25 Famous Women on Being Alone

By
“That old-maid myth is garbage.” —Diane Keaton Photo: Getty Images

Depending on who you are, the very thought of spending time alone will send your heart racing with delight or despair. For extroverts, alone time can be an almost-withering experience. For introverts, it can be a crucial sanctuary and a chance to recharge.

While the days of openly calling single women “old maids,” “spinsters,” or “cat ladies” are nearing extinction, the social stigma surrounding ladies who are uncoupled by choice or by chance still runs deep. Below, 25 accomplished women — including Shonda Rhimes and Diane Keaton — discuss what being alone and living as single, independent women means to them.

Shonda Rhimes

“I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but I only ever write about one thing: being alone. The fear of being alone, the desire to not be alone, the attempts we make to find our person, to keep our person, to convince our person to not leave us alone, the joy of being with our person and thus no longer alone, the devastation of being left alone. The need to hear the words: You are not alone … Every single time it comes down to one thing. You are not alone. Nobody should be alone. So I write.” — Human Rights Campaign’s Los Angeles gala, March 2015

Mindy Kaling

“It’s funny, I used to freak out about being single much more in my twenties. I’ve noticed that the more professional success I have, or the more happy I am professionally, the less I worry about that because I have a great deal of professional confidence. I’ve noticed whenever I’ve felt the most boy crazy or when I wanted to get married it was when I was not so happy professionally. I have this thing and it’ll happen like five times a year on a Sunday night, the feeling like, Oh, a family would be great. Not even being in a relationship — but a family because I’m 35. I think what snaps me out of it is just the fact that I love being by myself. I think that if I was in the wrong relationship, which I have been in several, that would be so much worse than the feeling of autonomy I feel right now.” — BuzzFeed, March 2015

Rebecca Traister

“It’s nuts that people assume singlehood to be an immature period, just because it’s an unmarried period. Living singly in your twenties and thirties — and beyond — isn’t a tryout for life: It is real life … The expanding population of unmarried women, especially low-income women, is going to force — I hope — the government to acknowledge that women are not reliant on husbands as earners and cannot simply be home with children or pick them up from school every day. Social policy must reckon with single women and the fact that they require the same kind of economic aid and consideration from the government that men have received since its founding, i.e., tax breaks, improved housing policy, more welfare, paid leave.” —Elle, February 2016

Susan Cain

“People sometimes seem surprised when I say this, because I’m a pretty friendly person. This is one of the greatest misconceptions about introversion. We are not anti-social; we’re differently social. I can’t live without my family and close friends, but I also crave solitude. I feel incredibly lucky that my work as a writer affords me hours a day alone with my laptop. I also have a lot of other introvert characteristics, like thinking before I speak, disliking conflict, and concentrating easily … introversion is my greatest strength. I have such a strong inner life that I’m never bored and only occasionally lonely. No matter what mayhem is happening around me, I know I can always turn inward. In our culture, snails are not considered valiant animals — we are constantly exhorting people to ‘come out of their shells’ — but there’s a lot to be said for taking your home with you wherever you go.” —Scientific American, January 2012

Susan Sarandon

“[Being alone]’s been a lot of different things. It’s traumatic and exhilarating. The one thing that’s been really clear to me is that you have to think of your own life and your relationship and everything as a living organism. It’s constantly moving, changing, growing. I think long-term relationships need to be constantly reevaluated and talked about.” —Reuters, March 2012

Stevie Nicks

“Most women would not be happy being me. People say, ‘But you’re alone.’ But I don’t feel alone. I feel very un-alone. I feel very sparkly and excited about everything. I know women who are going, like, ‘I don’t want to grow old alone.’ And I’m like, ‘See, that doesn’t scare me.’ Because I’ll never be alone. I’ll always be surrounded by people. I’m like the crystal ball and these are all the rings of Saturn around me … My generation fought very hard for feminism, and we fought very hard to not be labeled as you had to have a husband or you had to be in a relationship, or you were somehow not a cool chick. And now I’m seeing that start to come around again, where people say to you, ‘Well, what do you mean you don’t have a boyfriend? You don’t want to have one? You don’t want to be married?’ And you’re like, ‘Well, no, I don’t, actually. I’m fine.’ And they find a lot of reasons why you’re not fine. But it just seems to be coming back. Being able to take care of myself is something that my mom really instilled in me. I can remember her always saying, ‘If nothing else, I will teach you to be independent.’” — Vulture, June 2013

Carrie Brownstein

“I think alone time is good to know how to be alone with your own thoughts. I think it just helps you kind of be a better, more grounded person … and also I feel like it builds a sense of self confidence and a sureness that you know that you can venture out into experiences without the crutch of other people. Like, you’re not doing it because you feel lonely or isolated, but because it generates a new kind of experience.” — Spin, October 2015

Katharine Hepburn

“I put on pants 50 years ago and declared a sort of middle road. I have not lived as a woman. I have lived as a man. I’ve just done what I damn well wanted to and I’ve made enough money to support myself and I ain’t afraid of being alone.” — the New York Times, May 1981

Chelsea Handler

“It’s not just O.K. to be single for both men and women — it’s wonderful to be single, and society needs to embrace singlehood in all its splendiferous, solitary glory. Next time you see a single woman, instead of asking her where her boyfriend, husband or eunuch is, congratulate her on her accomplished sense of self and for reaching the solitary mountaintop by herself without a ring on her finger weighing her down like a male paperweight. Without single women and their impressive sense of self, we’d be without Queen Elizabeth I, Marie-Sophie Germain, Susan B. Anthony, Florence Nightingale, Jane Austen, Harper Lee, Diane Keaton, Greta Garbo, Jane Goodall and me, myself and I. Being single is delightfully more than it’s cracked up to be … if you can stand the horror of your own company, that is.” — Time, May 2016

Fran Lebowitz

“That I am totally devoid of sympathy for, or interest in, the world of groups is directly attributable to the fact that my two greatest needs and desires — smoking cigarettes and plotting revenge — are basically solitary pursuits. Oh, sure, sometimes a friend or two drops by and we light up together and occasionally I bounce a few vengeance ideas around with a willing companion, but actual meetings are really unnecessary.” — The Fran Lebowitz Reader, November 1994

Leandra Medine

“When I’m left by myself and I have some time to be alone, that’s the time I have to recuperate and re-validate how I am feeling about myself. That’s always when I feel like I’m being given an opportunity to really start to love myself again — it’s a really special time. I think that women think they’re afraid to be alone, but they’re conflating fear with discomfort. Dealing with that discomfort is so important.” — Paper magazine, February 2015

Diane Keaton

“I remember when I was young I honestly believed in some ridiculous way that you would find someone who would be the person you lived with until you died. I don’t think that because I’m not married it’s made my life any less. That old-maid myth is garbage.” — Wenn, July 2001

Jennifer Lawrence

“It’s not a sad thing to be alone. I think what I was trying to get across was that I don’t feel a lack of something not being in a relationship. I don’t feel like there is a hole to be filled … An emotional hole to be filled. My dad’s here!” — TimesTalks, December 2015

Constance Wu

“I’d rather lose all my stuff than lose myself, because I’ve done that before, and that feels way worse. I don’t have the best family life. I’m not going to have a sob story and be like, my parents abandoned me, because they didn’t. But they also are not that present. When I’m alone, I’m alone. I don’t have anybody to call, and so I have to create meaning from myself. That’s why I don’t give a fuck, because I can’t lose anything. What I have I make myself.” — Vulture, June 2016

Cheryl Strayed

“Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was.” — Wild, March 2012

Rashida Jones

“I had the full princess fantasy: the white horse, the whole being saved from my life, which is ridiculous. What do I want to be saved from? My life’s great! But it’s just this weird thing that’s been hammered into my head culturally: that’s the only way to succeed, that’s the only thing that counts for a woman. I’m happy, but the fact that I’m not married and don’t have kids — it’s taken me a long time to get to a place where I actually am OK with that, where I actually don’t feel like I’m some sort of loser.” — The Guardian, February 2014

Julie Delpy

“Too many women throw themselves into romance because they’re afraid of being single, then start making compromises and losing their identity. I won’t do that.” — San Jose Mercury News, December 1997

Joan Rivers

“I’m so independent now, I’m so set in my ways … I hate the part where I come home from a trip and there’s no one to call. And I miss the Sundays doing nothing together. But I do like my freedom … I won’t go to a restaurant alone, because people will say, ‘Oh I saw poor Joan Rivers.’ … I do [go to parties alone] — but I dislike it. I am very shy when I don’t know people. I had to go to Charles and Camilla’s wedding alone and that was so difficult. I mean wonderful when I got there but very hard arriving.” — The Guardian, August 2005

Audrey Hepburn

“I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.” — LIFE, December 1953

Yoko Ono

“The precious part of my day is when I’m alone. When everybody goes home and (son) Sean’s asleep and I’m just watching the night lights out of my window or something. I like silence, you see. I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that it’s all right to be alone.” — Ocala Star Banner, June 1983

Jane Fonda

“I have a friend who says she has become a nerd cause she doesn’t go out or hang anymore with her buds. I told her I understood cause I was part nerd too and I realized that my blog gives the impression that I am always surrounded by excitement and people. But the fact is that I spend much time alone and cherish that. I don’t write about that cause what’s to say. ‘I am alone, thinking, reading, meditating…’ Isn’t so interesting so my blog gives a false impression of my life. I identify with the bear who hibernates much of the time–in fact, has her cubs alone while she sleeps–but then needs to be social, playful. That’s me. I am alone a lot. I read a lot. I meditate. I love solitude. It’s different than loneliness. I am not always surrounded by excitement. That’s just what I blog about. Anyway, I wanted to set that straight. I, too, am part nerd.” — her site, July 2010

Gertrude Stein

“After all human beings are like that. When they are alone they want to be with others and when they are with others they want to be alone.” – Paris France, 1940

Grace Jones

“I have made a big effort in my life to enjoy being alone, so that I don’t enter a relationship only because I am afraid of being on my own. I enjoy my own company because there is no guarantee even if you are in a couple that the match will last all your life. And I like myself. I’m the best form of entertainment I have!…The key is to make friends with yourself. Children make imaginary friends. If I have to do that, I will do that. They will say I’m crazy, but I will be happy. Sometimes it is better to find ways to be happy alone than to have a relationship in which you are miserable for the sake of not being alone.” — I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, September 2015

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“Justice O’Connor and I were together for more than twelve years and in every one of those twelve years, sooner or later, at oral argument one lawyer or another would call me Justice O’Connor. They were accustomed to the idea that there was a woman on the Supreme Court and her name was Justice O’Connor. Sandra would often correct the attorney, she would say, ‘I’m Justice O’Connor, she’s Justice Ginsburg.’ The worst times were the years I was alone. The image to the public entering the courtroom was eight men, of a certain size, and then this little woman sitting to the side. That was not a good image for the public to see. But now, with the three of us on the bench, I am no longer lonely and my newest colleagues are not shrinking violets. Not this term but the term before, Justice Sotomayor beat out Justice Scalia as the justice who asks the most questions during argument.” — The New Republic, September 2014

Dolly Parton

“My nails are my rhythm section, when I’m writing a song all alone. Some day, I may cut an album, just me and my nails.” — Roger Ebert, December 1980