Halloran: The importance of learning how to be alone


Sara Halloran, Columnist

The majority of my normal college day is spent alone.

If you told my high school self that as a college sophomore, my day-to-day interactions are mainly with my classmates, she’d certainly be disappointed. I wasn’t the most popular, but I would interact with my close circle of friends throughout the day. Even if we didn’t have classes together, we’d congregate over lunch or visit each other in study hall. Not a day went by in which I didn’t see them. Besides, I had always thought that college, with its schedule more flexible than my rigid, seven-hour high school day, would mean more facetime with my friends. We could virtually — or actually, if we chose to be roommates — live together.

And yet, thanks to our various extracurriculars, homework assignments and jobs, I now regularly go half a week without seeing my friends in person.

In fact, learning how to be alone may be the most important skill I’ve picked up in college. This isn’t to be confused with independence, a quality that is almost inevitably adopted once parents are no longer around. Being alone is slightly harder to master, especially since it is a state so closely associated with loneliness. However, accepting aloneness has made me feel freer, rather than abandoned — I can go see a movie, have a meal or even work out by myself, all of which would have mortified me in high school. I know if I truly feel uncomfortable, I can summon a friend with a quick text. But it’s reassuring to me that the single most important person in my life is myself — I know I’ll never feel completely helpless on my own.

I know most people aren’t as introverted as I am, meaning they, unlike me, may not rely on that alone time to recharge. It’s important to maintain relationships that strengthen you, and if you’re an extrovert, this may include a large number of friends and even acquaintances. However, the healthiest extroverts I know find that people gravitate toward them due to their confidence and strong senses of self, traits that are only cultivated through self-acceptance. Wherever you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, sooner or later, you’ll have to spend time by yourself. There is no need to meditate or think deeply during this time — if you simply find a way to feel at ease, you’ll eventually begin to see new value in “me time.”

Truthfully, much of adult life — at least, young adulthood — is spent alone. Almost all college friends go separate ways after graduation, and, after a tiring nine-to-five workday, it may not always be possible or practical to meet with friends. Thankfully, technology enables us to converse with our friends remotely (a skill that adolescents and young adults have been honing for years now). The ease with which we can connect with our human network means we have the ability to never be lonely, but we may still face a large amount of time alone. The sooner we can adapt to this imminent change by making alone time our own, the better, meaning college is a perfect opportunity to acclimate.

I’m lucky in that, even at this early stage in my undergraduate career, I can see some of the friendships I’ve made here becoming lifelong connections. My close friends are hilarious, caring and undoubtedly make my life better. But we have our own separate, busy lives, meaning that tonight, I’ll most likely eat dinner alone. And I am more than okay with that.

Sara Halloran is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.