Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Solitude. How Much is Enough for You?

I am an extrovert and also an only child.  I am not always the best judge of what's good for me, and nowhere in my life is it more evident than in my socialization patterns. 

Few people under the age of fifty spend time completely unplugged from others; for a significant number of us, being truly "away" could lead quickly to unemployment.  Many people don't get outside for any real amount of time each week, and most spend free moments with family or taking care of errands.  All the advice for balance and calm tell us that we should carve quiet alone time--reading, being outside, praying or meditating--in order to hold onto ourselves in the storm of modern life.  

This has never been a problem for me, until it creeps up on me. The selfishness charge frequently levelled at only children (second only to the near-universal notion of our spoiled rotten existence) hits the nail on my head, as I guard my rituals jealously.  No matter how kids and work keep me buzzing, each week I find time to read for pleasure, walk or run outside, and take hot baths.  At the office, I can go for long hours and not stop to talk to co-workers, as the vast majority of my work involves electronic correspondence.

And then I get lonely.  I've spent so much time inside my own head that I don't know the way out.  I don't feel comfortable calling up friends, knowing they have husbands/boyfriends/family taking up their time, and it's just easier to be by myself. After all, it's a skill I learned early, and it's a part of the self-reliance I am so proud of.  So much less emotional work is involved in staying home by myself and taking care of the many chores that need doing. And then I need to tackle the pile of reading I've left because work is so crazy.  As for why there is no significant other in my world, there are advice columnists who say only children stay single because they just don't get miserable enough when they are alone, as many, mostly married people, call single life. 

Once a friend calls--and I am thankful, if strangely reluctant, when one does, provided they give me a day or two for my only child brain to consider it--and I have an invitation, I know from experience that once I push myself to get there, I will have a grand time. I adore a good party, and once there I immediately remember that talking to people is tremendous fun.  So I spend several happy hours and come home with ten times the energy I had when I left.  But as a body in motion in solitude, I find it hard to move out of my state without an outside mover.  And unless I know the people there will be interesting to me, I find it a difficult force to overcome.

Do others experience it the same way, or do they long for time alone and can't get it?  I suspect my time (the dirty little secret of divorce is that mothers can take a bath without someone pounding on the door) spent in solitude is a luxury many wish they had but can never have.  It's just that sometimes the quiet gets so terribly loud.  Tell me about your time alone and what it feels like.

1 comment:

  1. I completely echo the first half of your fourth paragraph. My mom seldom initiates contact with me, saying "I know you're so busy and I hate to interrupt", and I HATE when she does this, yet I find myself doing the same thing, especially with friends who have kids. And with couples it's tricky, becuse you don't always want to be with BOTH people, yet don't want to create tension by singling anyone out. But I digress.

    I find the time in solutude, and the time inside one's head to be very rewarding; so much so that it's easy to let it get out of proportion, and that's when "the quiet gets loud".

    I absolutely have to have time physically alone as well as time mentally alone, and they don't always coincide, making it tough to take full advantage of (physical) time alone. What often happens is that I get a day all to myself but the day is filled with outward-directed communication, leaving me hungry for the contemplative, MENTALLY quiet time. By that I mean time when I either give music my full attention and soak it up, or time when I digest emotional situations, ruminate on problems, or just check in with myself and get grounded. Bath time!

    Now that I live with my "significant enough to live with me other", finding this balance is even more crucial because it is easy to get so comfortable in OUR little world that I don't realize I need the me time until I begin feeling cranky. Sort of the inverse of the situation you describe above.

    I will also tell you that my job presents a unique situation that speaks to the point you make about being "thankful but reluctant" when it comes to social interaction. One of the best parts of my job is meeting so many interesting and diverse people and talking about things for which we share a passion (food & wine). Yet, regardless of the high I get after meeting and talking with a cool, fun & interesting customer, I'm almost ready to go back to the hotel and spend the rest of the day alone rather than go to the next appointment and potentially have another rewarding experience. Why? Partially because it is taxing on a psychic level, and partially because it is a temporary encounter instead of a rewarding friendship that will be nursed consistently over time (for 95% of the time). Do I want to tweet and post about it on Facebook? Absolutely. Yet that seems terribly schizophrenic as well -- yearning to be alone so that I can share with others (without actually being with others). What the hell is that?

    Perhaps it's just my tired travel mind. But balance between the two remains a fascinating pursuit for me as well, my friend!