I was watching an interesting YouTube video about life being short and how to spend our limited time, and there I stumbled across an interesting chart – data on who we spend our time with across different social groups (family, friends, partner, coworkers, etc.) and how that changes over time.
While this data is based on Americans, I do believe the trend is more or less the same for most of us.
So essentially, as we keep growing older, our time with our family significantly decreases and, in different phases of our lives, is replaced by time spent with other social groups. First friends, then coworkers, then partners, then children.
But what I was not expecting to see was the amount of time we spend with ourselves. Alone. That is a lot of time. Starting roughly from around age 18, the maximum time we spend is with ourselves. I just turned 26, so let’s see the data for that age.
281.63 minutes every day spent alone. I like spending time by myself, and 281.63 minutes doesn’t translate to too many hours. It’s roughly 4.5 hours. I think that is the amount of waking time I do need to myself to maintain my sanity. But then, why do I feel lonely? Can’t I even spend 4.5 hours by myself happily? And the thing is, it’s not just me. Lately, this is something most of my friends talk about increasingly – feeling lonely.
But that’s just half of the story
Here are some factors to consider:
Ever since the pandemic and the shift to hybrid work models, the amount of time spent with coworkers (which the above data shows as quite significant) has dropped sharply. I primarily work from home, so 190 minutes more is added to being alone.
I do not have children. That’s another 128 minutes.
Most of my closest friends are not living in the same city or country as me any more. So while I do spend time with them, it’s on screens. And that’s not quite the same as spending time in person and having that mundane, routine, physical intimacy of going grocery shopping together or showing up at the doorstep with ice cream and alcohol when one needs cheering up.
Spending 80% time by myself
Maybe my math sucks, or it’s an over-exaggeration of how much time I think I spend alone, but it does feel like lately, 80% of it is by myself. And here, I strictly count physical, in-person time. I recently moved out of my parents’ home, and living by yourself for the first time in your mid-twenties is equivalent to mentally crumbling on a daily basis.
There are always dishes to do, lizards to kill, things to fix, groceries to buy, corners to dust, locks to check, meals to cook, and laundry that needs to be taken care of. And all of this, in addition to work deadlines that need to be met, friends that need you to show up, and lovers that come with messy emotions.
It’s overwhelming and it’s exhausting, and it’s so easy to blame yourself for feeling this way + feeling some sort of void. But looking at this data has been so eye-opening. We were never meant to spend so much time by ourselves. Or fool ourselves into thinking that the hours we spend rotting our brain cells on social media is “socialising”.
So much alone time…no wonder it spills into feeling lonely eventually, inevitably.
The Pareto principle
I am obsessed with the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule just because of how relevant and universal it seems. It is a theory that states 80% of the output comes from 20% of the input.
For example, 80% of a company’s sales may come from 20% of its biggest clients. Or 80% of your love and warmth comes from 20% of your innermost circle.
So, okay, I spend 80% of my time by myself. That input may not lead to more than 20% of contentment or satisfaction in the socialising aspect of my life. So it has to be that remaining 20% of the time I spend with others that has to bring 80% of what I need as a social animal. How do I make sure that happens?
Honestly? I do not know. But I do know that the answer is rooted somewhere in being intentional about who we choose to spend that 20% of the time with. Family, for most like me, is a no-brainer. Apart from that, our chosen family – friends and partner. That’s where it gets so tricky in your twenties.
Here are a few things I can think of, given my personal experiences and current headspace:
Opening closed doors can be deceiving. There might be nostalgia at best and ruins at worst – there was a very solid reason why you said goodbye to someone in the past.
Off-screen time. I do not have the time, energy, or desire for long-distance friendships or relationships. I will always love those who now live in a different time zone, but I can’t actively be a part of their life and they can’t be of mine. It’s exhausting to even try.
If it’s not an 80% YES to a social plan, then it’s a no. I think 100% is quite unrealistic, I don’t think I’m ever a 100% yes for anything. But I think it has to be 80%, at least. I spent a lot of time last year, when I moved to a new city, spending time with people I didn’t even really enjoy the company of. Time spent with others should usually be either fun or enriching or calming. And if it is neither then I mean why even?
Relationship with self
I know it seems quite obvious to address this. If I am spending 80% time with myself, then shouldn’t I work on nurturing this relationship with self? But I am tired. I am tired of the zillennial, millennial, gen z discourse on #selflove and #selfwareness. Yes, both are very important, but also they are not substitutes for relationships with others.
As a person whose hobbies primarily involve alone time – reading, writing, cooking, illustrating, and language learning – and as a person who is introspective – I believe I have been working on this relationship since I was 13. And it is important and requires continuous patience and learning and unlearning and healing and forgiving and experimenting.
But with this, I am mostly satisfied. It’s my relationship with others that I have been finding tricky now as I navigate these turbulent waters of my twenties.