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Why We Must Re-learn to Be Alone

August 29, 2013


In my elementary school, those in charge used a host of acronyms to make otherwise un-fun activities seem cool and edgy, which is why our daily schedule involved an hour of SSR, also known as “Silent Sustained Reading.” Basically, this was the time when our teacher holed up at her desk as we worked our way through our Boxcar Children books.

It sometimes felt like a drag, but nowadays, I’d give anything for an hour of SSR each day. And thus, we’ve created the MM.LaFleur “Reading Room.” Today, we discuss Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Lindbergh was the wife of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, and though she was an aviator in her own right, she was also a talented author. First published in 1955, Gift from the Sea is a series of her philosophical musings on relationships, aging, solitude, and the challenges of being a woman in the modern era. Though the book was very much of its time, many of the ideas still ring true today. It’s not uncommon to hear a woman say she’s re-read it every year of her life, only to find that it feels more spot-on with each reading.


Though she was a busy wife and mother, Lindbergh wrote the book during a blissful-sounding solo trip to Captiva, Florida. Over the course of a few stolen weeks, she lived simply in a seaside shack and settled into a state of quiet observation and rumination. Fittingly, one of the passages I most appreciate is about the importance of being alone. When I first read it, my inner introvert breathed a huge sigh of relief—validation at last.

We must re-learn to be alone… The world today does not understand, in either man or woman, the need to be alone.

How inexplicable it seems. Anything else will be accepted as a better excuse. If one sets aside time for a business appointment, a trip to the hairdresser, a social engagement or a shopping expedition, that time is accepted as inviolable. But if one says: I cannot come because that is my hour to be alone, one is considered rude, egotistical or strange. What a commentary on our civilization, when being alone is considered suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it—like a secret vice!

Actually these are among the most important times in one’s life—when one is alone. Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone. The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer, to work out his thoughts; the musician, to compose; the saint, to pray. But women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves: that firm strand which will be in the indispensable center of a whole web of human relationships.

Anne Lindbergh

I also love Lindbergh’s thinking about how relationships evolve, ebb, and flow of their own accord, despite our futile efforts to control and shape them.

When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity—in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern. The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. For relationships too must be like islands. One must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits—islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, continually visited and abandoned by the tides.

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Tory Hoen is the author of the novel The Arc. She spent five years as the Creative Director of Brand at M.M.LaFleur (where she founded The M Dash!) and has written for New York Magazine, Vogue Fortune, Bon Appétit, and Condé Nast Traveler. Read more of Tory's posts.

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