What is cocooning and why do we do it?
Cocooning is a home furnishing trend?
Chatting to my eldest daughter at lunch the other day, just before I broke her finger in the car door, I asked her about her hectic social life. Looking at her Facebook pics, as you do from time to time because you're her mother, tells me that her life is just one big party. "Actually," she replied with a mouth full of artichoke pizza, "I'm cocooning at present. I decided not to go to a big party last night and elected to rather stay home by myself and watch dvds."
"Cocooning?" I asked with a confuddled expression on my face. "What on earth is cocooning?" Immediately, images of silkworm cocoons in an aquarium tank came to mind. I thought that maybe she had taken up a new hobby and was busy spinning and weaving silk threads from cocoons.
My daughter gave me her exasperated, 'can't believe my mom is so dumb' look. "I've been a bit wild and partied a lot, now all I want is some quiet time with myself. I have no desire to go out and be with people. That's what I call cocooning, when I shut myself off from everybody for a while. I go into my cocoon."
"Oh," I said nodding my head with understanding as I took a sip from my diet coke, "Cocooning." I thought back to the past weekend when I was supposed to go to a big 'leaving Nanjing' party around the corner from where I live, and how my bed and the live rugby game on my macbook seemed more of a drawcard, so I stayed home and didn't go. "Actually, I think I'm cocooning at the moment as well."
On my return home, and to take my mind off my daughter's bloodied finger which was in the way when I slammed the car door shut, I immediately researched 'cocooning' to find out if it was a common practice or a new phenomena. I realised, that it was something I'd been doing for years and my daughter probably learnt it from me.
The word 'cocooning' was first identified as a trend in the late 80's early 90's by an author called Faith Popcorn, in her book 'The Popcorn Report: The Future of Your Company, Your World, Your Life.' She basically looked at society and saw that people were going out less as they were cocooning in their homes because work was busy, hectic, and the news in the papers and on TV told them that it’s dangerous to be anywhere but safely ensconced in their castle. This started a whole new trend in the manufacturing of home appliances, home furnishings and electronics. Home theatres, the internet, bars, coffee filter machines, dining room tables that convert into pool tables - all of these made staying at home and entertaining friends far easier (and less expensive) than going out on the town.
Faith Popcorn suggested that cocooning could be broken down into three different types: the socialized cocoon - that's where you stay home and entertain there; the armoured cocoon - that's where you surround yourself with guard dogs or top notch security systems; and the wandering cocoon - where you go outside but shut yourself off from the world around you by covering your ears with a headphone listening to a walkman, now it would be an ipod or mp3. However, I'm not sure that that's what my daughter meant by 'cocooning.' Because, although with the socialized cocoon you are staying home, you are still entertaining and interacting with other people.
I want to be alone
Many years ago, the old actress Greta Garbo's famous tagline was, "I want to be alone." Nowadays, it's the band Green Day who sing, "I want to be alone." Let's face it, Faith Popcorn's views on cocooning aside, we cocoon when we want to be alone. We want quality 'Me-Time.' We can choose to contact people via sms or the internet during our alone time, if that is our desire. But, we choose not to socialize with people in real time, face to face. Virtual interaction is okay, but even then, many times we ignore emails, sms and don't turn on our chat. It's not because we have an antisocial personality. It's not because we are having panic attacks and are in danger of becoming agoraphobic. It's because at that particular time in our life, on that particular day, we need our own space. We want to be alone. There is nothing wrong with anybody for needing that alone time. There is no need to call the men in white jackets to come and carry you away in a straight jacket. In fact, being alone is actually good for your soul.
Why do we sometimes have the desire to be alone?
Humans are social creatures, that is true. But, when you are under stress, when you have a lot on your mind, when you've had a hard day at work, when you are mentally tired, when you have financial hardships, when you have disappointments, when you have hard decisions to make, when your job involves you interacting with people day in and day out, 40 hours a week - then the last thing on your mind is a night out with friends where you are required to be entertaining and make sparkling conversation. At that time in your life, you just can't be bothered. Being nice to people is hard work, especially if you have had to be nice to idiots all day. At times like that, the peace and quiet of your own room or house is Utopia.
Going out somewhere means having to shower, get all dressed up, maybe put on make-up, wash and dry your hair, all of which isn't exactly fun if you're not in the mood and feeling a little irritable or tired. Going out for dinner which is often overpriced and not as good as what you can cook at home, drinking copious amounts of alcohol which adds up, ends up costing you a fortune at the end of the night and causes you to wake up feeling like a train wreck the next morning, makes you wonder if going out is worth it. I'm not too keen on going out during the work week, as I have to wake up at 6am every morning, and waking up with a throbbing head and a thick rubbery tongue and breath that smells like a cross between a brewery and a skunk that crawled in there and died, is no longer an option for me. Maybe I'm just getting old.
Sometimes, your friends might not understand that you are cocooning. They'll bombard you with texts, phonecalls and emails encouraging you to get out and overcome your depression. What they don't realise, is that you are not depressed. You just want time alone to do the things you enjoy and love, without boundaries, restrictions or their input. Be honest and tell your friends, you need to go into your cocoon for a few days and you'll be missing in action for a while. You'll call them when you are ready to leave your cocoon.
We cocoon when we want to reflect on our lives and think about the path we need to take for our future. During this period of introspection, we can grow and develop as we learn to like ourselves and accept who we are. In fact, cocooning should be made compulsory for everyone in a relationship and everyone who has finished school. Teenagers use their ipods and mp3's to cocoon as they shut out the rest of the world and are alone with their thoughts and their music.
I think I'm currently cocooning because I'm inadvertently beginning to withdraw from my friends here in Nanjing, as I know that in three months I'll be gone from here. And, no matter how much you promise to keep in touch and get together again, in reality you never do. So in this case, cocooning is self-protection, a start of the withdrawal process. The stack of empty boxes ready to pack sits in my lounge. I'd rather sit and stare at my empty boxes than go out. But, I haven't packed anything yet. At the moment, my cocoon is quite comfortable and I'm relishing being unmotivated. It make me feel quite free and independent as I'll dictate when I'm ready to leave my cocoon and be part of the social whirl and twirl again. Cocooning is great. You should try it sometime. Just give yourself space to be....well, be yourself..