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Being Alone

…by Prill Boyle
While leading a Defying Gravity workshop last month, I asked the women
in the group to share a few of their fears. Lynn, a 50-something
divorcée, didn\’t hesitate. “I\’m afraid to grow old without a
companion,” she said.

The irony is that if Lynn remains single, she\’ll soon have plenty of
company. As we baby boomer women age, more and more of us will find
ourselves alone. Some of us will never marry. Others will divorce.
Statistically speaking, the majority of wives will end up widows.

If all this sounds depressing, keep in mind that being single isn\’t the
same as being alone, and being alone isn\’t the same as being lonely.
Some of the loneliest people on the planet are married.

Listen to Ann, a New Yorker who divorced five years ago. When asked if
she envies her married friends, she said, “Not really. Many of them are
as unhappy and isolated as I was. Yes, I\’d prefer to have a partner,
but I needed to be on my own to become myself. I like who I am so much
better now.”

Going solo, in other words, has its rewards. I experienced that
firsthand this past summer while spending a month by myself in the 1000
Islands in Upstate New York. When I made the decision to retreat there,
I knew I needed some quiet to recharge after a year filled with book
talks. But I was also curious to discover what would emerge from the

I ended up feeling much as I imagine the Iroquois natives felt who
lived in that region of the country hundreds of years ago. Reverent of
nature. A part of the breath of the earth. Tiny and huge at the same
time. Each day I rose with the sun, walked down the forty-nine steps
between my cottage and the adjoining boathouse, canoed around the
island, and took a swim in the St. Lawrence—a ritual that invigorated
my body and cleared my mind.

For two of the four weeks, I didn\’t set eyes on another soul. With no
way to the mainland except by a boat I didn\’t know how to drive, and no
means of discarding trash except by recycling, I had to draw on my
ingenuity. (I learned how to make a wonderful garbage soup!) Traveling
around the country giving speeches had left little time and energy for
starting a new book, but in the solitude of those days, I began to
write again. As the weeks went by, my awareness and acceptance of my
failings and strengths grew deeper. That\’s what emerged from the

I realize that many of you don\’t have the luxury of taking a month out
of your lives to be by yourselves, nor would you necessarily want to. I
also understand that not everyone has a spouse who would agree to such
a lengthy separation. And because I know my wonderful husband is
standing in the wings even when he\’s not with me, I can\’t say I\’m ever
truly alone. At least not now.

Maybe you don\’t have a partner. Maybe you don\’t get along with your
parents and siblings. Like Lynn and Ann, perhaps you want some kindred
spirits to walk through life with—loved ones who feel like family even
if they don\’t share your DNA. (Who wouldn\’t want that?) But as a
character in Wendy Wasserstein\’s Isn\’t It Romantic says, “No matter how
lonely you get…the trick is not to get frightened. There\’s nothing
wrong with being alone.”

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