Why Women Should Always Cherish The Chance To Be Alone

Francesca Specter
·7-min read

The thought of being alone will send some hearts racing with delight and some with despair. For introverts, being alone can be a crucial sanctuary and opportunity to recharge their batteries. For extroverts, it can send them into a meltdown.

Twenty-nine-year-old Francesca Specter falls into the latter category. That is, until now. The journalist, podcaster and author has spent years struggling to enjoy her own space and was determined to learn to practise solitude. In 2019, she coined the term ‘alonement‘, which she defines as celebrating the time you spend alone. “It’s giving dignity and value to solitude, in a hyper-connected society,” she writes on her website. The concept was born out of realising that while there were negative words to describe the state of being alone (like loneliness and reclusiveness), there weren’t many positive ones. “If loneliness is one end of the spectrum, alonement is the other.” Alonement has nothing to do with your relationship status, she adds. It’s all about learning to value alone time.

Launching a podcast of the same name in 2020, Specter has interviewed everyone from Alain de Botton and Konnie Huq to Florence Given and former British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, asking them about the time they spend by themselves — and why it matters to them.

Now, in her debut book, Alonement: How to be Alone and Absolutely Own It, she dives deeper into the concept, offering tips and tricks on how to find out what you like to do, what your interests are and how to be comfortable with your own thoughts, as well as learning to achieve personal ambitions and maintain your independent sense of self.

Thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Specter has put her own concept into practice after spending months in isolation. The benefits? You develop greater self-awareness, have healthier relationships and live a more fulfilled life, among others.

In the following extract from her book, Specter expresses the importance of finding solo space wherever you are, whether you’re living with your parents, a partner, housemates or alone, and how finding ‘me space’ can help you find the peace, quiet and positive solitude you need amid the chaos.

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The notion of a solo space has been often defined in gendered terms over the years. The humble shed enjoyed something of a rebrand in the late 1990s, with the notion of the man-cave introduced in the cult self-help book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. ‘Men go to their caves and women talk,’ wrote author John Gray. Oh, John, there you go perpetuating the damaging, centuries-old gendered stereotype that ‘real men’ need time alone to process their feelings rather than seek help (we’ll forgive him – it was the 90s). Still, his writing sparked the popular term ‘man-cave’, used to describe a physical, male-only space to watch sport or play video games. Advocates of the man-cave take it very, very seriously. No, really. Here’s a statement taken from the official Man Cave website: ‘We believe that every Man has a basic, primal, instinctual need to have a space to call his own. It’s his territory. Furthermore, we believe that space should be used to enjoy his favourite activities, whatever that might be.’*

But what about women? A female-centric notion of ‘me-space’ – or ‘a room of one’s own’ – was introduced by writer Virginia Woolf in her essay of that same title. Woolf argued that it’s essential for a woman to have intellectual freedom and financial means in order to write fiction, which boils down to ‘money and a room of one’s own’. In contrast to the humble shed, Woolf’s imagination of a female space was for much loftier purposes. The phrase has since become shorthand to describe a woman’s need for a space to sit and think and create, alone, and has inspired the naming of everything from a feminist bookshop to an all-female co-working space. There’s also the lesser-mentioned ‘woman-cave’ or ‘mum-cave’ concept, which journalist Victoria Richards championed in a personal essay for HuffPost. ‘When I’m in that room, I feel like I can breathe properly,’ she wrote, later adding: ‘The real challenge? Believing we deserve that space in the first place.’

Here’s what I propose: a non-gendered 21st-century rethinking of me-space. The concept of a room of one’s own has been dressed up over the years as a space for a sort of mystical creativity; for the enactment of a feminist ideal; or for the performance of masculinity. It would serve us well to think of these ideas – from the shed to the man-cave to the room of one’s own – under the wider umbrella of alonement, because alonement is worth valuing, whatever the hell you choose to do with it behind closed doors.

My grandad’s beloved shed is just one example of how alonement can be built into the daily fabric of existence, particularly in a shared space. ‘Going to the shed’ has functioned as a justification for having some me-time, unobserved, without feeling guilty about it. So why not apply that principle to the space around you? You don’t need to be writing Mrs Dalloway or even changing a bike tyre to build alonement into the infrastructure of your home. All you need to do is accept three basic truths:

• Alonement is a value in and of itself.
• You are worthy of quality time alone.
• A space to yourself will help you thrive.

Lockdown, and the consequential rise in ‘work from home’ culture, made separate spaces more necessary than ever. A closed door creates a respected physical boundary; an unspoken ‘do not disturb’ that you don’t get if you’re working at the kitchen table. While I was thinking about this chapter, I called my mother – as I often do – to bounce ideas off her. This is how the start of our conversation went: ‘Sorry, darling – I’ve got to go because I’ve picked the landline up in your dad’s study and I’m disturbing his thought process.’

The idea of me-space works well in theory and is a no-brainer if you’re rich and famous. That’s why the occasional story about an A-lister couple opting for separate-but-adjacent houses – like the ill-fated Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton, or Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Falchuk – spark a level of ‘oh, if only’ intrigue. Equally, if you’re in a long-term relationship, having separate bedrooms can be a godsend. In 2018, a YouGov survey found one in seven couples would prefer to sleep in separate bedrooms if cost and space weren’t an issue, while Catherine Zeta-Jones once said the key to marriage is separate bathrooms. There you have it.

What comes as more of a challenge is divvying up space in your home that’s just for you. The starting point, as with so much of alonement, is to justify the need for space in the first place. If you can identify me-space as a value within your household, whether you live with housemates, children, a partner or even by yourself (I’ll get on to this later), then that’s half the battle won.

It’s true that size and cost considerations mean that some of us will have to fight for our own space more than others, but me-space can be just as much psychological as it is physical. It’s about approaching that space with intention – whether it’s an armchair in a corner or a Kardashian McMansion – that makes all the difference.

Alonement by Francesca Specter is published by Quercus on 4th March (£14.99).

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