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Have you ever found yourself sitting alone at your desk on a Friday afternoon and, instead of focusing on your work, you’re actually plotting out your weekend? Perhaps you drop a question in the group chat, asking if anyone wants to grab a drink after work, or see if anyone fancies brunch on Saturday. All your friends reply: “Ah, we already have plans. Sorry!” It’s the sort of response that can leave you feeling a little bereft. Instead of a weekend spent socializing, you realize that you’ll likely spend the next two days alone in your apartment watching crap on Netflix. Perhaps this is the second weekend in a row this has happened. It’s the sort of thing that can leave you feeling a bit lonely.
It’s not, however, uncommon. According to a 2018 study by Cigna, nearly half of Americans reported feeling alone. A recent poll by YouGov found that 22% of millennials say they have no friends, while 30% said they “always” feel lonely. In the news, you might see it reported that we’re living through a “crisis of loneliness.”
Loneliness has become an epidemic predicated on our habits. Researchers often cite the rise of social media as its biggest cause, but shyness, a lack of personal hobbies, social anxiety, mental health, and the increased stress of everyday living also all play a significant role. Of course, occasional pangs of loneliness are good for you; they remind us that human beings, for all our nastiness and cruelty, require social interaction in order to live full and healthy lives. Evolution has hard-wired us to want company, in some form or another. Even introverts need some form of human contact in order to survive. Extreme isolation can have devastating effects, both on our physical health and our mental wellbeing, and the repercussions of that can be truly frightening.
As a writer, I’m someone who spends a lot of time alone. Writing is, after all, a selfish and solitary act. But after a day spent laboring away in front of my computer, essentially a 10-hour shift scrolling through the trifecta of Gmail (bad), Google Docs (bad), and Twitter (worst), I don’t then call up a friend and go for drinks or dinner. After a day working all by myself, I… just want to spend more time alone.
I understand this might sound, as Donald Trump would say, “Sad!” I can’t tell you the number of times my mom [editor’s note: a wonderful woman] has voiced her concern, wishing that I would stop freelancing and just go work in an office. Likewise, friends might subtly drop hints that they think I’m spending too much time on my lonesome. Even my therapist thinks that my propensity for solitude is unhealthy. What none of them understand is that I :clap: love :clap: being :clap: alone :clap:.
Mind you, I’m no introvert. Put me on a stage and hand me a microphone and I’ll sing Elton John songs until someone forces me to stop. I thrive when given high-stress hosting duties. In high school, I was the social chair (Marissa Cooper had nothing on me). But I also luxuriate comfortably in my own company. I’m happiest tucked away on my own with a book. I bought a Nintendo Switch Lite specifically so I wouldn’t have to play it with anybody. I actually prefer to go to the movies by myself. (Truly what is the point of group outings to the movies? It’s oxymoronic. Do not @ me about this.)
It’s not often, though, that you see this affinity for seclusion portrayed positively. In Eat, Pray, Love, Julia Roberts heads out on a voyage of self-discovery only to find that Javier Bardem is the answer to all her problems (perhaps he is?). In Taxi Driver, Robert De Niro’s isolation is actually ostracism (see also Todd Philips’s Joker). Wall-E, the last robot on Earth, isn’t happy by himself, as if watching Hello, Dolly! on repeat isn’t the definition of a blissful life.
Last week, I heard Zedd and Kehlani’s new song, “Good Thing.” Fronted by stabs of synths and the opening line “I book myself tables at all the best restaurants / Then eat alone,” “Good Thing” is a song that extolls the virtue of being alone. It is the antithesis of Eric Carmen’s self-pitying “All By Myself” (you know the one), which, thanks to Bridget Jones, is now synonymous with tragic singledom, opting instead to luxuriate in one’s own company as if time alone were the pinnacle of opulence. Being by yourself, “Good Thing” argues, is God-tier living; it’s the white picket fence of existence, the most aspirational and fulfilling life anyone could wish for. It’s so good it warrants a key change.
Zedd and Kehlani aren’t attempting to empower you, though; this isn’t some banal, anodyne yoga mom Instagram meme about strength or self-love. “Good Thing” doesn’t try to convince anyone with uplifting but ultimately empty metaphors about being a firework, or the power of independence. This is a song for people who already know about the value of solitude.
In fact, “Good Thing” is a bit of a brat—prickly, self-centered, and perhaps a little arrogant. During the pre-chorus, with its sweeping sing-song melody, it leads you down a path of romantic assumption, before pulling a prank. “I’ve always been told, one day, I’ll find / Somebody who changes my mind/ If they come along, I won’t think twice,” Kehlani sings, before whipping around to laugh in society’s face: “’Cause I already got a good thing — with me.”
What this sure-to-be-hit doesn’t shy away from is that narcissism is another contributing factor to the enjoyment of one’s own company. The second verse sees the song’s protagonist doll themselves up and send posed pictures to strangers: “I like getting compliments,” the lyrics go. “Compliments how I’m feeling.” As Virginia Woolf wrote of the titular character in her 1928 novel, “Orlando naturally loved solitary places… and to feel himself for ever and ever and ever alone.” The takeaway from both is that time by yourself allows you to be entirely yourself, self-absorbed and reflective and all. Self-care and acceptance aren’t all about being the best person you can, but also about embracing yourself at your worst or most vulnerable or egotistical.
All this is not to say that I’m some kind of sociopath. This isn’t some social critique and I don’t relate to the Unabomber. I can acknowledge that perhaps I’ve gotten a little too good at enjoying some Me Time lately. Companionship is not even something that I’m actively avoiding, although you’d have to push me off a cliff before I download Tinder or Hinge. It’s like the lyrics of “Good Thing” say: “I’m not always selfish / Just bad at romance, it’s not in my bones.” There’s even a definition and identity for it: aromantic. Some people, myself included, at least at this stage in my life, just aren’t that inclined to feel romantically attracted to others. (See also: engaging with people, period.)
While I don’t need to feel validated, what “Good Thing” does is confirm something that I already knew but which can often be misconstrued or stigmatized: being alone is awesome. Sure, I get lonely—sometimes I feel like the loneliest person alive—and I don’t mean to alienate or push away those people I’m lucky enough to have around me. Instead, it’s like the song says: “I’m not always cold / I’m just good on my own… so good on my own.” So don’t try to change it: I already got a good thing with me.