Alone vs. Lonely. Is there really a difference?

Amanda McPherson

There is something about the actress Jennifer Lawrence that causes most women to say, “that’s the kind of girl I could be friends with.” I had been a little bit of a hold-out on the total girl crush thing, but I must admit that she won me over in her recent interview with Barbara Walters. I fell for her willingness to take on a really unsexy, unglamorous topic in a really authentic way. She had the guts to talk about something on national television that most of us are afraid to talk about with our closest friends – loneliness. My new girl crush said, “sometimes, when everyone goes away, I feel lonely. I have to remind myself, I’m alone, but I’m not lonely.” I’ve been thinking a lot about this candid confession. I think most women struggle with the fear of being alone, but it isn’t something we like to talk about. As humans, we crave connection, and that is a beautiful thing; but, when the fear of being alone is too strong it can become a problem.

I vividly remember the conversation that made me realize how much I avoided being alone. I was asked when I had last spent a Friday or Saturday night at home alone. I literally could not remember. I distinctly recall this person’s eyes growing wide with shock and them saying, “Really? You work full-time, you go to school at night, and you stay busy all weekend every weekend? Wow!” I could be wrong, but I don’t think that “wow” was meant as a compliment. I think it was more of a “girl, you need to get your roots done” kind of “wow.” I guess it did sound a little strange. Sure, I’m a pretty social animal, but when did I ever have time to refuel and reflect? Even more, when did I have time to get to know myself – to listen to that little voice inside me (who, by the way, happened to have some things to tell me)? I was drowning my inside voice out. Sure I was drowning it out with seemingly harmless things – friends, shopping, dating, school, work. But nonetheless, there was no stillness. No rest. No time to ask myself some questions and search for some answers. I wasn’t consciously avoiding being alone, but I had artfully created a lifestyle that left very little opportunity for alone time. Perhaps I did this because I wasn’t sure there was a difference between being alone and loneliness.

A friend of mine used to have a standing Friday night date with herself when she was single. Her ritual was to go by herself to a coffee shop to read and write and just be alone. We were in our early 20s at the time, and this idea seemed absolutely awful to me. I mean, I was ready and willing to hit the town with her, and she was choosing to be alone! Why in the world would she want to do that? Well, I’ll tell you why…. It was in those quiet moments of reflection that she acknowledged her addiction to unhealthy men. Those nights helped her deepen her faith in God, which was something that had always been important to her, but had been put on the back burner. Those nights helped her fall in love with herself and her life. I have a hunch those epiphanies would not have happened on the sticky dance floor of our favorite bar. She became one of the most grounded women I know, and never fear, her dancing shoes came out on Saturdays. I’m not saying that going alone to a coffee shop will answer all of your dreams. But, I can attest to the fact that my friend’s light shone a bit brighter due to what she learned in those quiet moments. Her positive, confident energy was, and still is, hard to resist.

Just like I’d never admonish you to give up your salon services, I’m not advocating that you become a recluse. Family, friends and community are important. If you value those things, you give them your time. I think it’s worth repeating: If you value something, you give it your time. So, how much time are you giving yourself? When was the last time you gave yourself a moment to focus on your own thoughts and feelings? How’s that relationship with your inner voice going? In short, how are you taking care of those roots that are uniquely and beautifully yours?

At the ripe old age of 23, Jennifer Lawrence seems to realize something pretty important: there is a difference between being alone and being lonely. Being alone isn’t so bad if you like the company you keep. It’s possible to feel incredibly connected and peaceful being alone. Spending time alone allows you to check in, to see if you like the direction you are going, and to make sure you aren’t just being dragged along by the noise, the demands, the roles we play.

Being lonely, on the other hand, is painful. It hurts. Loneliness rears its head when we are feeling disconnected from ourselves and others. We aren’t immune to loneliness just because we’re in a relationship, have children or stay incredibly busy. In fact, some of the loneliest moments happen when we’re not alone at all. If you’re feeling a prolonged sense of loneliness, it’s probably time to do some examination. The pain of loneliness is urging you to do something differently in your life. Perhaps you need to take an honest look at your current relationships and activities. Are they providing you with a sense of connection? If not, maybe some of your energy needs to go towards rekindling lost connections or creating new ones. Or, maybe you need to take some time figuring out why you don’t enjoy your own company. You don’t have to remain lonely. But, you may have to get really honest about what is going on.

If you are running scared from being alone, or if you can’t shake a feeling of loneliness, I encourage you to think about the “why” behind it. Wrestle with it. Work on it. Give yourself a chance to fall in love with you.

Girl, your roots are such good company!