‘I Want Alone Time,’ Says a New Empty Nester

By Amy Dickinson | February 23rd, 2024

And she seeks advice on explaining this to loved ones

A woman reading a book. Image by Otnaydur. Article: ‘I Want Alone Time,’ Says a New Empty Nester

After a lifetime of living with others, a new empty nester declares, “I want alone time,” but she doesn’t want to offend her loved ones. See what advice columnist Amy Dickinson recommends.

Dear Amy:

I’m a mid-50’s mother of adult children. I have healthy relationships with my folks, siblings, children, and my loving partner.

All that said: I crave being alone.

I have never lived alone. I lived with my family, then in dorms, with roommates, with a spouse, then children. I divorced but had kids at home, developed a new loving relationship, merged households, and now the kids are grown and all doing well.

The world may be going to Hell in a handbasket, but I am grateful that my tiny corner of the world is happy and healthy.

I am a brand-new empty nester and that has thrilled me — because I get to be alone more.

I love my partner and family, but I want to be fully and completely alone in my own home for weeks on end. (I am not talking about downtime or a weekend away.)

My job is such that I could arrange to be alone for one to three months, but I feel like my family would be so hurt! I share a home with my partner so they would need to leave – or I would. I could afford this option.

It has nothing to do with anyone but me. I just want to live in isolation for a while.

Any advice on how I might broach this with those I love and those who love and need me? I’d like a script to explain that it’s not them, it’s me!

– Modern-day Greta Garbo*

Dear Greta:

Every year for the past 15 years, I have spent one month alone – isolated and away from family and friends – and so I well understand this distinct drive.

Women of our generation tend to be the “kinship” keepers, and once the chickens leave the roost, the desire to take stock and perhaps not see to anyone else’s needs for a while can be very strong.

But you don’t have to ask permission of your children or other family members to be alone. They are all adults and they are going to have to come to terms with what might seem like a quirk to them, but which is a real need for you.

So, no script is necessary. You’re trying something new (and – if your folks are healthy and toddling along – the time is right for you to do this).

Did you take it personally or feel hurt when your children left home? You didn’t, and they shouldn’t, either.

You and your partner could work this out in any number of creative ways. You might rent a place nearby where you trade off living in the house for two weeks at a time, perhaps spending an occasional night together.

* Although Garbo’s onscreen air of melancholy was clearly genuine, she found the popular idea that she always avoided company irritating. “I never said: ‘I want to be alone,’” she once explained in a 1955 Life magazine article. “I only said, ‘I want to be let alone’! There is all the difference.” From “‘I go nowhere, I see no one’: Garbo letters reveal lonely life of film icon” by Vanessa Thorpe in The Guardian 

More advice from Ask Amy: What to do when your grown child has no interest in flying the nest

Want to get even more life tips from Amy? Read more of her advice columns here!

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart – ranging from an empty nester who proclaims ‘I want alone time,’ to dark family secrets and DNA surprises. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. You can email Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.

©2024 by Amy Dickinson

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