Hermit with a DSL line
January 7, 2015 9:27 AM   Subscribe

Over the past few years, I've found myself turning into a relative hermit - living alone, going out and about alone, spending time with my family but not really anyone else in 'real life,' preferring the wider range of people and opportunities on the internet for friendship and comradeship. Is this a problem, or am I just overthinking and worrying about nothing?

It isn't that I'm totally alone, all of the time. I do live by myself, but I also work a full time job in an office full of people and I've got a wonderful family about an hour away from home who I see a lot of. The work people aren't people I'd have anything to do with if I wasn't stuck at work with them, I don't get involved socially at work and have no desire to, but I'm not completely alone like a hermit, I'm not unemployed or working from home. I also love to get out and about - being in nature is one of my favorite things, plus I love to travel and see new places - I just do these things by myself rather than waiting around for others to do it with.

The issue is that I feel pretty much content with what I have, and what I have is the internet. I like it. I can turn it on when I want to be social, and turn it off when I don't feel like communicating with anyone. It's always there - I have some really good and close internet friends, who I talk with almost daily, and there's never a shortage of something to read, or somewhere to write, or someone to communicate with. I got into the habit when I was living in an isolated area and never got out of it. I have a rich and varied and interesting social life online - I post, I blog, I help people out, it's great.

I don't want to be totally alone - I love people, I love conversation and communication and stories and ideas. I'm friendly and chatty and sociable. I just don't like any of the complicated stuff that comes with real-life friendships that isn't as present on the internet. Having to co-ordinate times to meet, negotiate the minefield of not wanting to appear too forward, when/how often/what to text (how I hate SMS), how to decode "I'm busy" in response to an invitation (are they busy or just blowing me off?), and so on. And after a long day or week at work I just don't have the energy and need to spend time by myself.

With internet friendships, a lot of those stressful uncertainties aren't there - there's a lot less pressure on both sides. Either someone's online and available for a conversation or they aren't, and either way it's much simpler. Internet friends aren't as entangled in your real life, either - I'm not very comfortable with getting someone particularly tangled up in my life, I like to be very independent. It feels a lot safer to have someone at the other end of a computer. I don't really feel like I'm missing out on anything - I'm very quiet and sensitive to noise and crowds. Things like parties, concerts etc just overwhelm me and I have to leave.

I guess what I'm asking is - will this cause me problems later in life? I'm in my early-30s, single (with no intention of getting into a relationship, having children etc) and live alone. At present, I'm quite happy being a sociable recluse who goes out alone, but uses the internet to commune with others. I like the low-friction friendships presented by the internet and the super wide range of people I get to communicate with. What are the downsides, considering I'm an exceptionally quiet person as it is - and if I had been born in less technological times, would probably have been a hermit of some kind? Am I worrying about a plate of beans, or is this something I should try and do something about?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
If you're happy, then plate of beans.
posted by harrietthespy at 9:30 AM on January 7, 2015 [7 favorites]

I do not think this will cause problems later in life unless you wish to be talking to your nieces and nephew about your wild 30s.

Plate of beans. Worry not.
posted by 724A at 9:36 AM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't be anxious about your current life style, you're content... that's sort of the goal...

I would, however, encourage you to take advantage of opportunities to socialize IRL, perhaps involved in opportunities that interest you (example: MetaFilter meetups). I think doing so will give you a perception of balance in your life and reduce your concerns....
posted by HuronBob at 9:43 AM on January 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Let me help you with those beans... There are a few situations that are certainly resolvable without a partner or real-life friends, but you might want to think them through to be sure you know how you'd feel comfortable resolving them, so that if/when they happen, you don't suddenly feel like you don't have anyone.

For example, when your car breaks down and you need to get to work, when you're hanging a picture and need someone to tell you when it's centered, when there's a pest in the house that you don't want to go near, when you are recovering from surgery and need someone to bring you meds and soup while you're stuck in bed, when the power goes out for a few days due to natural disaster.

Family an hour away, or neighbors next door that you usually just nod to, or throwing some money at the problem, could certainly resolve these.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 9:58 AM on January 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Are any of your internet friends local? If they are, consider every now and then getting together for coffee or a beer or whatever. Bentobox makes some good points above. I've been stuck too sick at home to drag myself anywhere a couple of times and it's been great knowing a few neighbors well enough to ask them to bring me soup and juice.
posted by mareli at 10:31 AM on January 7, 2015

The issue is that I feel pretty much content with what I have

If only more of the world suffered from this particular "issue".

To second HuronBob, though, I will say I have found Metafilter meetups to be exactly the kind of low-pressure socializing that you describe the internet as being good for. You can show up, or not, and it won't really get entangled in your real life unless you want.
posted by mstokes650 at 10:46 AM on January 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

There's no mention of sex or romantic love in your question, so either you've got that sorted and it's not an issue...or you haven't really given it much of a consideration, and if that's the case, could you see that changing?
posted by sageleaf at 10:50 AM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Your life sounds pretty enviable to me and you seem rather happy with it. The second-guessing seems like a symptom of how it goes against what 'other people' (society, if you will) say you 'should' do or need in life.

if I had been born in less technological times, would probably have been a hermit

I think this statement should absolve your concerns. Yes, if we lived in a less tech-savvy time being a hermit may be a problem for various reasons, but the level of connection the internet provides us has changed the game in that regard. One of the concerns of being a hermit is that you'll be isolated and not have real relationships as a result, but this is less of a concern with the internet and the ability to forge friendships with people on the other side of the world. Seeing someone face to face, or even hearing their voice is nice, but the absence of them doesn't prevent a genuine (and physiologically beneficial) relationship from forming between two people.

FWIW, I'm in my early 30's and a relative hermit/introvert. I share many of the same qualities as you do (as it pertains to social interaction/desire). When my life was structured the way yours was, where my social needs were largely met online, I found myself the most content. It was only when I began to listen to 'other people' about how being isolated/alone was bad (and that I was 'missing out') that I began to second-guess myself. This resulted in me trying to go 'out' more, be more social, make 'real' friends and otherwise try to obtain these so-called superior 'real life' experiences/friendships that everyone else insisted I needed to be healthy, fulfilled, and happy. Despite things generally going fine, all it really succeeded in doing was causing me tremendous grief, sky-rocketing my anxiety and making me lose touch with who I am (and what I wanted out of life). It all felt so unnecessary just so I could arrive at the conclusion I had from the start: there's no 'right' way to be a person and there's no 'right' way to forge and maintain friendships in this increasingly connected world. No one has it figured out and everyone is different anyway. Just be mindful of the real dangers of social isolation (emergencies, etc.) and do what feels right for you.

tl;dr imo criticism of hermits is based on archaic information and generally fails to take into consideration the ability for technology to break down (or eliminate) many of the perceived 'cons' of living an isolated lifestyle. Hermits embracing technology is a beautiful thing.
posted by stubbehtail at 10:58 AM on January 7, 2015 [12 favorites]

The thing about being an introvert is that the rest of the world thinks we're weird and diminished somehow, and that's because they (understandably) see the world through their own lens. The goal in life is indeed to be happy, or at least comfortable and content. If you can be comfortable and content without a lot of human contact/social interaction, whether the in-person kind or the online kind, there's absolutely nothing wrong with you.

There's this notion of a "healthy" "social" life that we're never explicitly taught, necessarily, but that is strongly implied. It involves doing lunch and going to parties and "hanging out" and chatting on the phone regularly. It works for a lot of people, and that's great. It's not the only way to exist in the world, though, and what's healthy for one person isn't automatically the healthy choice for you. Online interactions with real people are social contact too. That a big chunk of our culture doesn't accept or understand that yet is just because it's contrary to their experience. That doesn't devalue your experience.

Someone who's not the introvert's introvert won't get it, but whatever. To be a successful introvert you've got to be willing to shrug that off. Live your life and be happy, and see the world through your lens. Don't worry about theirs.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:50 AM on January 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

You can lose your social skills when you drop out. And it can be damned difficult to regain them later, for several reasons:

1. your comfort zone will narrow, making it harder to be social and yielding worse results when you do try (further narrowing your comfort zone).

2. as you age, your comfort zone naturally narrows (exacerbating #1)

3. this vicious circle (as increasing social anxiety yields increasingly poor social results) can become nearly inescapable. Psych experiments show that if you expect to have difficulty connecting with people, or even just having your speech understood by people (it's one of the horrors recluses encounter), this greatly influences other people's response. Even if, for example, your speech is determined to be as clear, distinguishable, and coherent as those in a control group, it will be less understood and/or sympathetically received if you expect it not to be (and of course our expectations aren't easily changed). This is hell on even moderate social anxiety, but super-extra-hell for recluses trying to enter the social world.

You may have glossed over #2, but it's actually the real killer. You've surely noticed since childhood that many grownups calcify into narrow (emotional/mental and even physical) rigidity. This is the result of the natural tendency of our comfort zones to narrow. It becomes more and more tempting to indulge our impulse to avoid friction, unfamiliarity, novelty, change, etc. If you don't fight that impulse, it accelerates. We've all seen the results of that. Not the most robust expression of humanity.

I'm in my early 50s, and I consciously try to favor fighting against my instincts for comfort and familiarity. It gets harder and harder, but I'm pretty sure this is what maintains my pliant youthful exuberance. One example: I'm naturally extroverted, so I resist my aversion to solitude!

It's fine, perhaps even wise, to respect one's impulses. But not the impulse to avoid friction and seek comfort. We are creatures that thrive and grow amid friction; we complain about it and feel compelled to avoid it, but without it, we'd wither and ossify.

I'd urge you to at least recognize that you need some social stimulation/friction just as you need exercise, food, and sunlight. Push yourself into it. Schedule it. Attend to it. And do so as open-heartedly as you can. Say "yes" as much as you possibly can; make that your default response. Be kind to people. Help them.

Quick anecdote to lengthen an already too-long reply: I have a friend who's a very tough (but loving) father. He once told me he felt seriously torn as to whether to punish his kid for some recent non-optimal behavior. I pointed out that the fact that he's wavering tells him all he should know. He's a tough dad with tough parenting impulses. So if a tough response wasn't his immediate response, that means he should absolutely let this issue go.

Where he draws the line is, from the start, pretty extreme, so anything straddling that line should certainly be called a fair ball.

Same for you. You're an introvert. Total isolation is where introversion pushes us if we indulge to the furthest extent. So whatever hesitation made you post this indicates that you're headed too extreme. As an introvert, your instinctive impulses will pull you in this direction (that's what being introverted is!). So when you start feeling even faint hesitation, that means you've not just passed a line; you're in danger of going way past, and something deep inside you recognizes a need to pull back and seek balance.
posted by Quisp Lover at 12:13 PM on January 7, 2015 [17 favorites]

Comments such as I'd urge you to at least recognize that you need some social stimulation and Total isolation is where introversion pushes us if we indulge to the furthest extent. So whatever hesitation made you post this indicates that you're headed too extreme are kindly meant concerns for the OP's emotional welfare.

However, from the OP: I also work a full time job in an office full of people and I've got a wonderful family about an hour away from home who I see a lot of.

I don't think I'd describe the OP as lacking in social stimulation or headed to total isolation.

I totally sympathise with the desire to chat to people online as opposed to going to parties and such. I don't know if this will pose any kind of issue later, but I can say that I'm in roughly the same boat as the OP and come from a family of cheerful introverts. My uncle and grandfather had no regrets about their choice to limit socialising and I doubt I will either.
posted by Amy NM at 12:49 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

It might not be a thing at the moment but I'd maybe keep it under review.

I'm not exactly a gregarious person myself really, though am fortunate to have several very low maintenance friends of many years which I know i can always go out for a pint or take to lunch for a chinwag when it suits us.

You might have friends at work and good family links but things can change and things can go bad,which is where friends have early come into their own for me, having people that know me well, like me unconditionally and who I know I can trust and confide in and will give me a reality check if i need one.

I find internet "friends" while immediate isn't much good for this and tends to be a bit impersonal, superficial and in being self selected can be a little "group thinky" which can warp your perceptions of the world and other people in a way that isn't always healthy, especially if it becomes your major outlet.

Balance it out is my advice.
posted by Middlemarch at 1:15 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Re: Amy NM, Yes, for now the OP is nowhere near total isolation (though total isolation isn't really possible, nor is it necessary to experience the problems I've warned of). But, again: comfort zones shrink...viciously. "Ha-ha" reclusiveness in one's early 30's looks very different when you hit your 50's...or 70's....(to explain just one aspect of that, see my response about the diff between friends in one's 20s and in ones 50s). The slope is slippery, and cannot be easily re-climbed. It's a one-way ratchet.

The "complicated stuff that comes with real-life friendships" is tough for everyone...especially introverts. But indulging the impulse to run from social friction (or other friction) creates uber-vicious circles. Friction abrades, but it also polishes. And avoidance becomes a lifestyle.
posted by Quisp Lover at 1:16 PM on January 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I haven't read any of the responses above, so this may be in there, but I want to respond while wearing (1) my epidemiologist hat and (2) my increasingly homebody type hat.

(1) By no means should you feel weird for cultivating a richer social life online than in the meatspace. That said, we've established pretty solidly that a lot of long-term good comes from cultivating even a small group of friends and active social activities in the immediate vicinity of the places where you live and engage with the world. Some of it's measurable: it's good to have a neighbor who knows to come knocking at your door if you don't see each other for a few days longer than is ordinary (in case you've fallen and injured yourself, say, and can't call for help). Some of it is baffling and inexplicable so far: social engagement seems to improve our immune function and brain plasticity, among other things, even though we can't pinpoint exact mechanisms (we have plenty of guesses).

(2) Getting older makes it more difficult to engage, and we as a population seem to drift toward small social circles as we age. I bought my first house last year with my partner, and my daily life would be unrecognizable to myself ten years ago--living in a group house with six other people. I tend to indulge myself with my newly acquired private space, and I recognize how easy it feels to just do my own thing. I have friends and family, most of whom live in different cities, so I've been doing new things lately to make sure I at least--for lack of a better way of putting it--know my neighbors. I joined a CSA and help out with the weekly delivery site (I lock up the gates for the person who hosts the CSA drop-off but can't get home from work early enough to close up his space, so I end up chatting with a lot of folks who live in the mile or so around me). I'm a block from the library, so I go to talks and events there as often as I can (since I see the same faces from the neighborhood when I go and people tend to be chatty after a lecture or performance). They're little steps, all relatively noncommittal in a social engagement sense, but the engagement happens without any effort. It might be something for you to consider.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:49 PM on January 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

In Stephen Fry's latest book, he mentions hating parties (and their music!). I found that most comforting to learn.

You appear to be getting the level of socialization you need at this point in your life. That might change - you might need more or less - but just keep listening to what your own needs are and make adjustments accordingly.
posted by heyjude at 2:54 PM on January 7, 2015

I can't say if it will cause you problems, but I could've written this question five years ago, and yet -- following a life setback, and the strengthening of two in-person relationships -- I now consistently find in-person conversations with a small set of people more rewarding and supportive. That's the case even when I don't feel like hanging out; afterwards, I'm glad I did. (That said, maybe your online friendships provide something mine weren't.)
posted by slidell at 7:40 PM on January 7, 2015

I'm a thirty-something introvert who struggles with "real-life" relationships. I've always wondered whether I should give up trying to keep up my friendships as it is a real effort and exhausting for me. Recently, though, my mom fell ill and was in the hospital for several days and needed round-the-clock care for several days after that. If it weren't for the steady stream of friends dropping off food and sitting with her for an hour, so I could get a shower or run some errands, we would never have made it. I'm sitting here crying just thinking about it. I'm so grateful that I forced myself to cultivate these friendships. And remembering this display of kindness has made it easier for me to show up for my friends more. And wanting to help them has enriched my life so much.

This kind of real in-person help is just not something the internet can provide. Though, there's nothing stopping you from turning internet friendships into IRL ones. Some of my friends, I mostly chat with online; we'll get together in person once a month (or less) to have a meal, but not usually as a group, so organizing is easier. Also, there's no need to go to parties or concerts to have friends. My friends are mostly the let's cook dinner at home and watch a movie types. I'm not going to lie; it's tiring, and I only have a few close friends. But, I think it's worth thinking about.
posted by bluefly at 3:40 AM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

FWIW, clubs and hobby groups provide fun experiences, assuming you've chosen ones you consider fun, without presenting any more social burdens than you feel comfortable with.

For example, you like being out in nature. The Appalachian Mountain Club or Sierra Club has fun hikes scheduled all the time. The time and place is announced. You don't have to organize anything. All you have to do is go and hike. You can limit your conversation to the business of hiking if that's what you want. There isn't any pressure to do the complicated friendship things you mentioned you're uncomfortable with.

In my case, I can go to a choral rehearsal or a group bike ride and get a lot of personal reward and benefit, without saying anything to anyone, unless I feel like it.
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:10 PM on January 8, 2015

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