Some time ago, my best friend Liz (now my wife) and I were discussing the burdens of responsibility at work and home, the rush of our lives, the clamor of family. Each of us spoke of a need to be alone from time to time and the quiet pleasure it can bring.
Time alone allows our minds to rest, our emotions and physical bodies to settle, to breathe. For her, to peruse recipes, imagine fine meals and cook them at her leisure—and emerge relaxed and recharged. For me, to let my mind drift and mull.
Peace and relaxed introspection was our common wish.
We could not find a word or phrase that captured the sense of it. “Alone” or “being alone” weren’t sufficient, for they did not carry a sense of contentment or pleasure. And the words “lonely” and “loneliness” convey negative values such as sadness, depression and even anguish—the opposite of what we wanted to express.
Accustomed to playing the occasional word game, we found ourselves working backward from “loneliness”—the antonym, we decided—until it came to us: Drop the first letter and create an entirely new word: oneliness. We knew immediately it was a fit. It was simple, carried positive values, and was almost inherently understandable. One, onely, oneliness.
One of its best aspects is that it doesn’t drag into consciousness any of the insidiously negative aspects (such as selfishness) so often carried by expressions such as, “alone time,” or, “be by myself.”
Instead of “I want to be alone,” one can say, “I’m ready for some oneliness.” The underlying message is, “It’s not about you. I want to spend some time within myself.”
Turns out the word already exists in some dictionaries, but with the sparest of meanings: “alone”; “single”. How dry is that? And its form onely doesn’t get mentioned at all.
Here are a couple of definitions that truly warrant the word: 1. a sense of personal contentment, well-being or satisfaction found when one is finally alone; 2. the enjoyment of self when one is free of the needs and demands of others.
There is more than enough room in the great American lexicon for the quality of experience this one word can convey.
J. S. Anderson
Photo by J. S. Anderson: Tubac, AZ, looking northeast to Elephant Head