Learning to be alone August 13, 2019

Me, looking out the window

For years, I've actively battled my introversion. It has always seemed like I wanted to spend most of my time alone, but I denied this because I thought it would lead me to become antisocial. Extroversion is our culture's default mode, and sometimes it feels like I'm not supposed to want to loaf around doing nothing all by myself.

This past weekend I attended a music festival with my friends. It was three days and two nights of camping in close quarters and time engaging with groups. Within a few hours, I was exhausted. Several times I retreated into the tiny confines of my tent to read and think on my own. For most of the weekend I found myself sitting alone on the sidelines of the festival, not wanting to engage. I thought I was a loser, a recluse, a loner. It was a blow to my ego to think that I couldn't hang in this environment.

On my way home, I stopped at a cafe in Salem for some breakfast. There, I Googled "introversion" on my phone, and stumbled upon the /r/introvert subreddit. I suddenly felt at home! Here's a community of over 100,000 people who feel generally the same way I do about socializing. It's not antisocial to want to spend most of your time alone—it's introverted!

I usually shy away from actively pursuing labels to add to my identity, but "introvert" has become a label flag I'll proudly fly. For my entire adult life I've been trying to fight my tendencies to spend time alone, to have a deep internal life, and to avoid group situations like the plague.

I spent over a year in a relationship with a partner whose personality was so different from mine in this regard. In spite of our best efforts, we just couldn't make it work because I always wanted to spend more time "alone together" than she did. I really took that personally, thinking I was somehow deficient. Now I realize I really do need a partner who wants to make the relationship her #1 priority, like I do.

This week I've noticed a certain tranquility in moments spent alone in cafes reading or writing. Instead of feeling the typical guilt or shame I'd feel when I was alone and everyone else was gabbing away in the background, I realize now that I loathe small-talk and much prefer to have a few meaningful social interactions instead of constantly exhausting my social energy on mundane conversations.

If you're an introvert struggling like I was, I can assure you you're not alone! There are plenty of kind, intelligent, quiet introverts like us who can't wait to sit in cafes with you, headphones on, doing our own things, together.