Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Your Resident Single Friend: Doing things by yourself vs. Being lonely

Loyal Island readers will be happy to know that I completed and submitted my Date Lab application this past Sunday. Y'all keep me honest and now we wait and see what the dating geniuses/mad scientists at The Washington Post come up with when trying to find a suitable match for me. I answered all the questions as best as I could and was honest. I used this as one of my allotted photos:

Teddy is my favorite and I do genuinely like going to baseball games. That makes me a catch right?

Rather than dwelling on the idea that TWP may not find a match for me, I decided that I need to address something that comes up every now and then when I discuss my love life with my friends (both single and attached/married friends). Without fail, we eventually make our way to the topic of doing things by yourself versus being lonely. There is a difference and it's always interesting to see where my friends' opinions fall on this. I could make a lot of grand statements about personality types or the relationship status of the person but ultimately, those things are only part of the equation.The collective we places a lot of importance on having friends and networks of contacts and being social while also praising independence and uniqueness (although not outward weirdness). Quirky is cool as long as you can somehow turn that into something mainstream and can diminish the independence of the subject (this is why the Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists). Frankly, this is messed up and it's what causes my friends (and me) to get into heated debates about how doing things by yourself is not the same as being lonely. They may occasionally be connected but my personal experience has taught me that they are not synonymous despite what society and pop culture would like us to believe.

People, my friends included, assume that because I do things by myself that I am sad and lonely. The truth is that I like to do things by myself. This doesn't mean that I am lonely. I'm a fairly classic introvert and I happen to need time to myself. I'm not a fan of things like small talk and extreme group situations. I love Susan Cain's book and Ted Talk about the power of introversion. It's given me a lot to think about in terms of my relationships and communication style. The true balance of being an introvert is that you need both alone time and meaningful time with trusted friends. I don't need to talk to a ton of people at a happy hour; I need to spend time with a few friends during said happy hour talking, laughing, and enjoying ourselves. When I go home from that happy hour, I want to watch a little tv or read or do some writing. It's how I recharge and think through things. I'm not being a recluse or antisocial; I just need a little down time. That shouldn't be a bad thing.

I'm also incredibly independent and am absolutely fine with doing things by myself. Going to the movies alone is one of my favorite things to do; there is beauty in sitting in a dark theater watching any movie and not having to think about whether your companion is enjoying the movie or what you're going to do after. It's about the film and the story. Now there are some movies that are designed for groups (comic book movies, Magic Mike, the Pitch Perfect movies) but for the most part I prefer going alone. I also have no problem going to a restaurant by myself. I've spent enough of my professional life traveling for work that this is a non-issue for me. I bring a book, observe people (and make up stories about them), or just focus on the meal that I'm eating. There's nothing embarrassing about this. I understand that it's not for everyone though so I'm in no way trying to make anyone feel bad if this isn't their thing. However, I do believe that we have created unnecessary fear about dining alone. Some people have social anxiety about this (which is totally legit); others have simply chosen to believe the lies that dining alone means you are sad and pathetic. You're not.

To me, being able to be by yourself is something that all adults should be able to do regardless of their personality type or sociability. We all need time to recharge, think in a more focused way, and simply not have to be in the noise of daily life. Even the most social people need a break from time to time and you should be able to take a break with yourself.

I will concede that there are some events/situations that do not belong in the "do by yourself" category and can potentially be the stuff that causes a person to feel lonely. I've done several of these things by myself and have, on occasion, felt lonely while doing so. These are the times when it's good to call in your friends or a family member or bribe someone to be your date:

  • Weddings - Being the single person at a wedding is the absolute worst (destination weddings are the worst of the worst especially if it's somewhere secluded or on the romantic side). I would never not go to a friend's or relative's wedding because of my single status but I would still know how potentially lonely it can be. Emotions run high at weddings and going alone often makes that worse. I have at least two weddings in the next year or so and I would rather beg/bribe any of my single guy friends to be my date than go alone. 
  • Certain types of travel - I love to travel by myself but there are some types of trips that are better with a group or a friend or two. Road trips, cruises, and theme parks are so much better when others are around. I loved my solo trip to Paris but my one regret is not spending as much time out at night because I wasn't comfortable doing so alone. There are also certain countries I won't go to by myself. Traveling alone makes me feel brave and free but I also know that I have to be incredibly careful when doing so. Such is the world we live in.
  • Concerts - Yes, I have been to concerts by myself and had a great time. However, I have more fun when I'm with friends or my favorite concert buddy, my brother. I'm especially fond of going to outdoor concerts with groups.
  • Sporting events - I don't think I've ever gone to a sporting event by myself. Like concerts, games are more fun with a crowd. And I love to people watch so sharing those observations with someone else makes them even more entertaining. 
  • Certain holiday events - I'm mostly thinking of holiday parties from around Thanksgiving through New Year's and then social holidays like Memorial Day and the 4th of July (picnic/BBQ season). It's the small talk that gets me at these types of events. I always want a partner in crime to get me out of awkward social interactions with strangers or acquaintances.
  • Parties where you only know the host - This is the one type of social event that gives me social anxiety. I often find excuses not to go to these parties if none of my friends are going or I can't convince a friend to join me. I'm not the type of person that would just walk up to someone new and start a conversation (except at work because it's part of my job). I'd probably end up hanging out with the pet of the host rather than the other guests.
  • Buying furniture or other significant purchases - Second opinions are helpful and insightful. Just because you have a vision about that new couch or car doesn't mean that the vision actually works. Or maybe it is absolutely perfect and your friend confirms your awesomeness. Win either way.

I think it's important to consider this as I think about the Date Lab application and the possibility of trying online dating again. Since I do like to do things by myself, how much of that will I lose if I start dating? Do I need a more introverted person in my life or would I be better suited to be with an extrovert? How much of this is tied to the fact that I don't want to have to have the "by myself vs. alone" conversation/argument with my friends anymore?

It goes back to the idea of a balance for the introverted - being able to be confident enough in my own need of alone time while balancing the desire to spend time with those important to me. Maybe I've missed that balance for all these years and that is why I'm Your Resident Single Friend.

Introvert Problems meme
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