“I Want to Be Alone”

Greta Garbo.

Stunning woman. Fascinating actress. Iconic in every way.

Her beauty and mystery is heightened by the mythology of her reclusiveness, disappearing from public view following retirement from film at age 36.

Like many of us, when I see an image of Garbo, I recall the famous line from 1932’s Grand Hotel: I want to be alone. I just want to be alone.

And you know what? I get it.

For some of us, spending time alone is never desirable. For others, it’s more than relaxing; it’s absolutely necessary.

Perhaps it’s a function of years of parenting, or a sign of being anti-social, or timid. Perhaps it depends on how you make your living, and the manner in which you find a means of escape.

But what about the element of nature? Or is needing to be alone a matter of nurture – environment and situation?


As a child, I lived in my imagination much of the time. I played on my own, often reading, writing, or drawing. I bordered on shy in some situations, grew out of it by my teens, and happily socialized and interacted with others – especially when it came to substantive discussion on subjects that interested me.

I traveled alone. I explored alone. I was comfortable alone, and equally, with new people. Yet I have friends who are staggered that I changed countries on my own, that I ventured overseas solo, and that I still do so, when I can. And I enjoy it – the heady sense of freedom, the possibility of adventure.

And even now, I recognize my particular needs: periods without speaking, time consecrated to myself, the reality of answering to no one. Especially after a married life in which the compromises were many. Too many. For too long.

Admittedly, as a single parent, alone time has been rare. Perhaps that’s part of why I continue to cherish it to such an extent?

Alone in Relationship

Do I want to “end up alone?”

Of course not!

Who doesn’t seek the company of a special person, of loving friends, or even a social circle of playmates you can thoroughly enjoy? And when it comes to a serious relationship, no one wants to feel alone, to feel disconnected from the very one who should know you best and vice versa.

For many of us who have been married, we know that particular loneliness. In place of trust, companionship, and emotional intimacy, you live like strangers or roommates, alone in a couple.

Alone Happily, and Together

But what if you choose to be alone some of the time? What if it nourishes your creative spirit, or allows you to find a place of calm in a chaotic lifestyle? What if you consider “space” to be part of a healthy relationship?

What about being alone – together?

Surely I’m not the only one who adores the idea of being able to sit on a couch with a romantic partner and read. Really read. Your feet touching. The presence of the other just enough – and not too much.

Along with passion (and plenty of it, thank you), togetherness when it comes to discussion and interests, I know I need time to myself. I need it to write. I need it to think. I need it to offset the harried juggle of my daily doings. Yet reflecting on childhood, the years of traveling alone and living alone, this seems to be part of my nature.

But how do you introduce the notion of being alone together, of thriving on affection, but not every moment?

Talk much?

I spend time talking, and time in the quiet.

I’m an extrovert. I’m an introvert as well. Quite possibly, more of the latter than the former.

My relationship style reflects the same contradictions in my personality, and I know it. I’m also highly adaptable, taking on behaviors of those around me, and wanting to please, when I’m in a relationship.

But what about the need for silence? What about divergent personalities? In a relationship, does a hybrid personality type need another hybrid,  someone who can tolerate – or better yet, appreciate – the range of moods from gregarious to contentedly quiet? Is it possible to communicate your need to be alone without hurting the other?

  • Can you learn to read your partner with time and experience?
  • Is it possible to simply say – I want to be alone?
  • Is it how you ask rather than the fact of it?
  • How much space is “healthy” space, when it comes to a relationship?


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  1. says

    I was just thinking about this very topic this morning — and wondering if I’m abnomal because of the amount of “alone time” I seem to crave. I actually fantasize about becoming a hermit. How crazy is that?

  2. Glacel says

    This reminds me of the Sex and the City movie when Carrie and Big got married and she didn’t want to give up her apartment because that’s where she finds solace from everything else. I think it takes a secure man to be able to understand and respect an “alone time”.

    Being single has made me appreciate my own company. When I think about dating, I do worry about how to keep my alone time. Some of my solo activities can be shared with another person, like yoga, reading, or going to church. But I want to enjoy it individually yet, together as a couple. Like you said, how can you be “alone” together in the same room? What a conundrum.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      That’s a great comparison, Glacel. And creative pursuits certainly require going deep inside oneself, which assumes time alone. It’s less “conventional” than going to an office for an 8 or 9-hour day, and harder to compartmentalize. So Carrie is a great example, and as you say, her apartment allowed her that necessary alone time.

      I also think it is possible to be alone with someone – in a good way – so you don’t feel alone, but you can each do what you need to do, while still able to glance over at the other and know you’re together. But it’s rare. It takes someone very special to get it – or to be that way as well.

      Isn’t it interesting how different our needs are for “togetherness?” I’m not one for being glued at the hip – ever. I need some space. I’m always astonished at those who don’t go places without their significant other, or, for that matter, who cannot seem to manage life without a significant other. They move from relationship to relationship, never really facing themselves.

  3. says

    Firstly, did you misspell the Garbo quote? Isn’t it “I vant to be alone”? Sorry, couldn’t resist. Now you know one of the reasons that my Suzy values her alone time. ;O)

    • BigLittleWolf says

      @Gandalfe – I vanted to shpell it dat way, but I also vanted it to verk vit Google. (And I’m lovin’ your Suzy!) 😉

  4. batticus says

    Alone time is definitely something where you need to be compatible and understand the need. If your take on it is that “something is wrong” when somebody just wants to go away and read, then that will destroy the relationship quickly. Reading quietly in the same room is always comforting (something I miss) and anyone I’m with can be sure I will finish a chapter soon and come back with some more cappuccini e amaretti.

  5. says

    As you illuminate, Wolf, the confluence of the opposites is precisely where the magic happens. As we unfold into our true nature, we may discover that we are all more diverse than we had previously thought… discouraged into our KW mole caves, or, conversely, afraid to be alone. Like Jekyll and Hyde or The Werewolf, I find those romantic tales of surprising duality quaintly reassuring. Somehow honoring our own social aspect while also honoring our more monastic selves spills us alchemically toward continual dissolution and re-constellation, interacting with people, places and ideas as we continually distill toward our essence—and maybe the solidity to grow softly toward all of our very own “others.”

  6. says

    I have been thinking about this concept a lot recently. After years of living alone I absolutely love my own company, nothing more fabulous then reading in bed! But at that time I would have argued I had too much alone time. Now my nearest and dearest has moved in and after the initial bliss of having someone here all the time, I am realizing I miss my hours upon hours of alone time. So we are working out that balance again–most of it is me asking for what I need. He being an extrovert is willing to give it to me, just isn’t something that comes to the forefront of his brain that I might need. It has always been a fascinating topic to me–the need to be alone.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I really understand where you’re coming from, Nancy. Maybe it’s about being clear when we communicate our needs, while being willing to compromise for the other person’s needs as well. But it’s tough when you truly need alone time to function well, and the other may not be wired that way.

  7. says

    I completely get this BLW. I need time alone to ponder my own thoughts, read and write. Although I am social, I find myself feeling overwhelmed when I don’t get the requisite alone time.
    My husband and I will often spend hours just reading together in the same space. I relish those times.

  8. batticus says

    After your post, I stumbled upon an independent documentary called “Lovable” (2007) that hit on these issues through a series of interviews with women that are middle-aged and single. One of the women commented on “alone” time where she is secretly excited to come home to an empty apartment, she needs the time to decompress after work. The discussion continued with how she could share her life with a man? Her answer was that he would have to understand about this time and ideally come home from work hours after she did. She was a physically attractive woman and IMO wouldn’t have any problem attracting male suitors but in the end, it is clear why she is still single.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I’ll need to see if I can locate that documentary, batticus. It sounds interesting. This is such a fine line, isn’t it. In the example you cite, I have to wonder what else might be going on. What stories and keys in her past that shaped her, and also, the reality that demographics work against women over 40. I wonder if an attractive man with a busy career who wants some alone time after the work day would be able to find himself an “accommodating woman” who would either be of like mind (and need), or be willing to take him as is, including the alone time he requires.

      Some say that when you’ve lived alone for a long time, you aren’t able to adjust to living with someone. I don’t believe that blanket statement is true; I believe it to be true for some, and not for others. Some are more adaptable than others. Some want a life with a partner enough to compromise more than others. But I do think it’s both nature and environmental. No “one size fits all” – and something that changes over time.

  9. says

    A late comment, but I am trying to catch up with my blog reading.
    For me, having alone time is essential. It’s time for meditating, for restoring, for just relaxing. It’s time to get back to who I am. I also need time with those I love. I would not want to live as a hermit, never being with people, never sharing my time. Nature or environment? I don’t know, just that it is what I need.

  10. says

    I completely understand you! I am a single mom and my parents are a lot of help. They will come get the kids and take them to dinner. They never understand why I would like to stay home rather than go with them. I do think it is good for my kids to spend time with just their grandparents, but honestly, I just like having the peaceful, empty house for a couple of hours!

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