Every Chinese person I know feels uncomfortable being alone. I still have to meet one who is happy at being able to spend one day alone. Even my monk friend is very sociable and enjoys being with people all the time.
At first I thought it was just the young Chinese who feel this way, until one day my husband asked his mom if, when she was young, she had ever spent one day alone not talking with anybody, and she said never and that it would be terrible not to have anybody to talk with for a day!
From the conversations I had with most people, young and old alike, I get the feeling they think of introversion as some kind of disorder, and that people have to be outgoing. If a person is a quiet type or prefer to be alone, then they think that person is strange.
Today, Christmas Eve, I saw the egret on campus again. It seems it survived the (relatively) cold winter alone. Of course there’s no way of knowing if egrets can feel happiness or not, but it did look content to me as it searched for food in the shallow water. Seeing the egret again (if it is the same one) reminded me of my conversations with people about being alone. It seems hard for many to accept that one can be solitary but not lonely. Especially in China where people swear they cannot survive spending a day without anybody to talk with, or where you can hardly meet an unmarried person over 30 because if they are 25 and still single, their parents would panic and set them up on blind dates, the idea of solitude is as unimaginable as dying without having contributed to the population of the race.
But I think of the single people I know (not Chinese), and the ones who always find time to be quiet, and I see them more content with their lives than the ones who are more sociable and go out often. They certainly have fewer worries than those who are married or those who have several circles of friends. For one, single people who do not have children do not have to worry about their children and the children’s tuition and their future. For another, they enjoy the freedom that most married people or parents can only look back to with a sigh. They have more time to devote themselves to developing their talents and focus their energy on their interests.
As a wife (to a man who has a different cultural background), mother (to an autistic toddler) and a teacher (who faces a class of 35 students 14 hours a week), I insist on having as much time alone as I can. I go out for walks and have lunch or coffee alone. I get stressed when I am CONSTANTLY with people, be they family or friends or acquaintances. I guess being Asian and living in a country such as China where people are so eager to give you their two cents and feel guilty if they have no advice to give even when you do not really need one (they mean well, of course) , it can be overwhelming to be in the company of people.
So I can truly understand people who want to be alone and are content to be alone. One can be alone and still find contentment. In fact like I said in another post, we all need to experience alone-ness. We all need to be solitary sometimes and to experience solitude. As Thomas Merton once said: “It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love others. The more solitary I am, the more affection I have for them.” May you find time for solitude and consequently find love and contentment in your life.