SACRAMENTO, CA –

Anyone who has a younger sibling knows what it feels like to be loved unconditionally. If you have enough siblings, you may even know what it’s like to be loathed unconditionally. Me, I’m lucky to have two younger sisters who would have done just about anything I asked them to do when we were younger. It might be said that I made them into my own personal slaves. Kati was about 16 years younger than me, so her tenure was short-lived and she didn’t get into nearly as much trouble as my sister Jess.

I would get Jessica to break into my mom’s secret stash of M&M’s. Or I’d have her steal my sister Melissa’s favorite doll so we could torture it. We’d also dress up my brothers as girls and take photos of them. Or we’d convince the youngest child of the moment to eat bugs, or dirt, or rotten grapes. And if we ever got caught, or if someone tattled on us, Jess would always take the blame. She never once told my mom that I made her do it. Of course, she was (and still is) adorable, so my mom was never too mean to her. Sometimes she’d get her hair pulled or be forced to apologize or sit in time out. But as soon as her punishment was meted out, she’d be back in my room hoping to play barbies (which I was always able to talk her out of because I didn’t ever want to take my barbies out of their boxes).

In my family we all had what I guess you’d call a “soul sibling.” Jess was mine. Even though we were six years apart with two other girls between us we were paired together from the time she was born. When she was a baby, I’d hold her whenever my mom would let me, and as she grew she became attached to me. She would beg my mother to dress us in matching clothes and we’d talk incessantly about how we should have been born twins.

Jess and I also shared a room, and a bed, for as long as either of us can remember. Even when I finally got my own room at age 12 Jess would sneak down in the middle of the night to sleep in my bed with me. I was afraid of the dark and of killers hiding under my bed, so I appreciated the company.

I managed to get over my fear of the dark and I bought a bed under which nobody could fit, but I’ve never been able to get used to being in bed by myself. In fact, I’ve never been able to get used to being alone at all. Since the time I moved out of my parents’ home, I’ve had one boyfriend or another to keep me company. When they weren’t around, I’d turn on the TV and the stereo at the same time to fill up the silence and loneliness threatening to envelope me. Then, two weeks ago, the other half of my bed was vacated, with nobody new waiting to fill the void.

And so it is that, at age 28, I’m learning how to be alone with myself for the first time.

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REBECCA ADLER is from Sacramento, CA, where she is a grad student in applied linguistics and works as a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in Jane & Jane, Sacramento Business Journal, and Comstock's Business Magazine, among others. She also keeps a book review blog and can be found on Facebook or Twitter.

2 responses to “Learning to be Alone With Myself”

  1. Original Comment Thread Below:

    33 Comments »

    Comment by Irene Zion
    2009-02-04 05:46:42

    Rebecca,
    There ARE killers, and spiders, and scorpions under the bed. I solved it by marrying Victor. If you marry one, I found that they tend to stay longer.
    Alternatively, and just as good, you could get a couple of Golden Retrievers. They cuddle just like people and they would totally protect you from ANYTHING under the bed!
    I did both, on account of I like to hedge my bets.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-02-04 08:53:31

    I’ve thought of getting some sort of pet, but my landlord won’t allow it. Plus, I don’t want to take care of something else anymore. Too much work right now. If I still feel this way in a year though, I’m definitely going for a cat or dog of some sort.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by jmb
    2009-02-04 07:47:50

    Ouch Adler, tinge of sadness here hurts.
    I was essentially raised an only child.
    I am only alone – with other people – if that makes sense.
    I am never lonely alone. So that’s a learning process too.

    Balance is important.
    Some people will be with people that are no good for them
    rather than be alone. Embrace it best you can, it’s an important time.
    The monsters
    are within.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-02-04 08:56:05

    I think my youngest brother, Peter, is going to be good at being alone in a crowd too. It’s something I envy about only children. I’ve had a crowd around me so long that I don’t know what to do with myself when there’s nobody there. I’m planning to be on my own long enough this time that I’ll figure it out.

    Thanks for the poetic comment. You always say things in the best possible way.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Rob Bloom
    2009-02-04 07:59:58

    Poignant and well written. Try to enjoy the alone time you have now. It can be surprisingly comforting at times.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-02-04 08:57:19

    I’m hoping it will be. Comforting. I really want to feel OK on my own.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by amanda
    2009-02-04 09:57:05

    I just realised this will be my first “alone Valentine’s Day” since I was 25…which was a shocking number of years ago.

    I just realised my mattress doesn’t have a force field running down its centre, and that the two halves meet freely, their border can be crossed. Although the 2nd side has been vacant about six weeks, a couple nights ago I crept over and sprawled to fill the whole mattress…for the first time in about 15 years.

    I just realised I will *not* turn to dust if I don’t ram each and every night and day of the week with activities, in order to not be alone.

    Like you, I don’t yet feel “ok” with any of these things…but…I’m getting there! High-five to you and your alone-time, too.

    : )
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-02-04 10:04:15

    Funny thing about that force field down the center of the bed. I’m hoping to learn to sprawl in the next couple of weeks. I actually scrunch more to one side now than I used to. I guess maybe I’m afraid it will be too permanent if I finally cross over to the other side of the bed.

    And, really, why does Valentine’s Day have to be on a Saturday this year, of all years? I haven’t spent a V-Day alone since I was 16 years old. What makes it worse is that V-Day was my and the ex’s anniversary. We had gone out to celebrate Anti-Valentine’s Day and ended up in a three year relationship.

    Anywho, thanks for your comment. It gives me hope. And made me cry. Cheers to making it to six weeks. I can’t wait to get there.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by amanda
    2009-02-04 11:19:12

    I waffled between keeping it all private and deciding to wallow in public, and settled the debate somewhere in between…if it’s any help (I find, strangely, knowing there are others “enjoying” similar heartbreak, *is* a bit consoling, since they are evidence I’ll make it through in one piece, too!) you might want to check out the posts at cakesandneckties.blogspot.com, beginning around Xmas and carrying on till now…

    : )
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-02-04 11:47:32

    I’ll definitely go check it out. Everyone says that the most divorces and breakups happen at the holidays. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t met about 11 other couples going through the same thing right after Christmas. My breakup happened on over a four-day period ending on Christmas Eve. It just took him three weeks to finally move out.

    It’s definitely consoling to read about others’ experiences. And, as weird as it may sound, I’m looking forward to reading about yours.

    Best,

    Becca
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Josie
    2009-02-04 13:04:07

    I have a soul-sibling also. He used to sneak into my bed and I have to admit that it made me braver when he was there. Big sisters can’t be afraid of the monsters… or so I told myself. lol

    I cherish my time away from other people. I don’t believe we are ever alone. Rather that we are simply in different company. As 11:59 said, I only feel lonely when there are other people around.

    When you’re with your self – enjoy the company.
    I know we enjoy it when your self is around here.
    🙂
    xo
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-02-05 09:07:37

    Yeah, it’s funny, around age 10 or so I decided I couldn’t be afraid of anything anymore because I was scared I was going to make Jess as paranoid as I was. I would try to act brave when she was around, but if she was out of the room I would still make the running leap to my bed so the killers/monsters couldn’t catch me (funny how it never occurs to us as children that they could just crawl out from under the bed while we’re sleeping).

    We enjoy having you around here too Josie! 🙂
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Kimberly M. Wetherell
    2009-02-04 17:01:10

    Rebecca. Take heart. I’ve NEVER had a valentine. Nope. Not a one. I’ve only ever had two birthday spent with BFs, and only one X-mas/New Year’s. For whatever reason, my duds dudes have always fallen in-between holidays.

    Take heart. You’ll pull through.

    Eventually.

    Until then, seek solace in good wine and dark chocolate! 🙂
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by John
    2009-02-04 17:50:41

    Hell, I think I am going to see solace in good wine and dark chocolate.
    I’m 25 and have been single for a very long time. Sometimes I think it’s because I don’t try, and other times I think it’s because I try too hard. Hell if I know. Awkward nerdy guys in the military (not much of us, really) have a hell of a time meeting people if we aren’t married going into the whole thing. So I am learning to cultivate the feeling of loneliness.
    I also plan to sleep through Valentine’s Day. I hate that it effects me like it does, but it does. It’s pretty much the only day of the year that the single-ness becomes a little unbearable for me.
    Good wine and dark chocolate. I might substitute it for cheap beer and… cheap beer. But the thought will be there.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-02-05 09:04:31

    Valentine’s Day has got to be THE worse holiday ever invented. That, and Christmas. Luckily, I’ve always hated V-Day so most people know it’s not just the bitterness talking this year. I do find myself being more annoyed with all the lovey ads on TV though. I hate those happy couples right now. The jewelery ads are the worst.

    Yeah, Wine and Chocolate. That sounds like the perfect solution. Or ice cream. I can always go for some ice cream. And, really, I think cheap beer is just the man version of that, right?
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    Comment by John
    2009-02-05 16:40:06

    Pretty much, yeah. Cheap beer is the man version of so much. But I do have a sweet tooth, so before I start in on the beer I think I’ll buy myself one of those lame, cheap heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. Just because I can. And so I can feel cool in the check-out line.
    I think the most pathetic thing I ever did in my life was get a little tipsy, and then go buy a single rose just so the cashier (whoever it was, didn’t really matter) would think there was someone in my life. That was pretty much the low point. But I did laugh quite heartily at myself when I sobered up, sleeping on top of a rose. I tend to laugh at myself a lot.

    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-02-06 11:51:20

    Wow, I wish I was a guy so at least people wouldn’t know I was pathetic when I was buying a heart-shaped box of chocolates. I guess I could pretend I was buying them for my girlfriend…

    Anyway, looking forward to laughing at myself. I think I might go spend a fortune at Godiva next week so I can at least enjoy good chocolate if I’m going to be by myself.

    Comment by John
    2009-02-06 22:00:01

    I recommend Lindt chocolate. Seriously. Best chocolate ever produced. I’m a fat dude. I should know.

    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-02-06 22:29:52

    You’re in the military, how can you be fat? I don’t believe that for a second. But Lindt chocolate is good. And much cheaper than Godiva.

    Comment by John
    2009-02-07 21:50:21

    You can be fat in the military by breaking both of your legs, but that is another story entirely. I’m not obese, but by military standards, I’m definitely comfortable classifying myself as a fat guy. Especially when I am surrounded by muscle-bound teenagers all day. It’s enough to give a dude some serious self-image issues. Thankfully, the cheap beer helps the whole “not caring” thing. And probably does it’s fair share of the “fat guy” thing too. It plays so many roles.

    Reply here

    Comment by Michelle
    2009-02-04 19:06:28

    I never had the chance to be alone as a child, and I married far too early. I didn’t learn to be alone until my mid-40’s. My childhood dream was to have a room to myself, or even a bed to myself ( I had that for the first time when I was 16). I had an air mattress to myself occasionally, but beds were shared. I learned early to fight for blankets and squish into tiny spaces. I don’t know if I ever got a good night’s sleep as a child. In fact, I don’t think I ever had a good night’s sleep until my mid-40’s. I just had to overcome the fear of being alone, the strange noises that would wake me up, and wondering who would I grab if I woke up in the middle of the night alone and scared?
    Now I wonder if I can ever share a bed again. Do I really want the discomfort of someone whose body temperature makes the bed too hot, or who pulls the blanket off me when I’m cold and then gets mad when I try to get it back, or who snores, or who pushes me to the side of the bed and makes me feel like I’m falling off? I’ve even kicked my cats out of the bedroom, although I admit that for years they were a comfort of sorts. They have this habit of waking you up when they want to play, even if it’s two in the morning.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-02-05 09:01:47

    Heh. The fight for the comforter. I always win, so I guess I don’t mind so much 😉
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Marni Grossman
    2009-02-04 23:14:51

    When I was two, I bit my mother on the butt. Strange but true fact. My sister, Hannah, would bring this story up frequently. She often coupled it with the one about how I broke the crystal candy dish. Years later, she admitted that I’d only bit my mother because she told me to. “I wanted to see what would happen,” she said. What happened was I got slapped. And yet I continue to allow her to terrorize me on a regular basis. Unconditional love? Or Stockholm Syndrome?
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-02-05 09:00:29

    Heh. Nice. I don’t think I ever got Jess into that much trouble….although she’d probably be a better person to ask. I don’t terrorize her anymore though. Hasn’t happened in almost a decade. She’s actually meaner to me these days than I am to her. Not out of meanness, but out of pure, unadulterated honesty. She has no problem pointing out my terrible choice of haircuts or my ten-pound weight gain. Karma?
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by reno
    2009-02-05 08:15:46

    sorry, to hear about the break-up. i’m horrible at long-winded advice, so i’ll just say that i hope you feel better soon. perhaps, somewhere down the line you’ll come across some other vato who wants to share some time.

    i’m not a betting man, but if i was i’d say you’re chances are 100%.

    (i love when i hear the name jess because you don’t hear it often. that’s my first name, but no one calls me by that name. well, it’s actually jesse, but that’s a long post 911 story.)

    take care, pal. 28? it’s all coming your way.

    always,
    reno jess romero
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-02-05 08:54:57

    Aw, anyone with the name Jess will always be a winner in my book. My sis is still my No. 1 today. Too bad she has to live 1,000 miles away. I’d love if she could come hang with me for awhile.

    Thanks for the positive thoughts.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Lenore
    2009-02-06 13:57:38

    dude, i would so sleep in your bed with you if you lived in LA. i have no one in mine right now either, but my ex was such an asshole that we never really slept at each other’s places anyway, so that part isn’t much of an adjustment. it’s just coming to terms with the fact that i let him manipulate me into falling into his offering of affection via a pattern of systematic reinforcement. i feel sort of stupid. it’s like i fell in love with and had a relationship with a slot machine.

    so i say come down to LA and hang out with me and my gay boyfriend. and you and i can drink lots of wine and listen to really sad music and cry. and then we can pull it together and go bowling or something.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by John
    2009-02-06 17:16:57

    Bowling is the true chicken soup for the soul.
    Speaking of which, I met the dude that compiled and shat out the whole Chicken Soup for the Soul line of garbage, and the guy was the biggest douche-bag ever created. Like, unbelievable douche-iness.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-02-06 22:31:34

    My dad met that Chicken Soup guy and got me a signed copy of his book, now I can’t get rid of it.
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    Reply here

    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-02-06 22:30:54

    Can I come down on March 26? That’s the beginning of spring break. We might actually be over our breakups by then, but I’d still be down to drink wine and bowl if you are. Maybe we can even talk Kaytie Lee into joining us (even though she doesn’t have an asshole ex-boyfriend to get over).
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Lenore
    2009-02-07 14:34:51

    yes yes yes yes yes yes!

    we should dress up super hot and go out and find some real men.
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    Comment by John
    2009-02-07 21:57:35

    All real men cruise for chicks at dimly lit bowling alleys. Fact.

    Comment by Rebecca Adler
    2009-02-08 06:08:13

    Good to know, John.

    Lenore: We shall begin planning very soon. I’m going to begin saving for my greyhound ticket now…

    Reply here

  2. I Am That says:

    Loneliness is a story we tell ourselves, it’s never a fact. If you can learn to enjoy your own company it will be the best gift you can ever give yourself. It is in the company of others that we forget the essence of who we are.

    Ps I’ve been alone for the best part of 10 years, it gets better and better if you go with it. Good luck!

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