Monday, September 21, 2020

Living Alone - Being Alone

People behave differently when alone, with someone else, or in groups.

We see quite a few people who go camping by themselves.   At first, this seemed odd to us, but then again, there are quite a lot of people who live alone in this country.  We have friends and acquaintances who live alone, by choice or circumstance, and it is interesting to see how behavior patterns change.

Even if you are in a relationship, if you are off by yourself, your behavior changes.  I notice this on the rare (very rare, these days) occasion that I go off to the big-box store by myself, or if we split off to do separate shopping at Walmart to save time.   Our actions are different.  I often say that Mr. See is the other half of my brain, and it seems to be the case for both of us.   It takes two of us just to drive the parade float (the King Ranch) as it is hard to see out of and is 19 feet long.  But beyond that, as you get older, it gets harder and harder to do things, like drive, and it helps to have a second set of eyes on things.

But circumstance often pushes people to live alone.  A spouse dies, for example, and you end up single again - a jarring event for someone used to living with a spouse for, say, 34 years, as in our case.   Living on retirement island, we see this happen to the leftover spouse, and often how they struggle, financially and emotionally, when their partner dies.  We agree that the lucky one is the one who dies first, not the one who has to do the messy work of settling estates and trying to redefine their lives.

For some, finding a new mate is the answer - and often men are the weaker sex in this regard, remarrying more often than women do.  Then again,with the ratio of men to women in the elderly set being what it is, it is harder for women to find a new man than vice-versa.   Widows were bringing casseroles to my Dad at my Mother's funeral.  Widows learn early on that waiting a "respectful period" allows another widow to insinuate herself with the widower.

But others choose a life of solitude as a lifestyle choice.  We have some friends who live alone and prefer to live alone.  Maybe they go out on a date on occasion, but in terms of a relationship, they want none of it.   They are OK with having sex with someone, but not sharing a toothbrush!   There is nothing wrong with that, of course, if it is what one prefers in life.  We all make different choices.  We notice that people who live alone, however, place a lot more value in friendships and have more friends and social activities.   Perhaps that is the trade-off - a relationship or marriage takes up so much of your social time that you have less time for your buddies - as many a new husband is loathe to discover.

I find that when I am by myself, I am more inclined to engage others and chat more.   When I am with Mark, we spend more time talking to each other and are less inclined to engage with strangers.   In hindsight, this seems pretty obvious.  I guess your brain has a certain capacity for social engagement, and when starved for it, seeks it out, and when full, eschews more.

The corollary to this is when you are in a group.  In a group, as opposed to being alone or with one other, one tends to get louder and more boisterous, more self-confident.  The group provides positive feedback to the individual.  Lone individuals are less outgoing, and thus viewed by the group as weak or defective.  And I think this is one reason why groups of people are more likely to bully individuals.

I am not sure what made me think of this, other than we saw a nice man camping in a hammock-tent (that you string between trees - sounds cold!) by himself.  He went hiking by himself (a problem if you twist your ankle five miles from nowhere) and prepared his meals and sat and read by himself.  Perhaps he valued the solitude, living in some noisy city the rest of the time.   Weirder still, we heard him mention to another camper that he was married - and left the spouse at home to go camping solo.

That's something we've heard more than once, and it puzzles us.  To have a spouse and not enjoy the same activities together?  But then again, we see this all the time at home - each house you walk by having two flickering lights at each end - televisions.   He watched Fox News and gets angry, while she watches home improvement shows and gets depressed.  (Thanks to a reader for that link to another Ray Bradbury story that seems eerily prescient).  People living together but living alone.

Now granted, sometimes being alone can be fun - you feel unrestricted by the actions of a partner or other.  Want to go through the drive-through at Micky-D's?  No one is stopping you - even though they probably should.   That's the problem with alone behavior - it leads to more alone-ness.   When you do whatever you want, you become less appealing to others.  Not only that, once you get used to the idea of doing what you want, when you want, the idea of a partner or spouse seems chafing and restricting.

It's nice to be off the leash once in a while.  On the other hand, it is nice to have someone on the other end of that leash, most of the time.