion was more valued than introversion. Confidence and gregariousness were not only regarded as social lubricants but also associated with good mental health.”

Queen Victoria in black but actually smiling.
Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Alberti’s article is a great starting point for thinking about how we perceive being alone and the differences in what it actually means. Are we actually talking about alienation created by our modern world? Consider this: we didn’t have an epidemic of people being lonely until the majority of us moved into cities, and society focused on the idealization of the individual. Do you think something about the way we physically live may be part of the cause. Ask yourself if you know who your neighbour are, your community leaders. Do you have a sense of belonging somewhere? No wonder we can be lonely now if there are no deeper connections in our environment to the environment, to the people around us.

Whereas solitude is more a choice and can be a positive as it was believed before and could be now. The quiet contemplation of not having constant diversions or other people creates what is calm, and maybe in some a growth. I can’t write if I’m being nattered at or in the presence of others who may demand my time and energy. I choose to be quiet and have solitude. I am not lonely when I choose to be alone. Many times I have troubled people with my desire to be singular, that it means I’m depressed again. No. I grow as a person when I am alone, happy in my own company and ideas. Find that I have more resources and abilities to persevere. There are rooms in my mind that I furnish with ideas and emotions. Now I can think of what really means something to me and my life versus the false sense of connectivity that seems to swirl around modern life.

I am happily alone in my solitude.

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