On My Own: The Art of Being a Woman Alone
by Florence Falk

Three Rivers Press, 2008. ISBN 978-1-4000-9811-8.
Reviewed by Duffie Bart
Posted on 08/11/2008

Nonfiction: Life Lessons

By subtitling her book The Art of Being A Woman Alone, Florence Falk conveys the idea that being alone for a woman is an Art, a talent to be learned. Knowing how to be alone does not come naturally to most women. Anne Morrow Lindbergh counsels in her book, Gift From the Sea: "Woman must come of age by herself. This is the essence of 'coming of age'—to learn to stand alone."

Her title On My Own, tells us that this subject is one Ms. Falk has also needed to confront. In her case, her zest for work led to her lack of time alone, until she felt so burned out, she was forced to cancel future commitments.

What does it mean to be a woman alone and why is the ability to enjoy one's own company so relatively rare? Ms. Falk explores these important questions from every angle, adding the infectious wisdom of well-known writers, philosophers, and psychologists to her own.

Fear of loneliness keeps women in relationships that are disharmonious, even physically and/or emotionally abusive. Often women have a tendency to suppress their emotions because of feelings of shame, inferiority and depression, emotions difficult to share or to admit even to oneself. Nietzche called these emotions: "dangerous knowledge...which the heart ferociously resists, fearing to be disabled—fearing, in essence, its own salvation."

We fear being "present with ourselves" believing this to mean we will end up alone, without our connections to others we cannot imagine living without. Falk's book explains how these fears began, how society encourages them, and how our childhoods often reinforce them.

She quotes the English pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnecott, who emphasized that the ability to be alone depends upon a child being raised in "...the presence of a nurturing caregiver who, in the deepest sense, respects and therefore validates (his) being."

This perceptive book stresses that learning to be alone is a vital prerequisite for participating in a healthy relationship as well as in the development of one's creative skills. Having an aptitude for being alone is not something we are born with though some have a greater capacity for it than others. May Sarton, who wrote of her love of solitude in "Journal of a Solitude," talks about her own fear of "the huge empty silence" that greeted her each time she returned home after a lecture or book reading before a large audience.

Ms. Falk writes: "These alternating life currents of separation and connection...allow us to become our own mapmakers and move into the uncharted territory of our lives." It is a liberating experience to become one's own "mapmaker" and move into "uncharted territories" but for this to happen, one's fears need to take a backseat to the decisions that confront us daily.

It is only through solitude that we can achieve any semblance of self-knowledge. Ms. Falk points out: "How ironic that this relationship to oneself is the one we are least familiar with, and yet it is the building block for all others. Our strength, our stability, and the integrity of all our relationships depend on forging this vital connection."

My favorite quote in the book speaks to this point. It is by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke: "I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other." This is the definition of a relationship in which two people do not interfere with the personal freedom of the other.

It is important to mention that Ms. Falk reminds us of the difference between aloneness and solitude. If we are to enjoy solitude as a measure of our self-acceptance and portal to creativity, we must first allow and accept that we, each of us, are alone in our lives...and rather than see this as a frightening reality, let it lead us to a profound connection to our sacred selves.

I recommend this book to all who wish to explore their own fears regarding solitude, and to all who wish to deepen their connections to self.

Florence Falk is a writer and teacher, and has been a psychotherapist in private practice for more than twenty years. She gives lectures and leads workshops across the country. Visit her website.

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