Perhaps one of the most pressing challenges in our lives is how we come to terms with, reconcile and integrate our often-opposing feelings of being alone and our drive to be together. A healthy relationship is said to be a balance of separateness and togetherness but what do we do, what function or meaning can time spent together and time spent alone bring to us?
Which is better-and why?
In a society where we increasingly connect digitally, we may find ourselves with hundreds of friends we’ve never really seen our touched. We may find ourselves wary of embodied intimacy, preferring a virtual or vicarious one. On the other hand, we might find ourselves always “on”, swept up in currents of overstimulated voices and supercharged but superficial opinions, craving for alone time yet fearful of it when we get it.
How can we make sense of this? How can we make our way in a world where I feel alone but overconnected or I’m connected but feel so alone?
What does being alone and being together bring to us? What can we achieve, how can we grow by embracing being alone and being together?
Being alone. Perhaps the first distinction we need to make is that being alone is not the same as being separate. In a sense, we are never truly separate. We might feel separate, or we might feel disconnected, but we are always connected to something vaster, be that seasons, economics, fashion-even if it’s just fashion we watch on TV we’re still a passive participant in it. We cannot truly disconnect.
But we can develop a fuller relationship to being alone and being together.
Exploring being alone is getting to know the territory of the intrapsychic self, a mindful, soulful place, often marked by past wounding and pain, a place that requires self-compassion and gentle healing. It can be a poetic place that often needs a greater internal locus of evaluation, and in resting into this place the “I” can find a powerful sense of personal meaning and self-awareness.
This is the place where introverts go to foster greater creativity and grounding, it’s a contemplative space of meditation that exists beyond role, where we might say “I am a father, but not defined by this…I am a sister but not defined by this…who, then, am I?” which is the very beginning of a deep spiritual journey into oneness. You can meet your personal shadow here, both your dark shadow and your golden one, the shadow that disables you and keeps you caught up in reactivity and darkness, and the shadow that hungers for light.
Lean into this.
Exploring the territory of being together is getting to know the territory of the interpsychic self, of how relationships work for you and the dynamic therein. Relationships might have wounded you in the past, might be wounding you now, but you could give yourself permission to explore this more fully? What is it you desire in another? What is you want from a relationship? Sex? Companionship? Support? All of these things or something else? Relationships that offer intimacy are, too, a form of spiritual engagement.
In relationship, in being together we can touch, kiss, feel each deeply, other yet also explore how we both might distance from this and feel the “urge to merge” in all this. Relationship embraces contradiction, paradox even: why do I pull away from the very thing that I most deeply need? We can ask “what is it you want from me…what meaning do we find here together?…what might we both find in this intimacy that we have not found anywhere else?” We can find most clearly our shadow in relationships, for we often discover just this in our romantic entanglements: my lover is my shadow.
Finally we might, in togetherness, expand our relatedness to the world: how do we develop our relationship to nature, to the earth and the sea, to fire and air?
Lean into this.
The task is twofold; finding our way into our aloneness, meeting the existential self in all of its woundings and glory; finding the self in relationship with all of its flaws and rich potential.
This is the path of being human, and perhaps, in the balance, we find our true humanity.
Lean into this.
 Butler and Joyce Counselling Couples in Relationships