The New Bad Word

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I like to be alone. If there’s one thing that I’ve come to know over the past 5 years, it’s that I thrive on alone time. I love going to the movies alone. I love reading during my lunch break at work. Why do people think these are crazy things to do? As a society, we have long looked at loners as the outcasts and weirdos who can’t find friends, but some people are programmed to spend more time alone than with others. ‘Alone’ is bandied around as an insult. But alone is not lonely. There are many things to be gained by spending more time alone.

 ‘The Literary Loner,’ as I have dubbed it, is a concept that I have been exploring for a long time. Many great literary characters are loners. From Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet, J.K. Rowling’s Luna Lovegood, to Suzanne Collins’s Katniss Everdeen, the loner is the protagonist in many beloved books. Bennet and Lovegood were always more interested in books and knowledge than being social or making friends, while Katniss Everdeen was simply too focused on taking care of her family to bother making friends, until friends forced their way into her lives.

Yet, having friends is by no means a bad thing; being a social person is not a negative. This is not an anti-extrovert statement. However, I question why being surrounded by people is so accepted, while choosing to be alone is not. The Onion recently posted a gag article entitled “Fucking Loser At Movie All By Himself.” The article makes fun of the pervasive cultural idea that people out by themselves must be sad and lonely. Again, there is a huge difference between alone and lonely. As an introvert, I have always looked at people who never like to be alone and wonder if there’s something they’re afraid of. Are they afraid to get to know themselves? To hear themselves think? These are just a few of the things that I gain most from my alone time. I find my time alone often leads to real reflection and positive decisions and changes for my life. Is that something extroverts are missing or do they find that elsewhere?

The big word here is ‘introvert.’ However, many don’t truly understand what introvert and extrovert mean. I told a new friend a long time ago that I am an introvert. And she said, “No you’re not.” She went on to explain that I didn’t have any of the stereotypical socially awkward traits that she believed define introversion. Introverts have long been seen as the socially awkward individuals who can’t hold a conversation. ‘Introvert’ really only means that you are energized by time spent alone, and that time spent in the company of a lot of people tires you. I am most definitely an introvert. After 20 minutes in a nightclub, I am exhausted and ready to leave. Extroverts, however, thrive off of the crowd and find themselves energized by the people. Also, there are plenty of socially awkward extroverts out there as well. They simply prefer the company of a lot of people while being awkward. To expand your own understanding of introvert versus extrovert, take a peek at this popular book on introversion or study the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a popular personality tests that uses Introversion/Extroversion as one of its four categories.

There are, of course, more than two types of people walking around. Introversion versus extroversion is a scale, rather than one or the other. Some extroverts appreciate some alone time, but don’t find it preferable. Many introverts have plenty of friends and enjoy social pursuits, but perhaps only for a few hours at a time. No matter where you are on the scale, some habits and behaviors truly benefit everyone, including alone time. Psychology Today published an article on why everyone needs alone time, explaining that it allows you to recharge and think deeply and clearly. If it is hard for you to find the time or will to participate, they offer a few simple suggestions such as scheduling it into your calendar and getting up earlier to provide some built in reflection time. I know an extrovert who thrives off of others and social situations, yet wakes up early every morning to have tranquil ‘study time,’ as she calls it, where she reads, writes and prays with a cup of coffee. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

As someone who moved to a city knowing no one, I find that a lot of the activities I would typically do with friends, I have begun to do alone: going to movies, going to restaurants, and exploring my new city. Last week, I even went on a hike by myself. This is something I had never even previously considered because of safety concerns of the wilderness, but in LA, even the hiking trails are filled with other people. I could be alone in a crowd.

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I would encourage those who generally don’t consider going out and doing activities by themselves to give it a try. Here are a few suggestions for the extroverts (or anyone) who wants to venture out alone:

1. Take a walk by yourself. No headphones, no texting, no snapchatting. Go unplugged. Take the time to smell the fresh air, relax and think about upcoming events, recent decisions and choices that you’ve made. Take the time to reflect on your situation and what you want out of it. To make it more special, consider driving to some place particularly beautiful, like the beach or a nice park to give yourself more to look at as you ponder.

2. Enroll in a yoga or exercise class where you don’t know anyone. You don’t need to avoid making friends while you’re there, but at least appreciate the solitude of not exchanging giggles with anyone, when someone messes up their back stand. Enjoy the serenity of a class where you aren’t looking to see if your friend lasts in tree pose longer than you.

3. Use your creative energies! Find a quiet spot and draw, write, knit, or scrapbook (do people still do that?). Do whatever feeds your creative soul and enjoy the benefits of a quieter mind when you step back into the real world.