This is a submission to the October 2019 Carnival of Aros: “Aromanticism and Aloneness”
In this post, I am going to use a very specific definition of ‘aloneness’. The definition of ‘aloneness’ specifically for this post is: you think it’s unlikely that there is another living human being within a twenty minute walk of your current location.
Obviously, this is different from how the word ‘aloneness’ is generally used, which is why I needed to spell out right at the beginning what I mean by ‘aloneness’ in this post. In my experience, ‘you do not think there is another living human being within a twenty minute walk, within five miles, etc.’ brings a very different feeling of aloneness than anything which I experience within physical proximity to other people.
I’ve spent a night sleeping a ten minute walk away from the nearest human being (that I knew about), and I didn’t feel alone (at least not in the specific sense I’m discussing in this post), which is why I decided to set the limit at ‘twenty minute walk away’.
I’ve discussed the experience of being alone before in the post “Something about Bedsharing”. When I wrote that post, I still felt fairly insecure about sleeping alone. Not as insecure as that first night at Walami Cabin, but still somewhat insecure.
Since I wrote that post, I’ve had a lot more experience with sleeping alone, and I feel a lot more relaxed about it. I think it is because I’ve spent so many nights alone where nothing bad happened, so my subconscious figured out that sleeping alone does not mean I will be harmed in the night.
The greatest risk I’ve ever faced while spending the night alone was probably the time I camped through a snowstorm. My gear was sufficient to keep me warm, but I didn’t know how cold it was going to get that night, or how well my gear would perform. In short, I could not be sure until the next morning that I was not in danger of hypothermia. When hypothermia is a possibility, being alone is more dangerous than not being alone (even if everyone has the same gear, there is the additional option of sharing body heat, and if one person succumbs to hypothermia faster, the person who is succumbing slower can still try to improve the situation).
However, that experience increased my confidence in being alone. I know my gear can perform in that situation. More importantly, I have experienced camping in a snowstorm without suffering any significant harm, so the prospect of camping through a snowstorm again seems less scary.
I have even gotten comfortable enough with camping alone that there have been times when I was actually hoping that I would camp alone, that there would be nobody else at the campsite. Usually, when I hoped that I would be alone yet somebody else was at the campsite that night anyway, I ended up being glad that I had company after all. Otherwise, only having a minimal amount of interaction with them (generally because I was tired) also worked.
There are long-distance hikers who actively seek being alone at camp, much more than I ever have. I used to marvel at them when I was still insecure about camping alone, but now it makes some sense to me.
During my trip to Alaska, there was only one night I camped alone (I believe I was at least 2 miles from the nearest human being that night) and it was not a big deal. But when I hiked a section of the John Muir Trail (JMT) this year, I ended up rejecting some campsites that were fine because nobody else was there. I managed to find other campsites with other campers within half an hour. I wonder why I did that. I don’t think it was because of insecurity about camping alone, because that did not particular bother me in Alaska this year. I think it was because it was the only live contact I had with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) / JMT community this year, so I wanted human contact at every campsite.
I don’t feel nearly as vulnerable walking alone as sleeping alone, so it’s no big deal if I don’t see anybody else for hours, especially since I know that most of the trails I go on have a lot of people and even if I don’t see them they may be just ten minutes ahead or behind. However, sometimes, when walking the PCT in the off-season, there are a lot fewer people. I don’t think I have ever gone a full day, from when I get up to when I lay down to sleep, where I have not seen or talked to a single human being. But there have been days, when hiking the PCT in the off-season, or the Ohlone Trail in the San Francisco Bay Area, when the only time I saw another human being and talked with them was a single encounter with 1-2 other people which lasted less than 10 minutes. Seeing so little of other live people, have such limited opportunities to connect with other live people, changes the quality of one’s day.
And I also know that the fact that I am so comfortable being alone freaks some people out. And I think this effect is heightened because I am a woman. I can relate to Hallie Daggett, a woman from San Francisco elite society who became the first woman to work as a fire lookout for the US Forest Service – which involved spending long periods of time in the forest far away from any other people. A lot of people were shocked that a woman would do that, especially a woman from a privileged background like hers. She had to take a lot of flak for that when she was in town (when she was in the forest there was nobody to bother her about that).
Even though I am more secure in being alone than I once was, I still value connection with other live people, something that goes beyond relieving insecurities. In fact, being alone has helped me learn about what kinds of connections I want with other people.
Some of you may be wondering what this has to do with aromanticism, beyond the fact that I am aro.
I think most aro people, like most people in general, have never been alone in the sense that I have discussed in this post so far. And I think aro people in general would feel about as insecure the first time they experience this kind of aloneness as non-aro people.
In other words, I don’t think being aro affected I responded to this kind of aloneness very much.
Being aro did have an indirect influence – one of the most common types of hiking/camping groups is a romantic couple, and since I don’t do romance, I am that much more likely to camp solo, which increases my odds of being alone. Increased exposure meant that I had more opportunity to become comfortable with it.
As I try to turn this post back to ‘aloneness’ as in ‘not having a partner with a merged social identity’ my brain is jamming up because, compared to the aloneness I’ve been talking about, that seems so superficial (I’m not saying it actually is superficial, I just feel like, compared to ‘there is no other human within a twenty minute walk’ aloneness, that it does not count).
That said, I think a lot of people feel uncomfortable about the prospect of not having a merged-social-identity partner in their adult life because of their insecurities. And that type of insecurity can be based on valid concerns. Since in our culture the merged-social-identity partner is typically a romantic partner, insecurities about lacking such a partner affect both how many aro people feel about their own lives and how many non-aro people react to aromanticism.
To quote this post by Sophie of Things I Yell For Validation, Probably:
Next up, QPRs/QPPs/zucchinis! I think as a concept they’re fine, but we’ve all got to stop framing them in terms of romantic relationships–that they are just as important as romantic relationships and that they prove aro-specs are capable of loving just as deeply as alloros. For the love of fuck, don’t refer to them as more than friendship but less than romance. Don’t frame them as Friendship Plus. I’m tired of them being framed as a way for us to check all the boxes of fulfillment romantic pairing is supposed to bring with the term platonic thrown around a lot. I’m tired of them being framed as an ideal relationship for aro-specs, and I’m tired of them being framed as a thing for aro-specs. Alloros can have them too, and in a less amatonormative world, I bet a lot more of them would! They’re not what you do when you can’t have a romantic relationship. They’re an option that each person is capable of considering in relation to themselves and how they want to do relationships to other individuals. I’m tired of them being framed in bad, amatonormative, boot-licking ways.
I share much of the sentiment expressed in this quote, but I think the reasons why QPRs/QPPs/zucchinis are often “framed as a way for us to check all the boxes of fulfillment romantic pairing is supposed to bring” and “framed as an ideal relationship for aro-specs” is not just amantanormativity per se, but also feelings of insecurity around oneself or others spending their adult life without a merged-social-identity partner.
My own relationship with the concept of QPRs/QPPs/zucchinis is a bit weird since, personally, I don’t find the idea of entering such a relationship more appealing that entering a romantic relationship. I can see myself entering a domestic partnership for practical reasons such as co-parenting or sharing housing expenses/responsibilities, but the merged-social-identity aspect puts me off. I am open to becoming a zucchini if it happens to feel right with a particular person, but I am also open to a romantic relationship on the same terms. So when QPRs/QPPs/zucchinis are presented as an ideal for aro people in general, rather that just the subset of aro people who want that, I feel excluded.
I wrote another old post about yet another kinds of aloneness, namely, living alone, in my own studio apartment, in a city that I had never heard of six months before I moved there, where I barely knew a handful of people and nobody else, where I was not fluent in the local lingua franca (yet) and few people were fluent in my language, on a continent I had never been before I came less than six months prior (note: I no longer live there). Fortunately, I adapted very quickly because I was there all the time, and I got used to the situation and realized it was okay and a lot of my initial insecurities went away. And as I became much better at speaking the local lingua franca, it became easier to connect with the people around me.
In conclusion, at least in my personal experience, most discomfort with aloneness in its various forms arises from my insecurities, but as I am alone longer and more frequently, most of my insecurities fade away. Yet, even when the insecurities are (mostly) gone, I still find that I want human connection, and that I do not want to be alone forever.