This is the original essay in which I defined the word “quirkyalone.” Published back in 2000, first in my own magazine To-Do List and then reprinted in Utne Reader, it sparked thousands of emails, letters, and even some mix tapes. The demand for more writing on quirkyalone led to the book and the movement.
People Like Us: The Quirkyalones
by Sasha Cagen
I am, perhaps, what you might call deeply single. Almost never ever in a relationship. Until recently, I wondered whether there might be something weird about me. But then lonely romantics began to grace the covers of TV Guide and Mademoiselle. From Ally McBeal to Sex in the City, a spotlight came to shine on the forever single. If these shows had touched such a nerve in our culture, I began to think, perhaps I was not so alone after all.
The morning after New Year’s Eve (another kissless one, of course), a certain jumble of syllables came to me. When I told my friends about my idea, their faces lit up with instant recognition: the quirkyalone.
If Jung was right, that people are different in fundamental ways that drive them from within, then the quirkyalone is simply to be added to the pantheon of personality types assembled over the 20th century. Only now, when the idea of marrying at age 20 has become thoroughly passé, are we quirkyalones emerging in greater numbers.
We are the puzzle pieces who seldom fit with other puzzle pieces. Romantics, idealists, eccentrics, we inhabit singledom as our natural resting state. In a world where proms and marriage define the social order, we are, by force of our personalities and inner strength, rebels.
For the quirkyalone, there is no patience for dating just for the sake of not being alone. We want a miracle. Out of millions, we have to find the one who will understand.
Better to be untethered and open to possibility: living for the exhilaration of meeting someone new, of not knowing what the night will bring. We quirkyalones seek momentous meetings.
By the same token, being alone is understood as a wellspring of feeling and experience. There is a bittersweet fondness for silence. All those nights alone—they bring insight.
Sometimes, though, we wonder whether we have painted ourselves into a corner. Standards that started out high only become higher once you realize the contours of this existence. When we do find a match, we verge on obsessive—or we resist.
And so, a community of like-minded souls is essential.
Since fellow quirkyalones are not abundant (we are probably less than 5 percent of the population), I recommend reading the patron saint of solitude: German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Even 100 years after its publication, Letters to a Young Poet still feels like it was written for us: “You should not let yourself be confused in your solitude by the fact that there is something in you that wants to break out of it,” Rilke writes. “People have (with the help of conventions) oriented all their solutions toward the easy and toward the easiest side of easy, but it is clear that we must hold to that which is difficult.”
Rilke is right. Being quirkyalone can be difficult. Everyone else is part of a couple! Still, there are advantages. No one can take our lives away by breaking up with us. Instead of sacrificing our social constellation for the one all-consuming individual, we seek empathy from friends. We have significant others.
And so, when my friend asks me whether being quirkyalone is a life sentence, I say, yes, at the core, one is always quirkyalone. But when one quirkyalone finds another, oooh la la. The earth quakes.
—From To-Do List, July 2000, and Utne Reader, September 2000.