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(Questions have been modified for space and clarity.)
I say very little at work, and I eat my lunch alone after walking to the park. I come into the office early and go home early. I get home and put this laptop in front of me and I’m quite content. I have personal research projects I work on, writing that I do, and wasting of time online that I do. But mostly I learn things online. I read books, usually non-fiction. I have a collection of interesting plants that I care for and enjoy the tiny miracle of a flower. I don’t miss being with other people and I don’t get anxious or worried if I have to meet other people, because I know how to act gregarious. I just think parties or gatherings are a wasteful way to spend my time when I could be learning something new or being alone and far more comfortable. I don’t feel any need or desire to bond with another. Is there something wrong with me?
–Maybe I’m Not A Human; Ontario, Canada
There’s always been this perception that there’s something wrong with being alone. Mention that you went to dinner or a movie by yourself, and most people are bound to respond with some level of pity. (Parents of young children excluded.)
That’s the burden the loner shoulders. In movies, he’s been depicted in myriad ways — from aloof and pathetic to mysterious and heroic — but no matter what, he’s always carried with him some level of sadness.
Reading your question, I can’t decide if I should feel sad or not.
In many ways, you come off as completely content. You have interests. You have enthusiasm. You have passion and purpose.
There are plenty of people who have none of those. In fact, a lot of those people have all those friends to fill the void of having no interests, enthusiasm, passion or purpose.
That said, there’s one line you wrote I can’t shake:
“I just think parties or gatherings are a wasteful way to spend my time when I could be learning something new or being alone and far more comfortable.”
It’s that “far more comfortable” phrase that caught my eye, because it indicates you experience some level of pain when forced to be around others. (Despite the fact you said otherwise in the sentence before.)
That phrase also caught my eye because it’s often how I feel. I love my wife, and I love my family and friends, but sometimes there’s nothing I want more than to sit on our sectional, eat peanut M&Ms and watch Saturday night football. Alone.
It’s how I’ve felt since seventh grade, when I first experienced the exclusionary edge of social interaction. That was the year in which every weekend was spent attending Bar Mitzvah parties. While I was appreciative of being invited, I’ve always been on the shy side. And when you’re a teenager that gets you lost in the crowd, as your friends dance to Vanilla Ice and the girl you have a crush on slow dances with somebody else.
Those experiences highlighted how much easier it was to hang out alone, and it’s a belief I’ve carried as I’ve aged. I love going to a movie or restaurant by myself. I get to eat what I want and sit where I want without worrying if my choices — or my personality — are negatively impacting another person’s enjoyment.
Clearly this aversion to interaction is born out of fear. I’m fearful of not being funny enough or smart enough or liked enough. So instead of having fun, I’m too often just trying to survive.
I’ve recognized the dangers of this, and as I’ve gotten better at managing it, I’ve gotten better at going out and engaging. I still like being alone, but I like it more as the occasional change-up as opposed to it being my default setting.
I believe you are human, and I don’t believe there is anything wrong with you. But that doesn’t mean I believe you are happy or satisfied. And I’m not sure you believe it either.
Humans are built to connect with other humans. It’s why we live in neighborhoods and attend concerts and cheer for our favorite sports teams. There’s an energy, a synergy, that occurs when we share with one another, which enriches whatever it is we’re doing.
I don’t know if your introversion is the product of some buried psychological issue — childhood abandonment; friend/family betrayal; romantic relationship fallout — but if it is, that’s something that should be explored with a trained professional.
If it’s not, I still wonder if you’re limiting your experience and enjoyment of life. By cutting yourself off from the world, you’ve constructed a ceiling on your happiness/satisfaction.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though, and it’s not too late to change. Or at least to experiment with change.
Everything you mentioned, everything you enjoy, from learning new things to taking walks in the park, can be done with others. And you might be surprised by how much more enjoyable those experiences can be when you bond over them with somebody else. Connecting with another person is as natural a high as you can get.
If you’re up for it, start with something small, like initiating a conversation. Ask someone at work how their day is going or what they have planned for the weekend. Just see what it’s like to interact.
Spoiler alert: It’s likely going to be stressful and sweat-inducing, because you’ll be going against every fiber of your being. But it’ll get better in time. And who knows…you might be surprised at how liberating it feels to start poking holes in those walls you’ve built up around you.
You are obviously smart and curious, and you have a lot to offer. Why deny the rest of us the chance to enjoy you?
What do you think? What advice would you give this reader? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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