Do I need more of a social life?
March 29, 2008 4:03 PM   Subscribe

How much am I missing out on by not having much of a social life?

Of my own volition, I don't have much of a social life, and I'm wondering if I should make an effort to change this.

Some background: I'm a guy in college. I have good social skills and make friends easily. I don't have difficulty making small talk or empathizing. No emotional problems or other issues. I have many friends. However, I keep few close ones. I very rarely make plans to do things with friends. I often eat meals alone when it's convenient for me, and on weekends I keep myself busy with my own activities and projects. (I've been this way my whole life.)

The thing is that I don't feel the same kind of desire to be social that many people have. I can be alone for days without feeling lonely. I enjoy being around other people, but can't bring myself to make big efforts to do so. Several social groups repeatedly invite me places, but I keep declining.

I think part of my antisocial streak comes from the fact that I don't like typical social activities like going for meals and parties. Plus, none of the activities I do like would be much more exciting if I did them with someone else. A large portion of my time is spent ambitiously pursuing personal goals and overcoming personal challenges, things I really can't do with anyone else.

So, I'm wondering what I'm missing out on by not having a social life. Obviously, there's the element of companionship, but I don't feel like I really need companionship that much. Rather, one of the things that concerns me most is simply that I'm missing out on the practical resources that one gets from a network of friends. I'm referring to things like:

-Advice and honest criticism ("dude, you look like a tool in that jacket")
-Interesting information ("did you hear about the sale at XYZ store?")
-Mutual favors ("my friend's a web designer; he can help you out with that project.")

How much of life am I missing out on? Does it sound like I need to make more of an effort to be social?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
If you're happy, you're happy. But.

You're missing out on everything.
posted by awesomebrad at 4:21 PM on March 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

Dear boy, you are an introvert.
posted by gsh at 4:23 PM on March 29, 2008 [7 favorites]

Sure, the kind of information and favors that you get from friends and aquaintances are useful, but if that's the only reason you're thinking of improving your social life, then I think it's pretty obvious that you're a hardcore introvert. There's obviously nothing wrong with that, especially since you sound happy with how your life is going. I think that in your case, it would be good to concentrate on just keeping up the friendships and acquaintances that you already have (hello facebook), and make an effort to get out of the house enough that others won't forget what you look like.
Maintain your existing network, but if you don't actually enjoy the process, there's really no point in you trying to expand it. Especially if the whole time, you're talking yourself into doing it by telling yourself that you'll eventually get all this advice and favors from your friends. People will notice if you don't actually enjoy the time that you spend with them.
That said, have you considered compromising and trying to find activities that you would do anyways that could include someone else? Maybe you'd enjoy hanging out with people one on one instead of in groups? When you go study at the library, meet a friend and just study quietly side by side. Just being in the presence of a friend without even talking is often enough to maintain the relationship.
I'm pretty extraverted myself so I don't quite understand how you can place that little value on companionship, but again, if you don't need it to make you fulfilled and happy, all the more power to you.
posted by snoogles at 4:26 PM on March 29, 2008

If you've chosen to be somewhat independent, and you seem well adjusted and satisfied with this way of life... .then who are we (or anyone around you) to say that you're "missing out on XYZ (something)"... ?

I guess I just dont understand the logic of letting someone else tell you what you're "missing out on"... How do they know whats important to you?.. How do they know what you'd be interested in and what you wouldnt?

You obviously have a connection to the internet,.. so presumably you could research any topic you might be interested in.

Think for yourself. Define your own path. Be your own person. Self-actualization is the peak of human achievement.
posted by jmnugent at 4:26 PM on March 29, 2008

I don't like typical social activities like going for meals and parties

This is totally reasonable. You don't have to do those things though - there are plenty of other people who find them boring as well, and you can do more interesting things with them. If people aren't doing what you like, egg some of them on and get things started.

none of the activities I do like would be much more exciting if I did them with someone else.

Are you sure?
posted by phrontist at 4:29 PM on March 29, 2008

Why do you keep declining? You're missing out on a lot and you may have serious regrets sooner or later. You say you don't feel you need companionship and a social life - have you ever experienced any of these things? If the answer is no then you have no idea what you're talking about, or what you are missing. Any medical or psychological difficulties you might have notwithstanding, like the vast majority of humans you would benefit greatly from socialising with friends - even one. Your life would improve in a variety of great and tiny ways beyond the three obvious examples you cite.

And I think you protest too much about how this is all your own choice. Be big and go out and meet people, if you don't like it then fair enough.
posted by fire&wings at 4:34 PM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, fire&wings has it - just try it. You could potentially gain a lot, and have almost nothing to lose (perhaps a bit of independence). It's extremely easy to break things off if you'd like.
posted by phrontist at 4:37 PM on March 29, 2008

You can try being more social if you like, but if it's not your thing, don't let other people's opinions of what you might be missing define you. This is you. Unless you're writing a manifesto in the woods, you're most likely fine.
posted by sageleaf at 4:40 PM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you want to socialize, try, if you don't, don't feel like you're missing out on "everything". I was antisocial through most of high school and one of my goals on attending uni was to get out more. To varying degrees I succeeded, and the most important thing I learned about socializing is that it's a massive balancing act. It can be incredibly rewarding, but everything you get (personal feedback, favors, sex, companionship, etc.) you have to pay for with time and energy. You have to actually care about the people you're around, not just what they give you.

If you feel like you'll regret not having social experiences at some point down the road, try accepting an invitation or two. You really don't have anything to lose. Worst-case scenario, you royally screw up. No big deal, solitude doesn't bother you.
posted by Ndwright at 4:43 PM on March 29, 2008

I don't think youre missing out on a whole lot but then again I'm a lot like you. I live alone, enjoy my alone time, have jobs and people I interact with regularly plus a few close friends nearby and more friends in the greater online world and at a distance. However, as far as a social life, it's feast or famine. When I travel, I hang out with people all the time. This is great fun and I sincerely enjoy it, but eventually exhausts me. After I'm done travelling I usually spend the next whole day at home in bed, catching up on reading, email, drinking coffee and just being at home alone.

Many people in my family are like this and we seem to be okay. The big HOWEVER for me is that as we age in this sort of way, we can get a little ... isolated. That is, when you may need someone to be around if you're dealing with something challenging, that can be harder if you don't have a social network handy. My Mom also is a little... nutty. She's basically gotten more input from TV/movies/newspapers than real life people and I think it can affect how she socializes, makes her a little awkward and strange. Not a huge problem, but sometimes when I talk to her she talks like she hasn't been talking to someone for DAYS and just sort of jabbers on and on and I realize hey, she may *not* have spoken to anyone for days.

So, I don't think you're "missing out" My main idea is that other people are really good for being companions and witnesses [besides the other obvious things like sex partners, dates, etc]. You seem okay without companionship. Do you feel okay about not having other people sort of witness your life? If you're just not in-person social you may look into being online social where you can get some, but not all, of the benefits of social interaction but more on your own schedule and at a little more of a distance.

The main benefits I get from a social life are learning new things, learning new ways to think about old things, getting suggestions for things I might like that I might have otherwise missed, feeling useful to other people in helpful ways, enjoying the weirdness that is other people (said in every nice way) and just killing time in a way that contains at least some element of the unexpected. The main reason to be social for me is that it's time uncontrolled by me which I think is a good way to learn to be, in some weird way, less like me. It's a growth experience, sharing with other people, and one that it's hard to get in other ways.
posted by jessamyn at 4:44 PM on March 29, 2008 [15 favorites]

Given that you don't sound depressed or socially anxious or really all that dissatisfied with the way things are, unlike most people who ask these kinds of questions (if anything, you mostly sound curious, to me), I'd say you're probably fine the way you are. Maybe that's just who you are. Sometimes it's hard to be that when you're a minority and you're surrounded by people who are different and assume that because you're not doing the things they consider normal, something's wrong with you. Because "norms" are always there, occasionally prompting you to question whether the ways in which you differ mean that something's wrong with you.

That said, I do think your list of things you feel you may be missing out on (advice, mutual assistance, "networking," information, etc.) is something to consider, at least if only to satisfy your curiosity a bit and see if you're really missing them. I do believe that personal growth, while possible individually, happens exponentially faster when you have people to talk to. And this is coming from a fellow introvert (although perhaps not quite as introverted), who prefers to maintain small circles and intense connections over larger circles and shallower connections that may be more socially advantageous. It's what works for me.

It sounds like you could probably afford to try a few different things rather than dismissing them out of hand (as phrontist points out by asking if you're really sure your activities are just the same alone as they would be with another person), but don't let it nag you into thinking that there's something wrong with you if you don't like it.

Really, do whatever works for you. If you feel the need to be social, then do it, to the extent that you're comfortable. If you're not feeling it right now, I would say keep on doing what you're doing, as long as you're content with that. Listen to yourself (as an introverted person, you are probably very good at this.) Consider satisfying your curiosity. Don't be afraid to explore, but make sure you don't push yourself into situations where you feel like you're being untrue to yourself. And there's a subtle but important distinction between being untrue to yourself and simply taking risks.
posted by Kosh at 4:45 PM on March 29, 2008

Nah, seriously, life got a lot better for me when I stopped doing all the social things that I was supposed to like doing. Parties? Meh. Totally boring waste of time. Going shopping with the girls - WTF? You want me to spend money on shit to put on my face? Why? Fact is, the world (and TV) is run by extroverts who seem to think we're sick for not wanting to hang.

Yeah, I'm an introvert, what of it?

The only recommendation I have is that if/when you have kids, you make a little bit of an effort to join some group so that they can learn to relate to people who aren't introverts. Apart from that, I see no reason to bother.
posted by b33j at 4:45 PM on March 29, 2008 [12 favorites]

You're missing out on everything.


Some people are very social; they go crazy or get depressed or deathly bored if they're alone for too long. Some people are very introverted; they go crazy or get depressed or really anxious if they're in groups for too long.

If you're one of the latter, you may get the most enjoyment out of solitary activities. But you should at least try to get out there and do things with other people to make sure you actually are one of those people. The problem isn't being alone or not being alone, it's being alone if you'd be happier not alone.
posted by Justinian at 4:46 PM on March 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

I am much the same way, anonymous.

I think that what you are missing out on, if anything, is the possibility that life is as much, or more, about process than it is about outcomes.

So the value of friendships is not in the tangible benefits that you can label and file away, such as fashion advice and bartering opportunities. To make it more concrete, one of the great blessings in my life has been my parents' spectacular group of friends that dates back about 35 years. I can relate the tangible benefits-- job advice, help moving into a new city, occasional free meals-- but that's not the reason why it's been such a great thing. It's having people with whom to create great memories, have uplifting experiences, and look forward to seeing and hearing about. Having people you care about, and who care about you. It's not an obligation, it's a life-enriching benefit.

I would have said just about exactly the same thing at your age. I hope you reconsider your priorities. I hate that it took me till I was around 28 to start to come to this conclusion. Not that I'm haunted or that my life was a total waste, or anything, but it could have been at least a little richer. (Just today, came across on Facebook a dude who tried to be friends in college, but I sort of fizzed out. Could I have visited Vienna or San Antonio with him? Could we have been at each other's weddings, and those of our other friends?)

I don't feel like I've quantified things well, here, but I hope I've at least made you consider the possibility that you're missing out on something important.
posted by ibmcginty at 4:50 PM on March 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

Do you need to ... -- No, certainly not.

But I'd suggest making some forays in that direction, since it's a good way to answer your question. Live your question, live your answer.

On the other hand, if you're surrounded by endless frat parties, then by all means take your socializing elsewhere.

I get the feeling you'd be highly social in a different environment, or had some organic reason to be. So, maybe you can think of a more interesting destination or more fulfilling activity for your pre-existing social groups. Or find some other activity, and see who you discover.
posted by coffeefilter at 5:19 PM on March 29, 2008

Just felt like pointing out that the line 'the practical resources that one gets from a network of friends' is pretty definitive. If you look at friendship and social networks as a logical entity that you can benefit off of, in this day and age, you will gain very little to nothing out of it. Most of the information you need for your hypothetical questions is easily accessed online or other resources. There is no physical need for a close-knite tribe in most urban environments, it's purely for emotional connections. You don't seem to want it or need it, so why bother.

A caveat in the form of a personal anecdote: I was like you until my early 20s when I moved to another country with different ideas of socialising. I obliged in social outings with people I didn't know to fit in and, slowly, I discovered that I had an extroverted social side as well as the introverted side. I'm much happier now that I have a balance between the two and can survive on my own as well as in a social situation. But as you say in your question, socialising is not a problem for you when required, so feel free to ignore this extra part of my answer.
posted by slimepuppy at 5:25 PM on March 29, 2008

I agree with just about everything that's been said, except for the comment that socializing is "everything." If that were true, wouldn't that mean you'd be bored out of mind whenever you're alone?

You say: "one of the things that concerns me most is simply that I'm missing out on the practical resources that one gets from a network of friends." I don't think that should be your driving concern. It seems like you're trying to make a bullet-pointed list of a bunch of specific things that you might be missing out on, so that you can figure out if it will be worth it for you to start socializing.

I just don't think it works like that. Having a social life isn't a straightforward transaction where you expend energy talking to people and hanging out in exchange for getting some useful information or help from them. I mean, yes, friends will sometimes give you information or help, and that's nice. But that's usually not the point. The point is much simpler than that: to have a good time. (On preview, slimepuppy is essentially making this point.)

Most people won't have a good time if they don't socialize. But you might be different. If you're completely happy on your own, by all means continue (unless, as someone pointed out, you decide to have kids). While it's true that you might one day wake up and realize that you've missed out on X, Y, and Z (information about a sale at a particular store, to use your example), someone who socializes all the time might just as well wake up one day and realize they've missed out on information they could have picked up from sitting around reading all the time (e.g. reading the newspaper to find out about...a sale at a particular store!).

One more thought. I sense something fishy in your reasoning about how you don't like the things people do to socialize, e.g. getting dinner. Come on. You have to have dinner. You're either going to have it alone or with others. As I said, I think it's OK if you prefer to have it alone. But if you're going to socialize at all, you should go ahead and have dinner with people. After all, it's just doing what you would have done, but with people around. So while I'm not going to criticize you for not wanting to socialize, I will criticize the excuse you're giving about not liking the specific things people do to socialize.
posted by jejune at 5:36 PM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I kind of understand where you're coming from.

I'm an odd creature - a very social introvert. It takes a lot of time and energy to socialise with other people, but I need to, otherwise I go crazy. Similarily, I need to be alone often, otherwise I go crazy. I'm the take a book to the party type.

I have found that having friends is awesome. There are some really really cool people out there. We recently had a break-in and some stuff stolen from our home - the outpouring of love and support from so many people has been amazingly touching and generous.

I would say that if you're happy as you are, cool. But also - there are some wonderful people out there, and they can be well worth the knowing.
posted by ysabet at 5:50 PM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

As an introvert who's forced to be an extrovert almost every day of his life: you're not missing out on anything.

Well, that's not entirely true. You're missing out on losing a hefty chunk of your pay check on going out, and then listening to your circle of acquaintances (almost none of whom are 'friends') complain about it all. You're missing out on everybody complaining about the person who isn't there behind their back. You're missing out on being obliged to attend each and every social thing somebody someplace ever thought of, leaving no time for yourself or your real friends. You're missing out on finding out that people you didn't know too well but thought they were OK are actually complete retards and/or arseholes, and that this is true for almost everybody.

Everything good you can get from a social life you can get from yourself, your family and a very, very small circle of close friends, and even then, the less you have to see of them outside work or school, the better. Everything else is naff.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:51 PM on March 29, 2008 [6 favorites]

You sound a lot like me when I was in school - I also eschewed most social stuff outside of classes. Now that I've graduated, I wish that I'd spent more time honing my social skills. Without school to force me to have friends, I don't really have any and its really lonely. I'd like to hang out with people, or go do some fun activity, but I don't really know how people hang out or what they do for fun, because I never bothered to find out. And making conversation is so painful.

You should spend a little time picking up some social skills, because you'll be really glad to have them after you graduate.
posted by askmeacct at 6:32 PM on March 29, 2008

If you feel content with the way you're living now, that is perfectly fine. If you do want to try to be more social, don't feel that you have to be forced into social situations such as parties to make friends. Perhaps you can make plans with one or two people and do something that you enjoy?

I agree with obiwanwasabi, a small group of close friends and family is quite adequate. It is a good idea to be social enough where you can meet and seek out people whose company you enjoy and who understand you. But don't feel pressured to go out and do things that you don't want to do.
posted by extramundane at 6:42 PM on March 29, 2008

There's been some books in the popular self-help area over the past few years about this area, and since I am somewhat like you naturally, I went ahead and read a few. There's a distinction made between introverts and shy people, if you define shyness as a form of fear of social interaction. Shyness is a problem, because that very fear will, eventually, interfere with your enjoyment of life and opportunities that would otherwise open to you.

And perhaps, in some instances, introversion will as well-- but not nearly so much, because the world is a friendlier place for introverts these days. There are whole industries in which introverts thrive that didn't exist two decades ago, and a number of others put greater stock in other attributes besides "people skills."

Finally, for me, I learned that I wanted a very few people to know me well, and I only deal with everybody else on a need-to-do-it basis. But I also can "do" social skills, fairly skillfully in fact, and they're just tools that I use when I deem it necessary.

Ultimately, you have to answer this question for yourself, based on your own self-knowledge and your feelings about it.
posted by missouri_lawyer at 6:53 PM on March 29, 2008

As somewhat of a major introvert myself, I will say this - it's easy to pick and choose when you get to meet a wide range of people on a regular basis, like at uni.

In a few years time, when your circle is limited to maybe those you work with and a few neighbours, you realise it's nice to have a few good friends you can spend time with outside the office. It is worth cultivating a few people to keep in touch with, you can then insert yourself into their circle of friends later if needed - everyone I know knows at least a few people still from uni some 15 years on.

Try to find a few who's life doesn't revolve around parties and dinners, that you enjoy spending time with, as an investment against loneliness later. If it doesn't work out - what have you lost apart from a little time? You'll have plenty of that alone later if you want.

Besides. Friends of friends? Easily the best way to find a partner, if you want to.
posted by ArkhanJG at 8:03 PM on March 29, 2008

You're missing out on a lot of laughter. Not the kind that you can get from TV and repeat a few times before the joke gets stale, but the laughter that comes during a specific situation in time that you're sharing with other people, and it can't be repeated.
posted by puritycontrol at 9:48 PM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hey man, I feel as if we are in neighboring boats. I too am a college student in a similar introverted predicament. I used to be a social butterfly in my small high school, but now that i'm in this semi-large state university, I became very anti-social. I too eat most of my meals alone and I spend most of my time working on projects and personal goals and such. I have been having a hard time socially this year but it really did stem from personal fears. Fear of rejection, self-doubts, etc.. The main thing was that I had to get out of my comfort zone and really look at myself for face value. I realized I had been living a lie, never truly being genuine and honest with others. I was never truly in the moment when interacting with others. I think this is what you do some thinking about. Go to a party and be "in the moment." Let go of your ego (buddist definition) and really engage others from who you are and whatever place you may be in your life. If you aren't having a good time, truly ask yourself why. Self-analysis is now a huge aspect of my life that has gotten me to enjoy life better, become self assure, and really enjoy myself and other people.

And I think you protest too much about how this is all your own choice.

From the frequent mentions of your life being all of your own choice sounds a little defensive, almost. Your mind will do everything in its power to convince yourself that you are in control of the situation, when really there is much more underneath the surface. I'm pushing you to really question this. It sounds like your main argument is that you think that other people aren't worth your time, (except for the three examples you outlined) well question that too! Why do you feel they are not worth your time? Do you feel it's a matter of time? We're still young. In college we have all the time in the world if you plan it effectively (and it seems like you do).

Jejune made a great point about how social interactions can't be labeled, confined, and given a specific output. Human nature is just too complex. Sometimes we learn more about ourselves from our interactions with others, than we do by simply being alone. So like everyone has said, try it out. Sure, some activities really are not in your field of interest, that is totally valid. But a simple dinner? You seem like a creative fellow, so start thinking of your own activities and mabye YOU should be the catalyst. Other people are some of the most interesting, rewarding and fulfilling things on this earth, in ways that one can only know from experience. So I really really challenge you to rise to the challenge for yourself. You've already got the support of numerous MeFites, myself included. Go for it!!!!!!!!!
posted by saxamo at 9:57 PM on March 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

One thing to consider is that you are not building a close social network. Years after college, I'm still friends with some of my pals from my undergraduate days. We've matured together. Over the years, we've helped each other through career changes, marriages, babies, everything. There's some special about the friends who knew you back in the day.

Are you missing something? Yes. Are you gaining something else? Only you know the answer.
posted by 26.2 at 11:08 PM on March 29, 2008

I love my alone time. I have a great apartment, a fine girlfriend, friends and family but "me time" is very precious to me. Golden almost. My job demands a lot of interactivity during the day which I find very manageable within it's regular, daily structure and routine. But the evening is golden. Indulgent. Restorative. Productive. Peaceful.

But sometimes too much time alone gives me cabin fever. It can take a while to realise this but after maybe more than 48 hours alone with only my thoughts I find myself becoming unhappy, overthinking matters, getting anxious and depressed and starting to "fear" the real world.

I had a rare 2 days off which ended this evening when I had to attend a social event and I was dreading it. At the same time I knew that getting out amongst other human beings would be a good thing for me and resisted the huge temptation to make excuses and not show.

This has been a slow wisdom for me. I had a valuable night. I reinforced relationships with a few key people I had previously known only lightly. I laughed a lot and felt a lot of love. In fact I laughed hard and made people laugh hard too which was an amazingly positive experience. 12 hours on I am a new person but I still left the party earlier than the majority and I am still super happy typing these words alone in the sanctuary that is my apartment.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that its all about balance. Seek solitude as and when you need it. There is much to be gained from a life of independence and introspection. But similarly there is a much to gain from the company of others. They hold a mirror up to your soul and through other people you can truly come to know yourself. Other humans can help you mark your boundaries, reinforce your self-belief, extend your self-knowledge, surprise you and yourself and push you on to be a Better Person.

They can also fill your brainbox up with the most ridiculous, mundane and profound information. For the record the things I learned, amongst others, just by going out instead of staying in tonight:

What Travelwood is. (It's an erection often caused by public transport)
How to make a good Daiquiri and Margarita.
The ways that having children can change your life.
Some damn good films I should watch (I love films)
That it is amusing to masturbate with your partners hand while they are asleep.
Baby cows cry in Polish slaughterhouses.
Nine Inch Nails released their 7th album this month.
I can be pretty funny sometimes.
That I need to watch The Wire and Entourage on DVD

I think more than anything, by avoiding socialisation I miss out on tip offs on films, music, books etc. I fail to have a group identity replete with mutual tales of "we did this and that". I miss the love, the genuine flowing emotion that comes from other people who see you for what you are and accept it wholeheartedly, even if it's just for a few fleeting moments after the punchline of a joke. More than anything you may miss out on being a fulfilled person yourself.

But at the same time if my life was 100% around others then I'd be a shell of a man and have nothing to give. So I find my balance and dip in and out of humanity as I need to. Have no fear of others as much as you have no fear of yourself. Therein lies your peace and happiness.
posted by brautigan at 11:10 PM on March 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

I'm like you: I'm really introverted, but there is a *really* small group of people I *enjoy* socializing with. One important factor about college, especially for introverts: you will rarely experience an environment in which it's so relatively easy to make new friends and/or find potential mates. So even on a strictly practical level, if you think you ever want that network of friends, there's no better time to start building it than now.
posted by edjusted at 11:35 PM on March 29, 2008

You don't mention a romantic relationship... you have to interact with at least one other person in order to have one of those. Is that something you're interested in? Spending more time out and about socially makes getting into a relationship at some point in the future more likely.
posted by decathecting at 1:41 AM on March 30, 2008

Do you have someone you can go to to vent when you've had a terrible day?

Do you have someone you can go to for emotional support if you find yourself in a genuine crisis? Someone you can go to for practical support?

Do you have someone who can keep tabs on your day-to-day emotional wellbeing, who will notice and bring it to your attention if you start to, let's say, fall into a depression?

Some people are close enough to their families that they can go to them about this kind of thing; the rest of us need friends. And I find that if there's not at least one person in my geographic area who I am close to and talk to every week or two, I start to feel disconnected from the world.
posted by Jeanne at 5:02 AM on March 30, 2008

If you like Chinese food, and don't eat it, then you're missing out on something. If you don't like Chinese food, and don't eat it, then you're not missing out on anything.

You wont know if you like Chinese food or not unless you try eating it sometime. But if you've tried it several times, and you end up with a headache from all the MSG, then perhaps it's not for you.

So, I'm wondering what I'm missing out on by not having a social life.

Drinking/eating with friends. Being able to discuss the film you just saw at the cinema. "Shooting the breeze". Etc. I'm a happy introvert, so I can't make a huge list for you. Try this - is there anything missing in your life? If no, then you're fine. If yes, do you need other people to get it? There's your answer.

I suspect that you're just fine as you are, but people expect you to behave in a certain way so much, you start feeling you ought to behave that way. Don't spend your life trying to make other people happy, or living up to what "other people think". Follow your heart. If it says you want to go get some Chinese food on a Friday night, with Bob from across the hall, then do it. If it doesn't, then don't.
posted by Solomon at 5:22 AM on March 30, 2008

I'm writing mainly to support everything jessamyn said about the benefits of being social, whether you are introverted or not.

It's fine not to like parties. I never have (at least the substance-fueled kind) but I encourage you to do what I did, which is find the people who share your passions and do stuff with them. Having a lot of projects is great, and although you say they are not the kind of things you can share, it's difficult to believe out of all your self-improvement and personal goals that there is absolutely nothing that anyone else might want to do too. What would happen if you let a like-minded person in? That's the way music and poetry became the social hub of my life in college. I'd always loved those things but always worked on them alone, never having had like-minded friends to share them. Once I did, I found my projects significantly improved by being challenged by other ideas and temperaments. Out of that, friendships grew, and the intensity of those college friendships is something special. When I talk to friends I met then we still feel it, and we also appreciate being a history for each other. I imagine that will only become more pronounced as we get older.

It is also just fine to be an introvert. I like being social at times, but at heart I am one too. Yet you miss out on a lot when you decline all invitations for the endless predictability of your own company. What jessamyn said about becoming socially dysfunctional after awhile is often true, and you don't want that to happen to you, especially when you are still so young. Most important for a person who is constantly striving for self-improvement, when you only engage with your own head, you tend to get stale. The only ideas and thoughts you exchange at an intimate level are with yourself, and it's all too easy to become your own echo chamber. When I get too insular (as I have been lately thanks to working from home and other stuff) it dulls my ability to communicate and makes me more self-conscious and less adventuresome. I think that's true for many people, whether extroverted or introverted.

So I say: skip the parties and go to events that stimulate you, hang out with those people who love the things you do, and start from there. Let that branch into other, more personal things you already like to do, like collaborating on projects or just sharing your progress for additional perspective and encouragement. Allow the friends you trust to introduce you to things you may think you'd dislike -- take a few chances with novel activities. The meals and gatherings you dislike with random acquaintances might be actual fun when shared with people with whom you feel some real commonality. Try saying yes a lot, just to see what will happen. Best of luck.
posted by melissa may at 6:58 AM on March 30, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'm very much an introvert and I just finished college a couple of years ago. Like yourself, I don't have any problem socializing with people or anything. This is how my experience went, for what it's worth.

The first couple years of college I made an effort to go out with people and socialize. Not to clubs or parties, because those don't appeal to me. But I would go have meals with people, play video games, see movies, and generally "hang out" and talk.

It was enjoyable in a lot of ways because I like my friends and they are intelligent and entertaining. However, in the last couple years of college I moved in with my fiance, and I gradually got to where I only spent time with him. He is also an introvert so we don't talk unless there's something interesting or important to talk about. This has been much more enjoyable and I did not feel tired all the time.

After college ended my friends dispersed all over the globe, so I was presented with far fewer opportunities to go out and socialize. I am happier now than I've ever been; I only go out if they happen to be in town, which ends up being less than once a month. We keep up with each other's lives on LiveJournal, which is low energy for an introvert because there's not a conversation unless you want there to be, but you get all the same information you would get from a conversation. Plus, those kind of blog services let you tell everyone what happened to you at once, instead of having to have separate conversations about the same topic with different people. I don't know about you, but I hate having the same conversation twice. There's lots of LJ-like services (DeadJournal, GreatestJournal, a bunch others). So you don't have to actually "go out and do stuff" to have a social life, in that respect.

I get the "advice and honest criticism" from them online, generally. Maybe not so much about fashion or appearance, but some of my other friends post pictures for that purpose, or links to things they were thinking of buying. I get them to proofread and give criticism on drafts of my writing. I will also bounce ideas off them and ask questions about things.

As for "interesting information," well, I think I get much more of that from the internet, books, and newspaper than my real life friends. Information about local events and whatnot you can find in a newspaper, too, and since you're in college there will be fliers about that sort of thing on campus. Plus, when it comes down to it, only a couple of my friends really like to talk about the things that interest me, and we do that online now. The rest of my friends are people with good personalities that I care about, but they're not really where I go for any sort of intellectual conversation. And honestly, a great deal of the "interesting information" I come across every day is from MetaFilter members.

The kinds of information I got in classical social settings was almost always worthless or boring to me, to be honest. Not much is actually said in social conversations, it's lots of filler and jokes. In social situations I find that I'm the one supplying the information or coming up with actual topics to discuss; unlike my extrovert friends, I'm the one who doesn't get bored reading by myself, so I'm the one who's sought out books and articles, then sat alone and thought about them for a long time and formed opinions about them. Some of my friends that are more ambiverts will sometimes have something to talk about that I'd never heard of before, but if I had spent the same time at home I would have come across much more. In other words, you'll get new information from social conversations, but if want you want is new information there are far more efficient ways of getting it.

"Mutual favors," well... I don't think I got any of that, really, even when I was very social. I suppose I must have, but nothing so noteworthy that it stands out in my mind. Anything you could get done as a favor you could get done regardless. For example, yeah you could have a friend who does webpages, but meh, you can either teach yourself or pay someone. Not really a good reason to be social. There are certain careers that favor those who network, but if you're really an introvert you would likely be happier avoiding those... and you don't always have to network to be successful. Plus, those are the sort of specific social situations you could just drag yourself to knowing that it's for your career. Going out to get friends, well, you don't know that it'll ever be "useful" in any way, and it's probably not a good idea to pick your friends that way anyway.

Like others have said, the real reason to be social isn't to get anything out of it other than enjoyment. If you get enjoyment by yourself don't feel pressured to be social because extroverts put such value on it. You have nothing to lose by trying it, but if you come away feeling underwhelmed don't think you're not doing it right or anything. You're just an introvert.
posted by Nattie at 7:08 AM on March 30, 2008

As I am also a person of college age, I completely understand that this is really the time in life when the peer group and society as a whole seems to be moving us to developing social networks, having lots of friends and so on. Extroversion is valued in this culture, but it is by no means a worldwide preference. If you were in China, Japan, Russia, or wherever, your desire to pursue your personal interests before making a lot of friends would not be considered aberrant.

You can be perfectly happy and miss out on very little in life if you have a small group of close friends, and a somewhat larger group of acquaintances. You don't have to like parties, but if you have a good friend who's throwing one, you should make it a point to show up. There is a danger that one day the invitations will stop completely if you turn down every one of them. More positively, you'd be surprised at how many people of similar disposition make their way to social events that they also don't like. I have spent lively, rowdy parties engaged in topic-oriented discussion with perfect strangers, and have found this to be a good middle path.

And eating a meal together does not have to mean venturing to a restaurant with six other people. My friends appreciate evenings in, with home-cooked food, and conversation about politics, music, art, science, and so on. (We're all academics, so go figure.) This is far more pleasant than the former.

In my travels, my most favorite trips I have gone on alone or with one friend - and we inevitably take alone time as we wander. I have seen places, met strangers, tried new things, and most of these things I have done without the aid of a huge number of friends.

You can do the same. Nothing needs be lost.
posted by palindromic at 8:45 AM on March 30, 2008

It sounds like you have social confidence, so I wouldn't be too concerned. What's possible is that you're going through a phase of introversion - and it has everything to do with the creative arc of your life. I've noticed in my life that I go through periods of extroversion and introversion and they seem to function as growth spurts.

The one thing you don't want to do is generalize from this period of your life about who you are - just because it suits you now to keep to yourself and dive into your projects, it doesn't mean that this should always be the case. Acknowledge that there will be a time that it will just as well suit you to be out there in the social world. This isn't a problem if you really do have that social confidence you've mentioned.

This is especially true after college, when you start to see how having a positive view of human relationships - and, more importantly, an intense and cultivated curiosity about other people - gets you a lot farther in your career and romantic life.
posted by mammary16 at 8:58 AM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Introverts of the world, don't unite!

It's nice to read all these thoughtful responses, most of which largely parallel my feelings.

In response to the question "what am I missing out on?" I think you already know the answer, and for you it's "not much."

If you can go to a party, say, and come away thinking "well, that cost X amount of my time & energy & resources, and I would've gotten a greater return from reading a book / hanging out at the art gallery / restoring my boat / browsing metafilter / etc etc" then it's a simple cost-benefit analysis, in which the party ranks a poor 87th when compared with the other ways you'd prefer to spend your time. You make these cost-benefit analyses all the time, consciously or not, and I think you've already concluded that socialising - at least, in that group style - just isn't worth your time in comparison with the other things you could be doing.

Indeed, in my more 'misanthropic' moments, this kind of attitude is especially true:

As for "interesting information," well, I think I get much more of that from the internet, books, and newspaper than my real life friends [...] The kinds of information I got in classical social settings was almost always worthless or boring to me, to be honest. Not much is actually said in social conversations, it's lots of filler and jokes.

I couldn't count the number of times that I've gotten through a single page of a book and thought to myself "wow, there was more interest & meaning & intensity & beauty in that one page than in five whole hours of chit-chat at the party last night!"

It's important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, though. Like a lot of the people here, it's only a certain kind of socialising that leaves me cold - the big group events like parties & dinners. This doesn't mean that all socialising per se is to be avoided. Again, like many here, small groups & close friends mean a lot to me & are very enjoyable, in stark contrast to the large group activities.

Your mileage may vary on this one, if you say you keep few close friends, but I believe that most people only have a handful of truly close friends, and a wider circle of acquaintances-that-they-see-from-time-to-time. The difference between the introvert & the extrovert is that the introvert draws the line a lot closer to home when distinguishing friends from 'friendly people I happen to know' and there's nothing wrong with that; just a matter of definition, really.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:25 PM on March 30, 2008

I'm a firm introvert, single and live alone. Over the years, I've watched a couple maiden aunts and bachelor uncles go from quirky to eccentric to batshitinsane. That's why I think it's important to have people in my life who would feel free to tell me I was being weird or ask me if I was going fucking nuts. It takes a deliberate effort on my part to maintain the social network and relationships to ensure that sort intimacy. It's an effort I don't always want to make, but one I think necessary to my long-term mental health.
posted by klarck at 6:34 PM on March 30, 2008

A note for if/when you have kids. As an adult, you may be able to choose and lead a happy life of relative solitude, but a child needs to experience both solitude and social activity; a child who doesn't see his parent(s) socialize may have a difficult time learning to socialize for themselves, and this can be a serious developmental handicap.

maybe it's not always an issue, but I think it can be, myself as case in point: my parents only socialized with a few close friends during my youth, and the range of social situations I encountered was pretty narrow. I was friendly to kids at school but kinda distant, and I'm pretty sure it never occurred to me that I might want to spend time with them outside of school. Then after fifth grade we moved, and when I started at my new school I really didn't know step one of how to make friends. It took a long time to figure out the social game. That's not the whole story (also shy, had bad eyesight and didn't know it, maybe I was a dumber-than-average kid, etc) but I think if my parents had been more social, I would have had more practice and more confidence and been better able to adapt. Dancing's another example: maybe you don't like to dance much, but it's sure nice to know for weddings and school functions and dating pretty girls. If you don't experience social situations involving dancing when you're young, because your parents never go to weddings or bar mitzvahs or christmas parties, you miss out on the best time to pick up those skills.
posted by Chris4d at 12:12 AM on March 31, 2008

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