Living alone

When you think about people who live alone, what comes to your mind? An elderly man or woman, neglected by family and without any friends? A recluse who hides from the world through fear? A bitter and lonely person who chases off the neighborhood kids, and spies on the neighborhood from behind their curtains?

The popular view of someone who lives alone is that there must be something wrong with them. The person who lives alone is denying his relationship with the human race, suppressing the social needs that everybody feels, and maybe even harboring evil thoughts that might someday turn into acts of violence. We think of that nice man next store, the one who never has friends over, who never accepts our invitation to visit. Isn’t that the one who was finally uncovered as a mass murderer?

Does everybody really crave a social life, and the companionship of a group of friends, or is that just something we’ve been taught? Is it something we take for granted without even thinking about it, because most people are, in fact, just what we expect them to be? It’s an attitude that takes no account of differences in temperament, and that can make life very difficult for the small proportion of humanity that are perfectly happy with a minimum of social interaction.

The vast majority of humans are extroverts. They enjoy being with people, lots of people. And they need people, sometimes to the point where they are miserable when alone, not knowing what to do with themselves unless they’re doing it with someone. Any majority tends to think that their way is the right way, the normal way, the healthy way. And that’s understandable. But nature loves variation. And variation from the norm isn’t necessarily unhealthy or wrong. It’s just different.

So, we have introverts, who don’t deal well with a lot of noise or with crowds of people. The activities that extroverts thrive on and find stimulating are exhausting for true introverts. Even on the job, the normal daily routines and interactions with colleagues can be so stressful that by five o’clock, introverts are more than ready to escape to the peace and quiet of their single existence.

If they do succumb to a party invitation, or to a night out with the guys, long before it’s all over they’re ready to flee back to their books, their movies and CDs, or to the internet. They need time to recoup their energy, to recover from too much stimulation. It’s not that most introverts don’t want or need friends. They just prefer them one or two at a time. For introverts the internet has become both a welcome refuge and a source of companionship because it allows communication and friendship without the pressures of face to face sociability.

One comment that’s frequently made about the “temperament gap” is that introverts understand extroverts better than extroverts understand introverts. Maybe it’s because the introverts have more subjects to study, and come to understand that the difference is ingrained, something that can’t be changed by persuasion or ridicule, or any other methods. But there aren’t that many introverts, and some of them learn to disguise themselves, to “pass” when sociability is absolutely required. This means that extroverts don’t get a lot of experience in dealing with them on their own terms.

And that’s what can make life so difficult for the loners. The extroverts can’t imagine life without a crowd, without the nearly constant contact and activity that makes their lives go round. So, with the best intentions in the world, the outgoing, friendly extroverts want your IM handle so they can stay in touch, invite you to parties, try to set you up with dates. They tell you that it’s not healthy to be the way you are, that you need to get out more, enjoy yourself, have fun.

Because they have no concept that there are other ways of being happy, even of enjoying yourself, they wind up driving introverts crazy. Have you ever had the experience of knowing a really quiet person that you tried so hard to befriend, and suddenly realize that they’re doing their best to avoid you? Now you know why.