Why being alone doesn’t have to mean being lonely

We all need some alone time, but it doesn’t mean we’re lonely.

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin went on their moon jolly, Michael Collins remained in the command module and orbited the moon. For 47 minutes at a time, when the moon was between him and the earth, Collins was out of communication with Mission Control. For 47 minutes at a time, those distance voices were silenced. He was alone, and at the time, named the “loneliest person in the world.”

Not since Adam has any human known such solitude as Mike Collins is experiencing during this 47 minutes of each lunar revolution.

MIssion control statement

But that wasn’t Collins’ take on it. Instead, he enjoyed the peace and quiet that came with his solitude.

“I was not lonely,” Collins said at an event in New York in 2019, “I had a happy little home in the command module. Behind the moon it was very peaceful — no one in Mission Control is yakkin’ at me and wanting me to do this, that, and the other. So I was very happy, it was a happy home.”

Michael Collins, Nasa Astronaut

Collins wasn’t lonely. He was taking a break from the voices on earth. His mind had time to wander amongst its thoughts. When I first heard this story, I thought, how marvellous. Total alone time. No chance of anyone interrupting you or ‘just popping in.’ No phones, no background chatter, no distractions.

I’ve often thought about becoming a hermit, leaving the noise and people behind and setting up home on an isolated island. I’d be quite happy, as long as my cats and books come with me, and of course, my husband, although he might have to spend some time on the other side of the island now and then.

Lockdown has increased my desire to do this. My neighbours, all the extra people taking exercise outside, are clawing away at my already limited peopling ability. And yes, everyone else has a right to be outside, but won’t someone please think of the introverts! Perhaps we could negotiate a day each week where everyone else leaves us alone, I promise we’ll be nice and calm again after that.

Everyone, introverts especially, should have the ability to be alone. And it doesn’t have to be ‘quiet time,’ I love having the house to myself for an hour so I can dance around my living room to music from the greatest hair bands of the 80s. We all need to be more honest with those around us, explain why time alone is not about being lonely, it’s about recharging and refilling your ability to deal with people.

It took me a while to accept that I was an introvert, but when I did my world changed for the better. I’m now more open about not being in a people mood, and the more you say it, the more they understand that it’s not about them – they also know that without the non-people time, I can get a little bit arsy, so it’s better for us all if they leave me alone for a bit. This works for weddings, evenings out, holidays – if they see me on my own, they now leave me be, knowing I’ll come back when I’m ready.

Would I go to the other side of the moon to get some alone time, maybe, although I’m not great with heights or flying. For now, I’m etching out my own time and space where I can, be it in the house or going for a walk in the evening or on a rainy day (fewer people out there with me). I’m also planning for a time when I can go a bit further, perhaps a day on a less touristy beach or a short break to a remote Welsh cottage. For me, that would be as good as the dark side of the moon.

These thoughts are coming from my own experience. As an introvert, I need space and time away from people, including the people I live with (don’t worry, they know and understand this). However, I recognise that I am lucky to have these people near me when I need them. There are a lot of people in the world who are feeling lonely, especially during lockdown. So please reach out to family, friends, and neighbours. A video call isn’t quite the same as meeting face to face but it shows that a friendly face is never far away.

The featured image on this page is of the moon with the lower third in shadow. Image by Ponciano from Pixabay

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