Because I’m a twin, I didn’t know very much about being alone vs. being lonely when I was growing up. I always had someone with me wherever I went. My brother trailed after me on the playground and sat beside me on the school bus. And, to be honest, I didn’t actually like it that much. I was born into a “we” and had to fight to get people to see me as a “me.”
Because I spent so much of my childhood inescapably paired up with my twin brother, I learned to value my own independence and solitude. Now I’m on my own, and it’s pretty glorious. I know that being alone isn’t the same thing as being lonely, and yet some people use the two terms interchangeably.
The main difference between being alone vs. lonely is that lonely people aren’t happy with their situation. Being alone is a state of being and being lonely is an emotional response to it. You can be alone and very happy, but when you’re lonely, you long for a change.
Here are a few of the differences between someone who’s alone vs. someone who’s lonely:
1. Lonely singles don’t like being on their own.
This is the most obvious difference between being lonely versus being alone. Lonely people aren’t happy with their relationship status, and they want to change their situation. Maybe they’re single and miss the intimacy of having someone waiting for them to come home. Maybe they’re in a relationship and yet feel emotionally disconnected from their partner.
Being lonely is a state of mind. You can feel lonely even when you’re surrounded by people. If you find yourself feeling isolated and miserable more often than not, you can overcome your loneliness by taking proactive steps to change your thinking patterns and make an effort to engage with people.
2. Singles who are alone know how to enjoy “me time.”
Being alone isn’t a feeling, it isn’t a problem, and it isn’t a malady. It’s just being alone. Singles who are alone don’t feel like they’re missing out on anything because they’re by themselves. In fact, that time alone could be their favorite part of the day.
Some singles look forward to those quiet moments when they can take a break from life’s obligations and make time for themselves. When you’re alone, you can focus on your needs, practice good self-care, and improve your overall well-being.
3. Being lonely can make people feel tired and down.
Feelings of loneliness can wear on a person over time. It’s like you’re carrying a weight around with you. Lonely singles tend to focus on the one thing they’re lacking (a romantic relationship) rather than focus on everything they have. They often struggle with insecurities and fears that they’re not enough. That can be exhausting.
However, if you embrace your single status, you could find health and mental benefits to being on your own.
4. Some people feel energized after spending time alone.
I’m an introvert, so I can only take a few hours of being around people before I start thinking wistfully about going home and snuggling up with my dog and a good book. I actually feel better after spending a self-centered day doing only the things I like to do with me, myself, and I.
Spending a couple hours alone to watch Netflix, do a jigsaw puzzle, go to the gym, or enjoy another solo hobby can help singles recharge their batteries and feel ready to tackle the day.
5. Lonely singles can’t stop thinking about the next relationship.
In high school, I spent very little time being single. I jumped from boyfriend to boyfriend as if they were life rafts and I couldn’t swim. When a breakup happened, I started scouting date prospects immediately. I was a determined flirt. It took an incredibly bad relationship to get me to stop obsessing over relationships and realize that being single would cut a lot of unnecessary drama out of my life.
Lonely singles, like I was in high school, make getting a boyfriend or girlfriend their life’s mission. They spend hours upon hours swiping on dating apps. They constantly think about where and when they’ll meet someone new. They do everything they can to make something happen. Dating is do or die for lonely singles, and that’s not the best state of mind to be in when making a romantic connection.
6. Being alone means feeling free to think about yourself.
Singles who feel content with being alone don’t spend every waking hour wishing and hoping and thinking and praying (as the Dusty Springfield song goes). They think about what they’re going to eat for dinner. Or which friends they want to hang out with. Or where they’re traveling to next. They focus on the things they want out of life.
Being alone means you can prioritize yourself and focus on your career or life goals. Your happiness doesn’t have to depend on anyone other than yourself. You don’t have to continually strive to find someone to complete you—you’re already complete and enough all on your own.
Whether you’ve recently broken up with someone or you’re living alone for the first time, it takes time to get the hang of being alone and feeling good about it. You can cope with feelings of loneliness by remembering to love yourself, let go of regrets, and give yourself this time to be single, happy, and awesome.
Amber Brooks is a Contributing Editor at DatingAdvice.com. When she was growing up, her family teased her for being “boy crazy,” but she preferred to think of herself as a budding dating expert. As an English major in college, Amber honed her communication skills to write clearly, knowledgeably, and passionately about topics that interest her. Now with a background in writing, Amber brings her tireless wit and relatable experiences to DatingAdvice.com.