want to be alone! You don’t have to be weird to be a loner… Psychologists say enjoying your own company is the first step to real happiness
Last month, the will was read of a New York billionairess called Huguette Clark, who died earlier this year at the age of 104.
The event was reported around the world because, for decades, well-to-do society has been obsessed by the mystery of the copper mining heiress who had not been seen in public for 80 years.
The last photograph of the famous recluse — a sepia-toned image of a handsome woman wrapped in furs on the deck of a steamship — was taken in 1930.
Solitary heaven: Marianne Power can only be around people in small doses. Too much time with others leaves her tetchy, tired and wired
, Huguette vanished into self-imposed exile, living in her 42-room Fifth Avenue apartment and in later years a private hospital. Her only companion was a nurse — and a vast collection of French dolls.
So why did she shut the door on the world for almost a century?
Shortly before her death, an investigative journalist tracked her down in hospital to find out. After meeting her, he came to a simple conclusion: she was not mad, sad or strange, she simply liked her own company.
‘She made Howard Hughes look sociable,’ he joked. Well, Huguette, your way of life might have been a bit extreme, but you have a fan. Another loner in the making.
This weekend, I spoke to just three people: my newsagent, the guy at my local coffee shop and a lovely woman behind the till at Sainsbury’s, who asked me if I was enjoying the sunshine.
From Friday night until Monday morning, I did not have any parties to go to, friends to meet or family to attend to. I turned off my phone and my only company was a rainforest of newspapers and a box-set of The Wire.
I was not sick, depressed or left at a loose end by friends who all had other plans. In fact, I had been invited to two lunches, but turned them down because these days my idea of bliss is not seeing a soul. Though it’s not just these days, I’ve always been like this.
Likes being a loner: Marianne says that as she’s got older, her solitary tendencies are getting worse
As a child, I used to ask my mother to tell friends I was in the bath when they called, and as a twenty-something I would turn down offers to go to music festivals or skiing at weekends because, after a long week at work, the last thing I wanted to do was to be around people.
But as I’ve got older, my solitary tendencies are getting worse. I live alone, go to the cinema alone, shop on my own, spend endless hours in coffee shops alone and my idea of heaven is opening a bottle of wine and watching a DVD — on my own.
It’s not that I’m a people hater or an odd-ball. I like people a lot and on good days they like me, too.
But I can be around people only in small doses. Too much time with others leaves me tetchy, tired and wired. The thought of a week booked up with social engagements sends me into a panic. These days, this makes me quite weird. Greta Garbo might have made solitude alluring with her pronouncement ‘I want to be alone . . .’ but today, if you’re not willing to be in touch with people 24 hours a day by tweets, texts or at organic dinner parties, you’re viewed with suspicion.
The modern image of happiness, as seen in adverts for anything from Doritos to M&S frocks, is a laughing group of friends. Meanwhile, the word ‘loner’ is more likely to be used in a headline that ends ‘. . . who killed his neighbour’.
Even doctors tell us that being around people can do everything from lower blood pressure to boosting your chances of surviving cancer.
But finally new research into the power of solitude is backing up my desire to be left alone. The studies have found that regular time by yourself is not only an essential part of developing fully rounded personalities, but it helps us to focus and think creatively.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the research suggests that blocking off enough alone time is essential if we want to maintain good relationships because taking time for ourselves gives us the energy to be empathetic and caring with loved ones.
Psychotherapist Phillip Hodson, from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, could not agree more.
‘Of course there are extremes — growing your finger nails 23in long like Howard Hughes or being holed up in a mansion like Miss Havisham is not healthy,’ he says.
‘But we should all be able to spend time in our own company and it’s a bit of a worry if you find yourself unable to do that.
‘People spend hours every day looking for or tending to their relationships, but to have good relationships with others, you need to have a good relationship with yourself, and for that you need to know yourself. And how do you get to know yourself? You spend time by yourself.’ :).