Lonely isn’t a word that frightens me. In my personal lexicon its connotations are positive, not connected to sadness, emptiness, or boredom. I like being alone. I desire silence and solitude. I am at home with myself, within myself, and by myself. I enjoy my own company.
I crave solitude because so much of what waits to be mined in my heart and mind gets obscured by another’s presence. There are thoughts that will only approach me if I’ve come alone on my search for inspiration. There are ideas that, if people are present, will stay at a distance. Companions, though lovely, are often distracting. As a writer, I must be in the silence and stillness of seclusion to hear my mind. I cannot create in a crowd or with noise.
My affection for solitude doesn’t mean that I’m antisocial. Certainly some social situations can be intimidating, but they don’t compel me to retreat. I engage. I speak. I’ve been raised, trained, and educated to say something and participate. I enjoy the play of conversation and debate—tossing ideas back and forth—speaking my mind and hearing what others have to say. I like collaborative consumption—whether it is of a meal, game, or other experience. I am not a recluse (though I understand the temptation to it).
Introvert—it took me a while to recognize that word within myself. So many confuse it with shyness. I’m not shy, though sometimes I am self-conscious. There are many labels for loners. Eventually, I had to learn and define my own nature.
As a psychology minor, I took a number of personality tests in college. In terms of introversion and extroversion, I tested exactly in the middle. My scores were always precisely ambiguous—not even one percentage point closer to being an introvert or an extrovert.
How did I finally prove my introversion to myself? I contemplated the extreme: Would I rather spend one week in the constant company of others or completely alone? Without hesitation, I would choose the latter option. Considering that fact, plus how much I need regular time in silence and solitude and what an internal processor I am, I had my answer. I’m an introvert—but a social one.
Loneliness is a rare occurrence for me. Sometimes I’m the only companion I want or need. There is a whole world in my head. And for those times when, as a child, I craved company, I had imaginary friends.
As an adult, I’ve come to recognize and be sensitive to the fact that, while I cherish the company of others, I need alone time as well. I come alive during an affable debate or compelling conversation, but sometimes I also want there to be no talking. I enjoy exploring the opinions and experiences of others, but sometimes I want to hear only the thoughts in my mind. People—interactions of the social sort—take energy. Even as they are fulfilling, some are also depleting. It’s not unlike a long bike ride or a competitive volleyball match. They fact that they leave me fatigued does not diminish my enjoyment.
I’m so comfortable alone that I didn’t expect to get married. But just because we introverts savor our solitude, doesn’t mean we’re all destined to become spinsters or lifelong bachelors. Like anyone else, we can choose to remain open to relationships or commit ourselves to being single.
Even though I contracted a crush at a rate of approximately one per minute, I was never desperate for a boyfriend or a husband. I was happy alone, so I was rather surprised by romantic love. At first I wondered if an introvert like me could survive marriage and its threat of constant company. But through the course of our relationship, I’ve discovered that my husband is quite compatible with my introversion. Being with him requires no additional (unnatural or unsustainable) energy. Being with him is as easy as being alone. I’m at home.
Sometimes extroverts have a hard time understanding those of us who find social situations more tiring than life giving. Here’s one way I’d explain it to them: Imagine that being in the company of another person is like holding a pose. Some people are comfortable positions, like sitting cross-legged on the floor or lying down. Others are akin to advanced yoga positions that you’re not flexible enough to achieve. And everyone else is somewhere in the middle—mostly comfortable, but not indefinitely.
The more natural the pose, the longer you can hold it while remaining relaxed. The more difficult or convoluted, the sooner you’ll need a break and a massage for soreness or muscle cramps. However, no matter where the position falls on the spectrum of ease, you will always have to move eventually. Every pose has a time limit. Either you’ll become restless, uncomfortable, or fall asleep.
This idea of people being like poses helped me to comprehend why I can comfortably spend hours on end with one person while just thirty minutes with another feels like a marathon. It also made another aspect of my introversion clearer to me. Just as how with those poses that require balance you may have to hold on to something so you don’t fall, there are some people that are harder to engage alone. For me, it’s not a matter of disliking them; they just take more energy than I can muster by myself. I’m best able to appreciate that person’s company with the social support of someone else.
The danger of being a social introvert in a social media world, is that it can be easy to forget to leave the self enough margin—especially if you’re obsessive-compulsive and/or have a fear of missing out. I want to connect with my family and friends. I want to have dynamic dialogues and experiences that are enhanced because they’ve been shared. However, I cannot do these things without leaving time to separate from the masses and be alone.
Without enough silence and solitude I feel fatigued and cranky. I loose myself like a contact lens in the clutter of constant interruptions or company. And so I’ve learned to make time to keep finding me. That time is like windshield wipers in a downpour. It helps me see.
“O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.”
From “Now I Become Myself” by May Sarton
“You can be alone in a crowd. Alone is a different thing to different people…But there are people who’ve been conditioned to think that there’s one type of happiness. And we’ve got to teach people that there are many different kinds of happy endings.” ~ Shonda Rhimes