Book Review: How to Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don’t

A great book about love, friendship, family, career, and of course, being alone.

At first, I thought the book wasn’t for me because the book seemed to be so depressing and pessimistic… But on my gloomiest day, I picked it up and gave it a second try. And I was hooked.

Witty and funny, the author—Lane—presented her pain in a light and humorous way. Oddly, though my background was different from hers, I resonated so much with the book. So I highlighted a lot and poured my thoughts out in this post.

Family

Lane was born in a toxic family. Received no love and affection, worked jobs to escape that house, slept at shitty places, lived in a car, Lane sought kindness in strangers, and got scared the moment she received something too affectionate, too humane.

Imagine not knowing any name to write down in the Emergency Contact section when you’re at the hospital. Imagine the only friend you can acknowledge is your therapist. Just wow. It’s fucking sad. How can someone’s life be that sad?

…I do not have anyone I would call if I were dying. I would blank. I have blanked.

Sometimes we can be a total jerk to other people without knowing it. Act like we’ve been through hell when we haven’t put one toe in to the real hell. Act like there’s no one out there suffering much more than we do. Whine like nothing can ever be worse.

I don’t mean to say we’re not allowed to whine. But maybe the next time we whine or put pity labels to whatever we do, we may need to remember that the person sitting across us may not have the privilege that we have—a proper family.

Most of the time, we assume someone becomes who they are because of their family, because of how they were raised. Is that true? Maybe, but not always. Then all the privileged kids will become good-willed, successful, and well-educated God-sends.

And how do you define a good family? What actually makes a good family? Rich? Educated? Close-knit? What about combinations of rich-yet-unhappy, close-yet-poor, educated-yet-don’t-know-how-to-show-love, good-friend-yet-bad-partner? Aren’t they terrible the same? It’s just unfair to put on labels and define someone based on where they came from.

Relationships

Sections about relationships in the book resonated with me the most. I love Lane’s perspectives on love, the one, sexuality, how we may lose ourselves in relationships. So I wrote down some of my thoughts here.

A hopeless romantic

Lane went through up-and-down, love-hate relationships with people who were the opposite to who she was and what she was looking for. She was a hopeless romantic trying to put all her heart out and giving it all, just to find that person who’s also a hopeless romantic.

Those have always been the scenes that killed me most, the ones where someone has hurt someone or let someone down, but then, just in the nick of time, there’s a knock at the door and an acknowledgment of everything that the person has done wrong, and everything you needed and will now get: a kiss and a chance—nay, a promise—of a future.

It’s so soothing to read this part of the book. Sometimes all we want is someone out there to come running back to us and act like we’re in silly romance series on Netflix and Star Movies. We may never have relationships like Jim-and-Pam’s, Monica-and-Chandler’s, but it doesn’t cost to dream. And because I’m a dreamer and a hopeless romantic. *fingers crossed

Most of us hope we’ll meet the one—the love of our life, the person who we’re willing to jump mountains for, the person who’s willing to shield us against the bullets. Maybe you’re lucky enough you can find that person. But if you’re not, you’ll be OK. You just need to know how to be alone. People end up alone all the time and it’s more about choosing how you look at “being alone”.

Labels

Let me briefly affirm that you choose your labels. You choose those you show them to. You choose when the labels change, if they change. None of us is just one of anything…I think many of us are much more sexually fluid than we think we are; we’re just so scared of what that means, and that we have to take action.

If you’re that queer person who doesn’t know how to explain or tell people who you are, then choose your own labels and tell whoever you want to. People may react differently and have assumptions about you, but you’re NEVER the problem.

Struggle to let go of people

I wanted to push her away, make her leave, but I also didn’t want to be alone. And I remembered that feeling well—the feeling of being held in the arms of the one who hurt you. And still thinking, “This is better than nothing.”

Sometimes, we may not do ourselves a favor and fall into push-and-pull relationships. Every time we’re weak and reach out just to seek the comfort we’re afraid to lose, yet aren’t able to keep, we feel like we’ve lost a part of ourselves.

The temporary, in-the-moment feelings are just so fucking good we can’t resist. We struggle to let go and move on, and gradually turn to some kind of hopeless, pathetic, blind-sided individuals.

These hopeless situations can happen to anyone, even professionals. We suffer. The pain is real. And unless your mind and heart follow the logical side of your brain, then you’re fine. If not, I have yet to find the ultimate solution.

But I just don’t fucking want to hook up with some guy or girl whose jokes aren’t that funny, who makes me feel like he or she is not sure about me, and who won’t give me a straight answer about what we are to each other, when that would make me feel a lot better because I’m a human person with feelings. I don’t want to respond to their stupid, half-assed texts that they probably send me while they’re crapping. I don’t want to come to your place for a “chill hang sesh,” or hear you call me your “friend” when we’ve had our faces on each other’s junk. But I had friends telling me this was what you do, this is what dating is, stop expecting more, and honestly, I’m just so fucking over people telling me the right way to do things.

Maybe there are deal breakers and red flags that we ignore because we’ve fallen too deeply into a relationship, but if you’ve just got out of a bad situation, then you need to know you have the right to expect more.

There’s nothing wrong with you if you want to be loved properly. Find yourself someone who can give you that kind of love. Don’t expect someone to change the way they love to suit the love you expect.

Searching for the right people can be hard, too hard that some can’t even make it. Damn, I feel so conflicted writing all these words down. But I still believe there’s someone out there for us (still a dreamer).

Sometimes we don’t need to change

It no longer seemed worth it to try to be someone I’m not, especially when I love all the things that I am. I love how intensely I love people, especially despite my background. I think it’s an incredible gift to meet people you connect with and want to give all of yourself to, to be able to risk that much of yourself to go all in with someone, because why the fuck not?

Remember all those books about relationship that tell you to change? Do you even have to? Yes, if you’re that bitch who plays with other people’s feelings then you might need to.

But if you’re a bit loose, sloppy, clumsy, do you have to try to act smart and neat? If you’re a hopeless romantic, do you have to shut down your feelings and pretend like you’re that emotionless jerk who doesn’t have a heart?

Maybe find better ways to improve yourself and work on aspects that make you feel insecure, but don’t try to be someone else and go against your values. People should love you for who you are, rather than the version you made up for their convenience and interest.

Too fearless and spontaneous sometimes

Why can’t we respond to someone’s cute texts right away? Why can’t we say yes to dates instead of playing coy? Why can’t we sleep with someone as soon as we want to? Because if we do something wrong, we might mess everything up? Nonsense. Whenever I start thinking that way, I remind myself, “If this person is really your soul mate, you can’t text them too much or too soon or be too much for them. If it’s right, there’s nothing you can do wrong.” If you go in fearlessly from the start, yeah, you might get hurt and it might not work out. But at least you really experienced how wonderful it was, for however long it was wonderful.

I do hate people who play mind games, but at least they let me know what draws me in and what pushes me away. I’ve learned to crawl back to my personal space instead of letting anyone take up all the space in my life.

Can we become stronger after failed relationships? Maybe yes, maybe a bit, maybe no. Once the Cupid shoots their arrows, we can be weak and blind all over again. But at least we know what to ask for, and what to express when we want certain things.

Relationships need effort

I’m tired of pretending I’m cool with whatevs. I’m tired of pretending that laziness can replace thoughtfulness and still be acceptable to me. And I know, I can feel it in my bones that this person is out there for me, and for you if that’s what you truly want. And they will make all our exes look like fucking jokes. I also know so many people who claim to be romantics and identify as such, yet they are the laziest and least romantic people I’ve ever met.

Actions are louder than words. Combining both would be nice. We need to put in the effort if we want relationships to work out.

It’s hard to know when to give up the fight. Some things you want will just never be right. —PATTY GRIFFIN, “RAIN”

This sentence speaks for itself. When you sense that things are going nowhere, you’re allowed to leave and stop fighting.

I’ve realized that sometimes being alone actually truly is better than being around people, especially if they’re the wrong people. Sometimes you just need time to yourself and it doesn’t make you weird or wrong. It’s a sign you really like spending time with you, which is healthy as shit, so good job.

Cheers to people who are alone and love being alone! You don’t have to feel awkward and isolated if you don’t have that group of Friends-like friends or a SO (significant other) to spend time with.

We can all pretend to go to those parties and pretend that we’re fun and pretend that we have lots of connections, but is it worth it if you feel so hollow at the end of the day?

How to be alone

We section off physical comfort and intimacy so heavily. We reserve it for partners only, and platonic friends can only chitchat and that’s it. How can you tell people to be okay with being single while also telling them they can only get the basic human needs of physical touch from not being single?

Single people should be treated nicely, too. Not just people in a relationship.

When we talk about being alone, many of us think about not having a SO. But being single is different than being alone. You can treat friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers nicely, not just your SO.

Show acts of kindness whenever you can. Smile. Hold the door. Text first. Give hugs. You might make someone’s day.

If you have no place to visit and no one to celebrate with on the holidays, just do whatever the hell you want—eat that greasy pizza which gives you thousands of calories, binge-watch that TV series you’ve had no time for, become that bed potato who sleeps 12 hours a day. Don’t forget to stock up in case the store’s closed. And stay away from social media because it may be filled with photos that rip your heart apart.

If you see a woman who is working super hard to become who she’s meant to be and to achieve the things she wants to achieve, and you have nothing to add to her life or to give back to her in any way, please just leave her the fuck alone.

We’re responsible for who we decide to spend time with, but relationships don’t usually work on that logical basis. People fall for the wrong person, continue a love affair that goes nowhere, stay in an abusive relationship, come back to the ex, and more. It means anyone can easily be pulled back by a not-good-for-them individual.

So it helps to stay away if you sense you can’t really make someone truly happy. Resolve problems with yourself/your past before deciding to step into someone’s life. Find solutions to your emotional baggage/life burden/personal pressure instead of putting them onto others’ shoulders.

So be the idiot who cares too much, be the weirdo who makes a difference, be the person who, even if you never know it, kept someone from wanting to die because you smiled at them on the street. And in that way, in the smallest of ways, you’re a little less alone. Because someone will remember you forever.

All in all, a good book for those who feel lost and alone in this 7-billion-people world. Be nice to yourself and to others. Be whoever you want and cope with things bravely! 💪🏻

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