As the Russian ballerina, Grusinskaya, in the movie Grand Hotel (1932), the melodramatic actress Greta Garbo said, “I want to be alone.” These words also became associated with her in her private life.
But in a rare interview she clarified her intent: “I never said, ‘I want to be alone.’ I only said, ‘I want to be left alone!’ There is all the difference.”
Once a year I go on a private retreat. I leave the city, leave Tom and the dog, and leave the office. I escape. I have been doing this every year for a very long time.
I want to be left alone, I want to be alone…but what I don’t want to be is lonely.
Sometimes women don’t know how to differentiate the left alone, from the alone and the lonely. Too often they think these are all the same.
But being left alone means that no one is making you crazy at the current time—not your kids, your dog, your spouse, your relatives, your boss…not the world at large. “Left alone” can happen at any moment in time and on any day, even if it is just for an hour. It can be an escape to the bathroom for a long shower; an appointment at the local salon to get your hair done; or a visit to the neighborhood spa for a massage. To make this an exceptional momentary escape, don’t tell anyone where you are going. Or leave the cellphone in the car. Before you go home, stop for coffee at a quiet bistro or sit on a bench in a nearby park watching the birds or reading a book. The very joy is having some time where you are truly “left alone.”
Being alone is another dimension. It is beyond just having a few moments or hours where no one bothers you. Being alone is a deliberate decision to spend time with yourself…to spend time with your thoughts. It is going on retreat. There are no cellphones allowed. It is a time to restore your sense of self and your sense of well-being. It is a necessity, and it requires a few days, not just a few hours. It requires planning: Sitters for the kids and the pets. Days off from work. Money. But the reward is worth all of the time, money, and planning efforts. The reward is a kinder, gentler, happier, healthier you. And that is a reward that all the members of the family or employees of your company can also enjoy.
Now the irony of this is that too many women think being left alone and being alone equate to being lonely. Interestingly, it is those women who are so very “not lonely” who most need the time to be left alone and need the time to be alone.
Being lonely is depressing. Being left alone is refreshing.
Being lonely requires therapy. Being left alone can be life changing…being alone is therapy.
Being lonely sends some women into a tailspin where they reach out for the first (often unsuitable) relationship that shows itself. Being alone sends you into a relationship with yourself that reminds you all you have is all you need. And if some other person enters your life, they could be a nice addition.
Being lonely is typically not a choice. Being left alone can be a quick decision…being alone is a conscious choice.
To maintain your focus, carve out some time in every day where you are left alone. To maintain your sanity, plan an extended time to be alone. To maintain a happy life, make an effort to not be lonely. Join an organization; take a class; volunteer in your community; invite a co-worker out for dinner. Enjoy the company of others…then enjoy some time alone.