How do extroverts deal with unexpected alone time?
June 30, 2013 8:50 PM   Subscribe

I'm an extrovert. I can't stand alone time. At all. This may be due to a recent falling out with a few friends making me feel lonelier than usual - I don't know. But recently any large gaps of alone time has made me feel incredibly depressed, often to the point of tears. Extroverts, how do you handle being alone?

I'm posting this because tonight I have an unexpected night off of work. Everyone is sleeping or at work, which tends to happen when you work 3rds and have the night off. I should see this is a good thing - I've been putting off so many things because I've been out doing things with other people. But instead of being productive, I've been wallowing about how alone I feel.

Not sure if this contributes to it, but I recently had a falling out with the main person I'd spend time with during times like this - overheard them saying they didn't give two shits about me and were basically done with me. And they've seemed to have easily bounced back from it and are having no trouble finding other people to spend time with. Me on the other hand - well, I found out I have the night off tonight and I'm sitting at home posting this because the only other thing I was doing was wallowing about failing to find anyone to spend time with tonight.

I want to snap myself out of this. How?
posted by Autumn to Human Relations (19 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't call myself an extrovert, but I do sometimes find myself depressed about having time alone. Things that help me:

-Talk myself down. No, you're not always alone. No, there's nothing wrong with spending time alone. It doesn't mean there's something wrong with you, or that you're a lonely person.
-Connect with people. Call your mom, catch up with old friends from high school on Facebook chat, or hang around refreshing Metafilter. (Side note: refreshing Metafilter got me through a very lonely month of being sick, with insomnia as a terrible terrible side effect. Knowing I wasn't the only person awake in the whole world helped a ton.)
-Treat yourself to something: take a nice bath, bake a cake, or give yourself a manicure.
-Get out of the house: go for a drive or a walk, go shopping, eat dinner out with a book, or go to a movie.
-Watch this.

Being comfortable and alone takes practice, but it is an excellent skill.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 9:03 PM on June 30, 2013

Go see a funny movie, maybe "The Heat". Or download and watch one at home.

Just being around people sometimes helps. You can always smile and maybe talk to strangers in a cafe.

Doing something to help others is nice, also.
posted by amtho at 9:04 PM on June 30, 2013

You know, there's nothing wrong with suffering. You feel like crap? Okay, that's a new feeling, right? Wallow in it. Not for long, just a few days. Try it on. See what it's like. Go out of your way to feel it instead of distracting yourself from it. Explore it like a dark, scary cave. After all, you haven't changed, you're just as terrific as you were yesterday. A little alone time might be uncomfortable, but it'll make you a better person, just like an introvert benefits from being dragged to a fun party once in a while. After a few days, if you're still going crazy, reach out to someone you haven't talked to in ages and invite them to a catch-up lunch. A few days later, do that again with a different friend. Use this time to explore yourself, and to slowly cultivate a larger social circle. You'll come out the other end a better person for it.
posted by davejay at 9:48 PM on June 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: This is one of those things that I think you need to deal with head on. The friends I have who are extreme extroverts like you can't stand being alone because when it comes down to it they are extraordinarily insecure people who have to buoy themselves along every single day. These friends subsequently never grow because they never spend any time getting to know themselves and are, in essence, only allowing themselves to be extensions of other people. They feel like failures if they find themselves alone, like their entire existence and self-worth is only defined when they have people around them. This is now a self-fulfilling prophecy for a few of them, and it is causing them all a lot of problems because at some point all of us must and will be alone, and they are categorically refusing to find mature ways to deal with it.

Do not allow yourself to succumb to this flaw in extroversion. You can train yourself to crave alone time instead of fear it -- to do so you must examine why you find yourself consumed with fear in the first place. Is it because you are like my extroverted friends and feel like a failure when you are by yourself? Is it because you are unwilling to get to know yourself? Loneliness is a secondary emotion. Find out what's behind the loneliness and start there.

Then, sit down and make a list of all the things you can genuinely do by yourself (A), and all the things you think you need to do with at least one other person (B). Notice what you put in each column, and if you have more things in the latter column than you do the former, make it your mission to try to do at least one thing from Column B and make it something you can genuinely and happily do so it can move to Column A. Whenever you find yourself with free time to spare, make a transfer from B to A. Force yourself to be with yourself and yourself alone. You will gain so much more if you face this head on instead of trying to suppress it.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:09 PM on June 30, 2013 [24 favorites]

PS: falling outs with friends suck. I am sorry you are feeling lonely right now and hope you feel better soon.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:13 PM on June 30, 2013

Introvert* here, so...

I re-read books/re-wachted favorite TV episodes I love. It's a new conversation with an old friend.

FWIW, I have felt lonelier amongst people I know than I have when I have been alone. "Lonely" and "alone" do not have to be and are not synonyms.

*Of the school of " basically socially competent but need alone time" type.
posted by rtha at 10:27 PM on June 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

I wonder if you can slow down enough to let someone read to you.

In the past year I have gotten into Audible, and I've found that I love to be read to. And if/when I find a particularly good reader, matched to a particularly good book, it is to me a luxury.

Call it a small luxury if you will, but I won't.

All of these years I've loved Barbara Kingsolver, I've enjoyed her writing so much. I was pretty much blown out of my shoes by The Lacuna, a novel she wrote a few years ago -- what an imagination, what a story! But then, to have it read to me, and read to me by Barbara Kingsolver -- it is a wonderful thing.

Just sit down on the couch, put your feet up -- maybe a cup of tea, or maybe not -- and let these masters give you their gift. Or take a nice drive with Barbara Kingsolver, put a few bucks in the gas tank and then enjoy her company, there in the car with you, reading you her book.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:04 PM on June 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When this happens to me, it usually isn't really about being alone. It's about using the good feelings of being around other people to overcome negative feelings. And as soon as the great positive rush of energy goes away, it's back in to the pit.

A few things that help:
1. cultivating a sense of equanimity and a better mood in general (meditation, prayer. Some songs are downers but religious music seems to be stabilizing for me, since it causes me to focus on something bigger.)

2. sitting and thinking/feeling to try and get at the root of the problem. Do you feel useless? help out with a charity. Do you feel un-loved? Think of nice things that friends and family have said (or check your email for them, or even ask a friend sometime to help you brainstorm some things to make you feel better). Are you worried about your elderly aunt? Make a calendar appointment to call her every Monday. Therapy can help here too, if the feeling lasts.

3. Getting enough sleep, exercise, and healthy food. Take care of your body and your mind will feel the impacts as well.
posted by Lady Li at 12:39 AM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: That's a horrible thing to hear someone say about you. No wonder you feel lonely! And it was the main person you spent time with! And they found other people to spend time with, and you didn't, so you probably feel like you're failing compared to this close friend who said they didn't care, or like the fact that you have no friends and they do means they were right about you.

No wonder you can't stand alone time. Alone time means they're right.

People are talking about how extroverts are uncomfortable in their own skin but I think anyone would be uncomfortable in their own skin after they heard their closest friend say to other people that they sucked.

Can you talk to them?
posted by 4bulafia at 3:04 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Personally, I just get drunk and hang out in the MetaFilter chat room. Based on some of the conversations I've had there, it's effectively a loneliness support group for a lot of people.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:41 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I read a quote in college and it was a game changer for me. I was so wrapped up in having friends around all the time and when they weren't there I was really lonely. I didn't even know where to begin or what to do all alone. The irony being that I'm an only child and grew up alone so I never knew what it was like to have so many people/ friends around constantly. I became dependant on all the external stimulation. One day I came across this quote in a book we had to read for class (didn't like the book, just this one quote) and something clicked for me. I learned to change my thoughts of loneliness into to joy of solitude.
" By attentive living we can learn the difference between being present in loneliness and being present in solitude…When we live with a solitude of heart, we can listen with attention to the words and the worlds of others, but when we are driven by loneliness, we tend to select just those remarks and events that bring immediate satisfaction to our own craving needs."
That's my 2¢.
posted by MayNicholas at 4:39 AM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

I make things! I like to do things with my hands and depending on my mood it can be cooking something time consuming and fiddly or embroidery or making greeting cards. It's especially nice, as an extrovert, to make things for other people whether it is a pie or an embroidered tea towel or a goofy card with a big glittery kitty cat on it.

Sometimes I get so involved with a project that I don't want to be interrupted by other people. As it turns out, getting involved with handcraft has seemed to have shifted me on the introvert/extrovert scale so I'm actually enjoying time on my own more. Or maybe I'm just older. Who knows but it's still cool.
posted by pointystick at 5:24 AM on July 1, 2013

Not sure if this contributes to it, but I recently had a falling out with the main person I'd spend time with during times like this

It sounds like you're going through post-breakup depression, which is normal for friends as well as partners.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:46 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Although I'm an introvert, and at the far end of introversion, I've gone though nearly the same thing in the past. I once had a falling out with a friend who similarly gossiped and then made a point of throwing the info back at me when he was angry. As an introvert, I have very few friends who fill up my whole world so it was a big loss to me...and if I had down time, I spent the time thinking about that particular person and what activity of the week we were not doing. I had to get the person out of my head and stop ruminating.

So this is what helped me.

• I also needed to process the emotions (say goodbye) so I did this exercise, which I already list in great detail in this other ask meta It did help me reduce the frequency of thinking about the other person (people) involved.

• When I did that writing exercise and at a later point, I made an action plan. The action plan was this: Think about things that you did with the other person all the time (and really enjoyed). If you enjoy doing activity X and can't do without it, on your action plan put down find person to do activity X with. Then also make a list of other things that have piqued your curiosity and that you have wanted to do, but perhaps never did with your other friend because they made fun of it/had no interest, etc. Allow your imagination to run wild - what things have you really wanted to try? Make a list with all these activities (this is your action plan).

• Now go do things on the action plan (operation do new activities/meet people). It may be as simple as signing up for and taking a kayak class. Another option that worked well for me was to just place an ad (or read relevant ads) in craigslist activities - be very specific - want to find someone to kayak with or bike with or whatever your interests are. Some people are very skilled at going to meetups for activity X and walking away with friends/activity buddies to do these things - whatever works for you. But the idea is that ... you can quickly fill up your world with new people/new activities and between the novelty and the fun of the activities, you don't need to fill up the hole as much anymore.

• Similar to what someone states above, reaching out to other friends/family from the past can help. Volunteering can also help shift your thoughts away from yourself to others, YMMV.

• Test your beliefs. I really believed that things would not be fun unless that other person was my activity buddy for X - only he could play that role. Well the first time I did the activity with another person, it was just as fun (or even more enjoyable). Similar to what other people are stating above, doing an activity alone can bring about a new point of view. You probably won't find people to do every single activity or interest and some are still enjoyable, even alone (this may not be for you as an extrovert, but you could try it once or twice, just to assess).

• This last one may not help for you if you are such a strong extrovert, but ... learning new info is fun for me. So there are free coursera topics online/or online classes, etc., but occupying my mind/figuring out problems/learning new things is fun (may not be for you since people need to be in it). I have noticed that there are meetups for the coursera courses, though, so you could do the class in your own time and meet people in real life who are doing these activities.

Also, internet hugs; as humans, we have all been there, we will again. I used the experience to also remind myself to try to treat my fellow humans better ...
posted by Wolfster at 6:36 AM on July 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Extremely extroverted person here.

I had a falling out with my friends--I initiated it, due to what I perceived as issues dealing with respect--and suddenly found myself with a lot of free time. I hated it. I didn't know what to do with the empty minutes.

But I do like games.

Those who've recommended that you seek activities on your own are spot on. (I absolutely love what Wolfster said.)

What I did was that I just started showing up at various gatherings and set targets. I was going to speak to X number of strangers. If I walked away with certain pieces of contact info, if I followed up or whatever, and was successful, I rewarded myself. (Took myself out to dinner afterwards etc.) It took me about six months, but I ended up with an entirely new set of friends.

Since I have social anxiety, that threw me out of my comfort zone. But it was less stressful to fail with strangers. I could just never see them again. No harm done.

When all else failed, I peoplewatched at bars and coffeeshops. Invented stories for what people were doing/who they were/where they were from. I found that just being around others helped, even if I didn't interact with them. Certainly beat being alone.

Also second whomever suggested audiobooks. I would certainly extend the recommendation to radio dramas! I just listened to the new BBC production of Neverwhere. It was like having a party of awesome, talented people all to myself.
posted by orangutan at 8:10 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Podcasts! Especially chatty podcasts. I will put them on to cut the quiet while I do chores or whatnot. Alternately, actual talk radio, like NPR. It's engaging enough that I can tune into it when I want, but I can also get distracted and not feel like I'm missing out on something critical.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:20 AM on July 1, 2013

Best answer: I am very much like you and after a bad breakup, I went through the same thing. I found myself hating alone time. Here are some things that helped me get through it:

-joined a coed soccer team- met some great new friends through that
-run clubs
-made time to meet up and reconnect with friends I hadn't seen in a while
-watching a new television show on Netflix
-calling old friends on the phone to catch up
-Meetup groups- book clubs, etc.

I'm pretty shy, so it definitely took effort to get out and try things alone, but it also helped me break out of my shell a bit.

Good luck!
posted by Lillypad331 at 8:37 AM on July 1, 2013

Best answer: It seems like this is probably more about the friend you had a falling out with than the actual alone time itself. You said that this type of night would normally be spent with the friend but now that option is no longer on the table while you see the friend as having already moved on.

Do you always feel this way if you come into some alone time? I'm sort of an extrovert and most of the time like to be around people but don't mind alone time. At the same time if I've had a breakup for a falling out with a friend or something like that, I am likely to feel lonelier especially if I'm used to hanging out with that person at that time.

So if you don't normally feel this lonely when you have free time to yourself then I would just find a substitute activity for the times when you would hang out with this friend. Otherwise I would agree with others who advise to work on embracing alone time rather than fearing it.
posted by fromageball at 8:38 AM on July 1, 2013

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