“Alone, alone, alone” says the sloth.
“That’s a lot of aloneness,” says the woolly mammoth in Ice Age.
Between a quarter and half of us are introverts. That’s almost half of everyone we know who are energised by solitary pursuits and who feel drained if exposed for too long to social environments. I am an introvert. I find it tiring to talk to people I don’t know. Sometimes I find it tiring to talk to people I do know. I will often be having a good time in the company of a few friends but all too suddenly I will feel overwhelmed and I’ll need to escape, or drink more wine to dull the sensory overload.
You’d never guess I was an introvert. I hide it well. I put on an act to make it seem as though its not a struggle to talk to people about the mundane. I want to seem as though I am friendly and amenable and approachable, because I do love talking to people and I don’t want to appear rude, yet at times I find my mind is looking for escape routes, an opportunity to be alone to tune into my inner world. My loud thoughts are struggling with my need to connect to people.
This is most obvious at the school gates, where many semi-familiar mothers mingle to talk about how tired their children are (at the end of the term) or how cold the weather is turning. Sometimes I cannot face talking at all and so I just drop off the boys and run. The problem is, if we don’t talk about the mundane then a potentially great friendship will never get off the ground so that the real conversation can start, and I have met some wonderful friends by starting a conversation about the weather.
There are some mums who will happily flit from one trivial conversation to another, moving around the playground as one would a party. Introverts don’t want to do this. We need real connection. We prefer the company of fewer closer friends with whom to have a deeper, more meaningful interaction, than many acquaintances. But it’s easy to beat ourselves up if we don’t have hundreds of best buddies, and thousands of Facebook friends. When other people’s lives seem like one long social extravaganza it can make us feel like we’re freaks. We may even suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out). I do, even though I would actually prefer to pursue my own interests than spend copious hours of the week ‘catching up’ or ‘grabbing a coffee’ just for the sake of it.
I’m not saying I don’t want to talk to anyone, on the contrary, I love talking to people about subjects that are meaningful. We introverts like to get to know the person behind the conversation, rather than talk about the weather. But introverts also need plenty of time to be alone with our thoughts, because our thoughts are LOUD. We calm ourselves and gather our strength by being alone. A recent trip I took to London alone, was one of my best weekends, simply because I didn’t need to talk to anyone. My own thoughts had free reign to go wherever they chose. I came home feeling energized and happy, ready to be sociable again.
The lovely thing about being alone is that there is very little to think about other than the thoughts that already exist in my head. I hear nothing but my own breathing. Being alone is not lonely, not for me. For some who have never had the pleasure of aloneness, even introverts, it may be different. When you’re alone there is no pretension and no social etiquette to worry about, no worrying about others opinions or sensitivities, no thoughts about what I should and shouldn’t say, and no having to shoulder others’ burdens when they are too selfish to listen to mine – just simple, clean, healthy, self indulgent aloneness. It’s like a restorative process for me, like topping up an emotional credit card.
Next time you see someone alone in a coffee shop, or standing alone in the corner of the school playground, don’t assume she is lonely, know that she is possibly one of the quarter-to-half of us who is perfectly happy in her own company.