Help me be my own best friend!
September 10, 2007 8:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm an extrovert who is turning into an introvert. How can I start liking the time I spend with myself?

I've generally avoided time alone for the simple fact that I feel like I've had an awful lot of it. I grew up as (stop me if you've heard this one) an intelligent kid who had a very difficult time relating with peers -- I wanted to talk politics, they wanted Barbies. So I spent an awful lot of time reading, talking to adults, sitting in closets listening to the radio (oy), you name it -- lots and lots of time alone with my thoughts. This was also complicated by a lot of power struggles between me and my parents (okay, substitute "any authority figure" for "parents") and a latent case of ADHD, so even though *I* know I'm fabulous, I still have a fair amount of insecurity about myself and my thoughts. Overthinking and distraction, both near-constants, often lead to unnecessary anxiety.

Right now I find myself newly single (a good thing) but in the position of finally having everything in place to form my OWN life, for good and bad. I am always trying to find good friends, and it's been better recently than it has been in the past, but with the post-college era setting in there are a lot of moves away and not so many people filling in the holes left behind. My good friends are mainly online, while I have few "hang outable" friends here in town. Moreover, my ex was very stubborn and rather patronizing; trying to put together activities with him was like pulling teeth, and now I find myself just plain... tired. Tired of making a huge amount of effort for new friends, tired of hanging out with old friends that might not really have my best interests at heart. This does not suit my new relationship, nor any relationship I might have. I give people their independence, but I can be clingy because I can't think of anything better to do than just sit in someone else's presence. Sometimes this is comforting; other times, this is frustrating beyond belief.

So my problem is this: given that I can't stand time with my own thoughts, how can I learn to be more comfortable alone and enjoy the time I spend with myself? I know that being more comfortable with myself will greatly improve the healthy relationships I have with others. General ideas and specific activities are appreciated.

--I enjoy the occasional splurge of retail therapy, and the same could be said for good food, but in both cases neither my waistline nor my purse find this a longterm solution.

--Yes, I am seeing a therapist. I'm getting better at recognizing anxiety-provoking distortions and managing them before they happen.

--I think the thing I hate the most about being by myself is that if I go to movies or concerts (for example), I hate not having someone to bounce conversation/reactions off of. HATE it.

--I suck at prioritizing boring things that are must-dos or "things that are good for you." Sunscreen, eating right, cleaning, you name it. I'm working on that too and am seeing a bit of success at work, at least. Overall, though, I do tend to be the kind of person who enjoys problem-solving and working for change.
posted by Madamina to Human Relations (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Drop the therapist. Spend the money on first rate sound equipment, and began a wide exploration of first rate music, including genres outside your current familiarity. Discover, for yourself, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Handel, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Bernstein, Tatum, Coltrane, Fitzgerald, Ellington, Tyner, Callas, Pavarotti, and more.

Thanks to modern recording and playback technology, you need never be alone again, unless you want to be.
posted by paulsc at 8:47 PM on September 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

Well, introverts tend not to go to movies and concerts as much so you're alright there.

Things you may want to explore:

Go to the library and find a non-fiction book that appeals to you, read it (hopefully enjoy it) and find a thread of interest that will spur you to get another book, create your own "curricullum" of only stuff you want to read about.

On the same track, dig down and identify something you always wanted to do but never managed to get around to: cooking classes, musical instrument, painting. Don't mistake these as "hobbies" necessarily, but giving yourself the time to find some part of yourself that may have been lost.

Eventually you will want to share these things with someone, but this is for yourself . . .
posted by jeremias at 8:53 PM on September 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Someone'll probably come along here with a huge comprehensive list of fantastic solo activities, so I'll just toss out a few things that I find enjoyable and hope it helps.

You mentioned reading a lot as a kid and enjoying good food -- how about good coffee and a book, in a nice coffee house or cafe somewhere? Cheaper than fine dining, anyway, and you can absolutely sit alone while being around people. I did this a lot when I was single and wish I had more time for it now.

Since I can find refuge in my guitar anytime, I recommend learning to play an instrument. If you've already done that, maybe play it more often. People have expressed the joy you can find in music better than I ever could, so I'll just say that yeah, it's pretty much all true.

I hear you on the priorities. I wear sunscreen because my skin would slough off like molting lobster shells if I didn't, and I'm eating better because my mom developed diabetes in her late 50's and it kind of freaked me out. It takes extremes for me to really change my habits, I guess. I think that's not really unusual, though. Good on you for trying. Ditching the ex sounds like a good step.

It took me awhile to find some friends I felt really comfortable around. It really shouldn't feel too much like effort, in my opinion, and, for me, it's more about just being yourself around people you like to be around. I drift away when it gets more complicated than that.
posted by empyrean at 9:05 PM on September 10, 2007

Literally everytime I take an art/film/photography class, someone in class wants a gallery-going buddy, a model, someone to critique their website, someone to drink with after class... and out of that I get a new pal. Creative classes are great because, like films, they generate stuff to discuss. Yet there isn't burdensome-feeling homework like pages to read or words to memorize. The attendees are usually interesting and free-spirited, and there are often one or two real initiators, so you don't have to do any work beyond seeming receptive.
posted by xo at 10:36 PM on September 10, 2007

Second the drop the therapist comment. Doesn't sound like you need therapy. Spend the time and save money learning meditation techniques from the Buddhists. You don't have to convert, just learn their ways of being at peace in your own skin.
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 10:45 PM on September 10, 2007

Good books really are like being with people, which I say as someone who can't find the patience to do dishes unless I'm chatting on the phone.

Radio programs, like This American Life, are another way for me to fold laundry without dying of boredom and loneliness.

Do you have the cash to join a gym? I like the gym because I can be around people whenever I want without ever having to bother planning anything.

Anyway, glad you asked the question, I'll be interested to hear people's ideas.
posted by salvia at 12:20 AM on September 11, 2007

Based on one of your answers from earlier today, you're a knitter. Do you have a knitting group that you can hang out with? If not, I'm sure you can find one.

I agree with others that your fondness for good food need not be limited to eating it at a restaurant (though who doesn't like that?). You can find a lot of other ways to pursue this interest - reading cookbooks, taking a class, seeking out farmer's markets, gourmet food stores, etc. Related to your comment about having a hard time with doing "things that are good for you," you can capitalize on this interest by getting immersed into cooking interesting, healthy (or not so healthy...) meals for yourself. I think that doing things to take care of yourself are especially important to do when you're living alone.

On a deeper level, it sounds like you're struggling not so much with finding things to do as with learning to be comfortable with yourself. I'm not an extrovert by any stretch of the imagination, but I can relate to that feeling of wanting to be distracted rather than alone with my thoughts. I do find knitting a good way to do this, though more often I'm listening to an NPR podcast (or The Sound of Young America!) or watching a movie at the same time. Maybe that would be another way for you to ease into spending time alone (and enjoying it). What others have said about chilling at a coffee shop by yourself with a book/crossword/sudoku/whatever is great advice, too.

Consider this:

"...I have often said that the sole cause of man's unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room. A man wealthy enough for life's needs would never leave home to go to sea or besiege some fortress if he new how to stay at home and enjoy it. Men would never spend so much on a commission in the army if they could bear living in town all their lives, and they only seek after the company and diversion of gambling because they do not enjoy staying at home." --Blaise Pascal, Pensees, pg. 37, Penguin ed.

Is there something about being alone that bothers you? Or is it just boring? Maybe taking some time to think about how you feel when you're (doing things) alone would be helpful.

I suck at prioritizing boring things that are must-dos or "things that are good for you." Sunscreen, eating right, cleaning, you name it. I'm working on that too and am seeing a bit of success at work, at least.

The fact that you included this as part of your question makes me think you're not used to making decisions on your own. I do think that for some people this can be harder than it sounds - women often seem socialized to put the needs of others before their own. Is this the case for you? If so, maybe now is the time to be "selfish" in the sense of doing what you want to do, when you want to do it.

I find writing the best way to think/reflect on things, and you sound like someone who does this through conversations with other people. Try "conversing" with yourself on paper - maybe you'll find that it will help you feel more comfortable with yourself and your thoughts.
posted by splendid animal at 1:11 AM on September 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I like the idea of "being your own best friend," but I think a big part of that is actually listening to yourself (the way you would to your best friend) and not trying to force yourself into things you don't feel comfortable with (because you wouldn't do that to a best friend, either).

It doesn't sound like you have to suddenly become an introvert (which, in its strictest definition, means that you recharge or gain energy from being alone with your thoughts), but that you suddenly have a lot of empty time on your hands, and empty space in your life, and it's making you anxious.

That's normal. I'm a huge introvert, and I always felt completely out of sorts and lonely and anxious and twitchy after a break-up. Feeling that way does not make you a bad introvert. :-)

What would you do if you had a best friend who felt the way you feel right now? Ice cream and cheesy movies on the couch? Walk in the park? In bed all day with a book and some tea? In bed all day with trashy magazines and a martini? A good cafe sit with lots of coffee and yarn and knitting? A clubbing expedition with lots of dancing and flirting?

Don't try to force yourself into doing anything right now, let alone trying to build a long-term personality change into your life. Just think, "What do I want to do right now?" Get used to thinking about what you want, and figuring out ways to satisfy your own desires.

You're not broken, really. You're transitioning. William Bridges talks about how there are three parts of transition: The ending, the neutral zone, and the beginning. The neutral zone is where you feel itchy and confused and aimless and bored and desperate, because you've finished with one thing but haven't yet moved on to the next. We like to rush through the neutral zone because it's uncomfortable, but it's in that space that we learn who we are and what we want, and that we learn how to sit with uncertainty, anxiety, and insecurity. It's a gift if you can accept it.

(And I'm not sure why so many people are telling you to drop the therapist. It seems like right now, while you're anxious and insecure, is an absolutely perfect time to work through your issues with anxiety and insecurity. Use her as a resource.)
posted by occhiblu at 7:51 AM on September 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Knitting (or, cooking, or some other productive activity that uses your hands) while listening to books on tape. Seriously. After a while of this you will have completed some project and completed a book. And the audio makes it feel less lonely.

Pick a once-a-week class to go to. Yoga, aerobics, art, book club, pottery, whatever appeals. This way you have something that you're doing over a period of a few months, building a skill or interest, where you're seeing other people regularly in a friendly way, but not in a way that requires any effort. It's a scheduled time, so you don't have to decide whether to go -- you just go. Maybe eventually you make a class buddy who you go have lunch with afterward, maybe not.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:06 PM on September 11, 2007

That is: People are saying "do what you want to do at the moment".... but if you find you often don't really know what you want to be doing at a given time, it's good to have one or two default activities. Knitting, reading, cooking, gardening, writing real letters, etc can be that default. (Internet surfing can, too, but often that ends up feeling kind of unsatisfying if it's all you do all the time)
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:08 PM on September 11, 2007

« Older Is Iphone insurance worth it?   |   Help me help my roommate's cat Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.