We sometimes hear that it is possible to be alone but not lonely. At face value, it seems reasonable. Our personal growth, after all, should lead us to position where we can be alone but not lonely. We may also reject the notion on the grounds that humans are social animals and greatly desire, or need, to interact with each other. From such a perspective, it seems absurd to fathom someone living life alone but not lonely. Alone but not lonely surely means then, enjoying private time; that one may have time for reading a book or meditating for example. So what do we really mean by ‘alone but not lonely?’
Certainly we are not talking about hermits. Hermits are an anomaly and may, as far as we know, be leading lives of grave emotional disorders. I think in general the expression refers to single people who do not have a partner or have only a limited relationship with said partner. Some people who are ‘alone’ may remain alone their whole lives while other people may be just between relationships. Perhaps the former group may be chronically sad or ‘lonely’ (and perhaps not) while the emotions of the single person actively seeking the next relationship may seem more animated and excited, but inside they may feel more desperate (again though, perhaps not).
In both cases, it doesn’t really seem that these groups are ‘alone but not lonely.’ As the phrase is not ‘alone, and yet ecstatic,’ it may be worth looking at in another way. Perhaps being alone is not fun after all. I remember lamenting in therapy once that recently no one had been calling or e-mailing me, that no one was inviting me out, that I felt lonely and sad. After the meeting, a man approached me and said, ‘It’s OK friend, we all feel lonely sometimes.’ Perhaps to be ‘alone and not lonely’ then is to face our aloneness, our loneliness, with courage. Maybe it is to declare that you may be alone and not happy about it but you still have your dignity and you are still loved.