the art of solitude?
June 7, 2008 6:44 AM   Subscribe

I need to know how to enjoy my own company. That is, I need to know how to enjoy my own company enough so that I don't have pangs of envy whenever I see long-term acquaintances having a great time with each other and with Facebook photos to show for it.

I don't have friends which I would be proud to call my "partners in crime," or who would be perfectly willing to hide dead bodies for me. I'm nobody's closest friend. I get that it's quality over quantity with these things, but the odds have yet to be on my side. So while I'm alone, please help me learn to get over it, not feel so bad about it, enjoy it even. I could get more friends (not as close as I'd like) but I think I need to prioritize being comfortable with myself first, in front of people or not.

I like the fact that I'm introverted, and that introversion gives the appearance of depth and all, but really, there's nothing like a rowdy, laughing bunch of people you've known for a long time (from which you are excluded) to let you know what you've been missing out on.

This sounds so teenager-y and highschool-esque but what the heck it wasn't too long ago (for me) anyway. Thanks ahead.
posted by drea to Human Relations (10 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
These are two separate issues.

You can enjoy your introversion and feel at home in yourself and still feel jealous or left out or like you're missing something. You don't have to choose between the two.

I relate to what you feel because my friend situation is similar (thanks to years of moving all around), but that doesn't mean I like my alone time any less, or that I should try to buck up somehow. It just means that there's another side to myself that I need to work harder to develop -- the side that enjoys and needs connections with other people. It doesn't come easily for me (and I have the misadventure stories to prove it) but I do believe that the two needs -- for aloneness and for relationships -- coexist within me.
posted by loiseau at 6:59 AM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Instead of lamenting what you don't have, why don't you seek it out? You can be introverted and sill have an active social life. Changing your life could be as simple as starting to ask people, "Want to have a beer after work?"
posted by jayder at 7:37 AM on June 7, 2008

For years, before cell phones and the Internet made constant connection the norm for business travelers, I traveled extensively on business. The result was that I spent 5 or 6 days a week, 40+ weeks a year, moving through the world, essentially on my own, for several years. I would be in conversations with clients, colleagues or competitors 2 or 3 hours per day, on average, but otherwise, unless I chose to seek out friends or other contacts, my time was my own, to spend as I would, provided I got where I was going, and got my job done.

Some evenings, I visited old friends whose cities or towns I happened to be passing through. Other nights, I went to museums, concerts, art gallerys, or smoky bars. Some nights, I sat out under the stars, or slept on the hood of a rental car, or read Jack Kerouac or Langston Hughes under a sputtering Harlem street light. I ate in the best restaurants, the dingiest diners, off of street carts or road side fruit stands, out of convenience stores and from campfires (either my own, or other peoples). Unless I was traveling with colleagues, there was nothing to stop me from fishing for an hour off bridges I would otherwise have driven over without thinking, and I took to keeping a couple of small fish hooks and 50 feet of monofilament line tucked in my briefcase, for just such episodes. Sometimes, when I got sleepy driving late at night in Canada or Sweden, I would pull over, and spend an hour building a snowman, in the middle of nowhere, getting cold and wet enough to stay awake in the process.

I fed other people's dogs and kids, as I found them. I wandered into lectures in the finest universities. I heard Sills sing, Solti lead the Chicago Symphony, and I watched Namath lead the Jets, and Yastrzemski lead his league. It was a fine set of adventures, a great way to see 6 continents, and a luxury few people can ever afford to mimic, especially in these cell phone/Internet/GPS distracted days. Few people get respectably lost any more. It's the rare iconoclast who creatively discovers the world by relying on his own devices, these days. And pretty much nobody leaves home without a credit card.

If you have the time for any of that now, enjoy it, while it lasts. Eventually, it is quite likely you will connect with others, and start belonging to their schedules and expectations. Once that happens, the luxury of independence is hard to ever reclaim. And for what it's worth, if you're ever in the vicinity of Rockaway, NJ, the Hibernia Diner has out-of-this-world coconut cream pie.
posted by paulsc at 8:41 AM on June 7, 2008 [23 favorites]

You're question is: "how can I enjoy being alone?" The answer may be that you can't. It's really quite healthy to want to be with other people. But if you truly want advice about how to enjoy your alone time, the answer is to find an engrossing hobby (painting, woodworking, writing, car repair, new languages, reading). A hobby where you are creating something or learning a new skill is ideal for this.

My guess is that you really want to be in those photos. If that's the case, you need to commit to getting out of your house and meeting people as often as you can. Perhaps a more social hobby?
posted by bananafish at 8:55 AM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Solitude takes many forms - so while I (and I suspect many others) can empathize with your feeling, keep in mind that everyone's different, and have different needs regarding "alone time." With that in mind, two things come to mind with your posting:

1. It's not at all unnatural to see other people having fun and think "Gee, I wish I were part of their party!" This is a totally normal impulse. At the same time, I know many introverts (myself included) who become actively uncomfortable when they *are* included in groups having a grand old time, and who continue to feel like they don't quite belong. Some of the most potent moments of "connection," for me, have occurred with other introverts, usually in one-on-one conversation. Enjoying your own company is part of this, of course, but it's worth keeping in mind that it's possible to connect with others without feeling pressured to be part of a big group.

2. Spend time alone doing things that you like: listening to music, walking around, working on projects. If you like interacting with others, take a class! If you like having time and space to think about stuff, take a walk or read a book. Give yourself projects to do, or take "field trips" and explore new places. I spent a good five years in long-term relationships (partly out of a fear of solitude) and am amazed at how much I *love* having time by myself now to explore and putter and work on my own stuff. I pay attention to all sorts of things that I didn't before, I'm not constantly thinking about how to "fit in" or satisfy other people's needs, and I'm generally a much happier person for it.

So yes - being alone can be a great feeling, but like most things, it requires time, space, and a positive attitude. Try not to think of it as a bad thing -- if you're enjoying what you're doing, half of the people in those pictures would be just as envious of you for having a good time. Really, though, it's only worth it if you actually *are* having a good time.

Regarding the broader issue of friendship that seems to be behind the question about solitude: Making friends with others is as easy as you choose to make it. Pretty much the only requirements, as far as I can tell, are empathy and interest. Keep an eye out for people who have similar interests, and make an effort to talk to them! In the meantime, you're probably a lot more interesting than you give yourself credit for being, and being alone is a great time to learn more about your own hidden quirks.
posted by puckish at 10:37 AM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm introverted, too, and when I look at acquaintances'/former classmates'/old friends' facebook photos I tend to get mopey and think about how boring and antisocial I am. So I stopped checking facebook. Seriously. No one posts photos of events where they didn't have fun or where they felt uncomfortable and no one posts photos of their afternoon surfing the internet alone, even though everyone experiences both of those things.

Part of enjoying being alone is not thinking about what other people would think of what I'm doing. If I see that my super-social acquaintances and friends are updating facebook with tons of photos I start thinking, 'wow, they'd think I'm totally pathetic if they knew I spent my evening reading food blogs while they're out partying... Maybe I should go to more parties... Oh my god I'm weird and pathetic.' But really, sometimes (most of the time) I'd rather be alone than go to a party. Since seeing photos from someone else's party always gives me a twinge of false envy, I just don't look.

Get off facebook and do something fun. For me it's food blogs and cooking. Find something you love to do alone, and do it. Then you'll enjoy your solitude.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:07 AM on June 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

The facebook photos mention gave me an idea - something that might help would be to grab a camera, and decide to take a great photo - the kind that could be posted to facebook, sure, but also as proof to yourself that you get out and do cool stuff too, in cool places.
This means that you'll actually have to get out and do something, but "photography" is a useful excuse and motivator for this, and then you're away.
(And if you can, get a remote for your camera, so you can have yourself in the shots without having to do the camera-timer-rush-into-scene-jig).

Make an album. Make other people jealous of you and all the stuff you get up to on your own, unhampered by the conflicting schedules and concerns involved in group activities, free to do anything at any time, at whim.

Make them come to AskMefi and say "I know people that do all this cool stuff, but I hardly do anything unless my friends will come too. I know I'm missing out on opportunities here - how do I start finding the courage to do things by myself?"

And on and on the cycle shall relentlessly turn, with everyone having to continually raise the amount of enjoyment they squeeze out of life just to keep up with the Jones's. Our work here is done.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:31 PM on June 7, 2008 [3 favorites]

(Incidentally, that mock-askMefi question I proposed above, isn't mock. That is a question that semi-regularly gets asked here. So you should know that the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side.)
posted by -harlequin- at 2:34 PM on June 7, 2008

I too am an introvert. A couple of years ago, my work colleagues finally persuaded me to go to a nightclub with them. I figured that it might be worth a try, just to see what I was missing out on. I went, hated it, and never went back.

I figured that the grass was greener on the other side. Unfortunately, the water bill was higher too. Work out what it is you are jealous of when you see people having fun, and you'll be closer to finding something to replicate that while you're alone. Don't forget, too, that it's not all sweetness and light "over there".

Do you have any hobbies you enjoy? I love gardening, blogging, playing about with my camera, etc. I can do all of these things with other people, but I can also do them alone. They aren't distractions that I employ to prevent myself from thinking about how much fun I could have with other people. They are things I truly enjoy doing.

2 books I can recommend in this instance are The Introvert Advantage & Love 101 (since you mentioned loving yourself).
posted by Solomon at 3:30 PM on June 7, 2008

I just want to chime in and say I am like this too. I am habitually jealous of all the fun other people are having without me. When i see happy couples, I'm almost always envious.

The really weird part is, even when I have a girlfriend myself, I'm the same way. Even if what I'm observing isn't that great, or is fact something I already have, I'm still jealous.

When I figure out a way to cure this, I'll let you know. I think it has something to with the quote which is oddly enough on my Myspace page right now: "Every ship is a romantic object, except that we sail in."
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:16 PM on June 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

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