Reflective Writing

On being alone

Here’s a “would you rather” for you: You can have anything you want in life, in terms of being fulfilled and happy. There’s one catch: you must either spend the rest of your life alone, or you can never be alone again. Which would you pick?

Honestly, that should be a very difficult decision for pretty much any human being. A lack of companionship would drive most of us insane after awhile, but a lack of privacy or solitude would do the same. Ultimately though, most people would, after some consideration, have a preference. The way you lean is most indicative of whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert.

The point of such an extreme case is to illustrate the very limited utility the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” really have. An introvert is a person who expends social energy interacting with people, while an extrovert gathers social energy from interacting with people. But that somewhat esoteric definition doesn’t produce a consistent predictor of behavioral patterns. You can be an introvert who’s the life of the party…once, twice a week at most, and then you spend the rest of your evenings at home. You can be an extrovert who’s painfully shy…but also would rather spend nights out to be around people even if they don’t talk much. And virtually everything in between.

This dichotomy is always how I tried to understand the nature of solitude, and my need for solitude. I think I’m an introvert, but I’m one of those weird edge cases. I love gatherings, but have a limited appetite for them. I enjoy my solitude, but that too becomes painful and depressing after a while. I enjoy social spaces like coffee shops and libraries…spaces where I’m surrounded by people but don’t have to interact with any of them.

Tautologically, being alone is when no one else sees you. But because of that, it is very difficult to explain either what you gain from being alone, or how you most effectively spend that time. Yes, I read, or play games or watch TV. But having your own space in which to do these things and be by yourself for a little while each week is what makes this unique. Almost like having the chance to sit in your own head. And even when I’ve had isolated times and they start to cause gloom, it’s an almost enjoyable sort of melancholy. I don’t know how to describe it.

I don’t know if any of this makes introversion or solitude make more sense to those who find being alone less appealing. And I don’t know that I understand people who don’t enjoy the company of people at least some of the time. But I do know that there’s an appeal to having a chance to separate yourself from the world around you, something that seems rarer and more fleeting as our lives grow continually more connected.

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