I want to be alone! (but I want to want to NOT be alone...)
May 25, 2012 1:03 PM   Subscribe

My job (which I love) is sapping my small reserve of social energy and killing my (already near non-existent) social life. I don't want to be a hermit! How can I get more interested in doing things with people after work instead of always cocooning?

So - I'm an introvert in an extrovert's job. But I love my job, and I'm good at it. It's very rewarding, and suits me better than most previous jobs. Changing jobs is not an option right now.

However, I'm a EXTREME introvert and working with the public is taxing for me. At the end of the day, I'm mentally exhausted from being "on" all the time, and the idea of doing anything with a few friends (let alone meeting new people) is just unappealing. Actually, that's not 100% true - being around people is often appealing, but my batteries are so depleted that it's often hard to initiate and/or participate in conversation. And making plans or initiating social situations is equally daunting (not scary, just exhausting to think about). I need a lot of alone time to feel refreshed; by the time I have enough, the weekend is almost over and it's time to go back to work! Not an ideal situation for building and maintaining friendships.

I would like to keep the friends I have, and make more friends! Investigate some fun activities. Maybe even date. :) And I'd like to keep my job! What are some strategies I can use to "increase my battery capacity", so to speak, or to charge my batteries more quickly, or to conserve my energy so I have something left over for my social/personal life?

Thanks for any ideas you might have.
posted by Knicke to Human Relations (25 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Volunteer in regards to something important but arcane to the general public.
posted by y2karl at 1:10 PM on May 25, 2012

You don't mention sleep at all, but that's necessary for me. If I can't get 8-9 hours, I hate all humans.
posted by two lights above the sea at 1:11 PM on May 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

(I consider myself more of an extrovert on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, and I work with the "public" all day in a psychology lab.)
posted by two lights above the sea at 1:15 PM on May 25, 2012

It seems to me that one answer would be to try to identify those solitary activities that are more "efficient" at recharging your batteries. I'm less of an introvert than you, but as an example, for reasons I don't understand, a solitary hike in the countryside is much more restorative of that side of my personality than is a day spent in solitude running errands at home, or reading, say.
posted by oliverburkeman at 1:18 PM on May 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think you are me. Nine years and counting, still haven't found a solution. Try to organize socializing around weekends (obviously) and I volunteer on weekend afternoons at something that suits me better.

People are going to say "exercise" but I exert enough energy all day and end up ill if I overdo it and also don't sleep enough, as mentioned above, I get even more run down and ill.

So yeah, hermit-ing Monday to Thursday. A bit depressing but something has to give, and for me, it's my social life. Extreme sad face.

Sorry this is just about the worst possible answer! At least you love your job, right? And if you are lucky enough to meet someone (I've been praying but it's not working) then you can stay home more and it's still a form of socializing without having to exert as much social energy. Win win.

On preview I see you are using weekends to recharge as well. Maybe really rest up Sat day and try to get out a bit Sat pm, then use Sunday to totally recharge again?
posted by bquarters at 1:20 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I need a lot of alone time to feel refreshed; by the time I have enough, the weekend is almost over and it's time to go back to work! Not an ideal situation for building and maintaining friendships.

I need this too ... but often, the truth is that I need less than I want. It's equally bad whether I don't take any time for myself or whether I take too much time for myself. It's like napping. 20 minutes and you're golden, 2 hours and you wake up groggy and headachey. So if you do it mindfully, a half-hour of consciously luxuriating in your solitude can actually feed your soul much better than a full weekend of alone time that's just spent mucking around the house.

Try this for, say, happy hour: instead of going all together directly from work in one car, beg off for an hour and just drive. Radio off, a back road or two, being really conscious of the silence and taking deep mindful breaths. Then meet the rest of the crew at the bar. That hour will have refreshed you and it cuts short the amount of time you're "on" while also keeping you connected.
posted by headnsouth at 1:21 PM on May 25, 2012 [9 favorites]

Make plans well in advance rather than day of; and make them modest. (Rather than "let's all go to the big concert," make it "let's have a 4 person happy hour at that new place that just opened up.") As you get used to it you'll be invited to more things and get more comfortable with the routine of going out.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:22 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, once I am home, I want to stay home. So I'm better at happy hour Friday than a Saturday night party (resisting the urge to bail all day Saturday and then regretting all the angsting on Sunday pretty much defeats the purpose of alone time). That way I'm still riding the Friday energy wave and afterwards I can go home and cocoon for real.
posted by headnsouth at 1:27 PM on May 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

Make sure you're good on the sleep/diet/exercise side of things. If you're getting run down physically, it's harder to recharge mentally. Also, taking an hour here and there -- I forget a lot that getting away from my desk for lunch is actually much more refreshing than shutting the door and holing up in my office for the same amount of time.

Have you talked to your friends about how you're feeling? I know there are certain of my friends, where (while it seems counterintuitive to opt for a larger group of people when I'm feeling socially drained) if I get together with 3-5 of them, they'll actually do most of the heavy lifting, and I can actively engage or just sit back and observe, as suits me. And they would be understanding if I said "I'm kind of worn out and want to be here, but might be quieter than usual tonight." But sometimes socializing around things like movies or plays or museums or going dancing, where there's an expectation that there will not be constant talking, is a good way for me to socialize when I'm feeling run down.
posted by EvaDestruction at 1:29 PM on May 25, 2012

Spend more time alone outside your home. Something about being in a less-familiar environment makes me feel more... condensed. Whether I'm observing/reacting to my surroundings or working to ignore them, I focus harder on myself.

I'm an introvert, but I found going to a favorite pub alone pretty relaxing. I might chat with the bartenders, but otherwise get to sip a beer, doodle in my notebook, and eavesdrop on strangers.

I don't know what your social circle is like, but with mine I sometimes enjoy hanging out with them, but mostly as an observer. If you mostly have individual friends, maybe explain the situation and try to set up regular, low-intensity meetings, like hanging out to watch a netflix movie or work on knitting projects together, instead of hyping up a super! awesome! evening.

Oh, joining a creative-hobby group (writing, knitting, scrapbooking) with regular meetings might work, for you, too.
posted by itesser at 1:32 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

OK this is my last post, but I just saw that you are in Syracuse (I used to live on one of the little lakes up there). One thing about Syracuse is the deliciously long, quiet, solitude-inspiring winter. Summer social party time is compressed into just a few months, so maybe you could take the macro view and get a winter project in mind (create a list of snowshoeing hikes, learn to quilt, etc.) so that you can enjoy the summer social scene more knowing you have a long recovery period ahead of you. Plus if you make the most of summer, you may meet someone who you want to get snowed in with this winter!
posted by headnsouth at 1:33 PM on May 25, 2012

Something I wouldn't have expected to help me (another extreme introvert here) but actually has, is "mindful meditation." I started just doing 2 minutes a day after coming home from work, and have built up to 5 minutes, and afterwards I feel quite refreshed! I'm normally completely spent after work, so for me it's making a significant difference.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 1:45 PM on May 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Volunteering was already mentioned, but is a great idea. On a similar note, offer to help put together events or activities to contribute in some way. Offer to drive if a group outing, or that you'll bring dessert or drinks if a party.
posted by Unsomnambulist at 3:31 PM on May 25, 2012

All these are great suggestions - it is SO important to keep in shape with proper diet and exercise, especially. I personally find that I have much more energy, both physical and mental, if I cut way way back on the processed carbs and emphasize protein and fat in my diet - I haven't gone full paleo and it's not necessary to, but the fewer white carbs I eat the better. I keep my blood sugar on an even keel by not skipping meals (especially breakfast - I can get away with skipping dinner but NOT breakfast!) and snacking on something like almonds (yummy, portable, easy to store) between meals when I'm feeling hungry. And stay hydrated by drinking lots of water (not coffee or energy drinks).

Another thing I find really gives me extra energy, because it's so relaxing, is getting a massage. I can't afford every week, but I try for once a month. It's pampering and it releases SO much tension.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:31 PM on May 25, 2012

Introvert here with an extremely people intensive job - demanding clients, bosses, organization - the whole catastrophe. I'm on like a Christmas tree from the moment I get into work until the moment I leave.

The only thing that worked for me was 100% full blown white flag surrender that I was just going to be asocial for a spell of unknown length. Weeks? Months? Years? Who knew. I didn't. The only alternative for me was to continue beating myself against the brick wall of Just Get Out There Already. I knew I wasn't going to, didn't want to and I kept feeling like shit because I kept constantly failing against the expectation that I should.

It is intensely demoralizing and draining to fight who you are.

So. I stopped fighting. I didn't go out, didn't make friends. I stopped telling myself I was going to - next weekend. I stayed in, read books, watched movies, surfed the internet, wrote, tinkered around, walked my dog, learned to cook, went on hikes and road trips by myself and the dog. I saw my friends when I felt like it. Sometimes once a week, sometimes once a month.

I still do all of this, but over time figured out a way to make friends and date in a way that seems pretty natural and unforced to me. I love being alone, need to be alone and all the alone time I spent re-calibrated my social barometer for the amount of socialization I actually need instead of the amount I thought I should have. Since I love being alone, my measure for people these days is that they have to be better than being by myself. I just don't have the energy for anything less.
posted by space_cookie at 4:49 PM on May 25, 2012 [16 favorites]

And making plans or initiating social situations is equally daunting (not scary, just exhausting to think about).

Just go ahead and do it a few times, even if it feels exhausting and unappealing. More than likely you have friends that feel this way at times as well, and maybe you can share about it with them. I echo headnsouth's comment:

I need this too ... but often, the truth is that I need less than I want. It's equally bad whether I don't take any time for myself or whether I take too much time for myself.
posted by Golden Eternity at 5:03 PM on May 25, 2012

I'm like you. What about bi-weekly potlucks? It becomes part of the routine, you can invite whomever, and you don't waste any of your limited social energy planning it...
posted by salvia at 6:31 PM on May 25, 2012

Space_cookie nailed it.

I've even used the word 're-calibration' myself. Sometimes you just have to stop...and then start over. Or start differently. "Just do it" hasn't worked for me, especially since I see my NYC friends rarely (and old friends even less frequently due to distance) and have to be 'on' when I see them too- it's just too tiring.

People-intensive jobs can really knock you out and I think sometimes you have to just ride it out. Either the exhaustion or the job. I know for myself I can't just 'get through it'.

But if you want to, then you might have to figure out some kind of napping, shower, then 're-start your day' in the evening before going out combo. That's what I do when I go out during week.
posted by bquarters at 6:48 PM on May 25, 2012

Friday happy hours and Sunday brunches are a good combination for me--Friday you go out right after work, so no temptation to go home and cocoon, but it's not a late enough night to feel intimidating even if you are tired. Then Saturday to yourself, then Sunday brunch with friends (you just get up and go--again, no opportunity to cocoon), then all of Sunday afternoon and evening to recharge for the week.

If any of your friends work near you and your schedule permits, you could also designate, like, Tuesday or Wednesday for lunch dates.
posted by elizeh at 7:01 PM on May 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Space_cookie has got it going on. Just do what you feel like doing, when you feel like doing it. And don't regret, don't think you should be doing something else. Just work with what you got. You're probably not going to be in this space forever, so think of it as a stepping stone to the next version of "you". No guilt. Just accept things the way they are. I have found that semi-regular vacations are great for recharging, if possible. Even if you can't go anywhere, you can catch up on your nervous system. Anything you can do to calm your nervous system will help -- meditation, yoga, nature walks, music. It's all good.
posted by icanbreathe at 7:43 PM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've never successfully given this answer on metafilter before, but, er, here goes: internets socializing ftw?? haha.

I know it's not like, what successful semi-normal non-fannish-freaks introverts are supposed to aspire to (or, well, I used to feel guilty about it, anyway), but honestly, the words 'better than nothing' are not... nothing. So. God any hobbies? Like any particular books? There are message boards, livejournal communities, tumblr blogs, blogs you can start, etc etc. I know this is actually a bit difficult, so it's not totally a fall-back-- when I'm busy at school, I find I just lurk all the time instead of actively socializing online, which is what leads to friendships. And to be clear, I'm advocating meeting people socially online, not randomly lurking on someone's tumblr blog.

If you put some effort (but actually not a lot by battery-draining measures-- it's just 'some effort'), you can build relationships with people that don't drain you the same way interaction does when you feel low. I mean, people rightly view this as introvert training wheels in that (when you're open), actual in-person interaction recharges your needs more, too. But when you're too depleted to be recharged by people (if that makes sense), online chat is the way to go. Also, you make new friends that you can meet occasionally, and/or even find a significant other (well, this is the not-to-be-expected jackpot). But I prefer this old-school style to the newfangled OKCupid foolishness, myself. In part 'cause everyone on dating/socializing sites (which are just for socializing, especially in real life) is kinda... umm, focused on going out, y'know. Whereas old-school online chat is just focused on like, chatting about cool stuff and having fun. I know which I prefer. Heh.

Also, nthing the 'hike in nature' suggestion, if you can drag yourself out that is (I can't seem to, but perhaps you've more will-power than I).
posted by reenka at 7:57 PM on May 25, 2012

You love your job. It's rewarding. It suits you. You're good at it.

This tells me that there are aspects of your job that can be energizing, not depleting. Look for them: they may surprise you as activities, decisions, and behaviours that aren't commonly associated with the 'introvert' stereotype. Find ways of tweaking your job, your attitude, or both to focus more on these aspects without detracting from your overall performance.

To take a recent example from my professional life, I spent over two hours at a retirement reception for someone I respect and felt great at the end of it, even though introverted me essentially spent all that time in work-social situations in a large group. I identified individuals I could interact positively with, engaged them in conversation about specific subjects (ranging from follow-up on work issues to asking about a work or personal issue I knew they would like to share with me), listened attentively and actively, and moved from person to person and conversation to conversation at natural breaks in discussion. I hate parties and crowds, but I love to connect with individuals in meaningful ways.

Keep your mind open and alert for unconventional opportunities to recharge.
posted by thatdawnperson at 6:53 AM on May 26, 2012

I'm the same way and I have a lot more social energy if I've had enough sleep. Also eating right, exercising, generally being healthy. However, sleep is by far the most important.
posted by fromageball at 7:39 AM on May 26, 2012

Response by poster: It's so interesting that so many of you mention getting enough sleep. As it happens, I've been having trouble getting an adequate amount lately, but for some reason never connected it to my subsequent lack of interest in socializing. Doh! I think that's step one, along with stepping it up on some other self-care issues.

And thanks space_cookie; I've been feeling some low-level guilt at the fact that I'm just not always down to hang out with my friends, though I love them. "Is being with you better than being alone?" is a great litmus test that I'm going to take to heart.

Thanks to all of you; each of these answers was informative in some way.
posted by Knicke at 3:46 AM on May 29, 2012

Spend more time alone outside your home.

when i moved to The Big City for a job and didn't know anyone I would go to a cafe every day after work and read a book and drink a beer. By book I mean dead-tree book. This was "alone" time but I was also around people. I could become a regular, and chat with the staff. I was around people but it was still alone time. There was always the chance to talk to someone but I also had time to "recharge".
posted by cupcake1337 at 9:23 PM on June 3, 2012

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