I love my alone time. As far as I can recall, I have ALWAYS loved my alone time. When I am alone, I am at home. There is no impulse to determine what other people around me might need. I don’t feel the internal tug to regulate other people’s emotions. I’m not walking into a space trying to figure out the tempo of other people’s mood so I can decide how best to dance with it…
No, when I am alone, the only person’s emotions I need to “regulate” are my own. I can indulge in my secret single behavior. I can putter around my kitchen in my pajamas, my absurd bunny slippers, and my “I run better than the government” workout shirt. I can plaster a face mask on my skin with no concern that I might be rendering myself less sexually appealing to a mate. When I want the kitchen to be clean, I clean it – with a podcast or an audio book playing in the background. If I don’t feel like doing the dishes, they wait, patiently, in the sink.
Occasionally, people ask if I ever get bored or lonely.
The answer is almost always a self-assured “nope.”
Bored? Seriously? Have you been in my brain? I can sit, outside, for hours with nothing to entertain me but by my own thoughts. As it happens, I find my thoughts super interesting. Lonely? Huh? I have a cat and a dog and they are fabulous company.
As much as I love my alone time, I also love to love people. I love wrapping my arms around a member of my tribe. I love being the shoulder for their tears. I love being the white board for their ideas. I love being the mirror for their joy.
My challenge, then, has been learning how to discern when it’s appropriate to serve each of these two great loves.
I might love my alone time, but too much of it and I start falling prey to neurotic to-do lists and deep, foreboding thoughts. I might love my people, but if I spend too much time with them, my brain starts going into a fog of stimulation saturation.
Here is a perfect example…
Over the last few months (ahem….soooo…during this pandemic), I’ve tried to take the opportunity to channel more energy into my private practice. I have a lot of pieces in place, and I’m excited about that. I have a steady blog, a podcast, courses, a membership site, and a coaching platform all ready to go! Now…all that’s left to do is monetize it so that it can be a self-sustaining enterprise that allows me to walk my talk and thrive while helping others to do the same.
When I took a step back, though, I realized there were just too many pieces going all over the place. I decided…okay. I need to streamline all this so people just need to click one button (or maybe two) and get access to ALL this content. It’s great that I want to provide options for people. But I think I have gone too far. In trying to create something for everyone, I’m making it hard for anyone who might want to get access to the resources I’m providing. So I got busy trying to streamline it.
I went deep into my secret-single behavior. I made absurd checklists and daily accountability trackers. I tunnel-visioned. I became a lean, mean productivity MACHINE.
My sleep quality started to go down.
My resting heart rate went up.
My resentment went up (a sign I’m not putting up proper boundaries around my workload).
In short, I had gone WAY too far into solitude.
Sometimes we don’t realize when that has happened. Not right away. As an introvert, it’s hard to imagine that I (yes, even solitude-loving me) needs connection with other homosapiens to feel a sense of purpose and belonging. It’s hard to think that even serious-minded me needs time for play.
Sometimes I need something outside of myself to pull me out of myself.
My birthday, it turns out, was just such an opportunity.
I was born on May 22nd (as I’m writing this, it’s a little less than a week into my 34th year). A few days before my b-day, I got a call from one of my closest friends. She was having a get-together with her colleagues. They had just survived a beast of a week and were eager to decompress (6-feet apart) as a group. The one day they all could make work just so happened to be the 22nd. Given that it was my birthday, would I like to join them for a small, 6-foot-distance get-together?
I responded with a gratified and (to my surprise) enthusiastic “yes!”
When I came on the scene, I did my usual thing. I mingled a little, and then hung back. When I come into a social gathering, I like to take a little time to stay on the fringes. I am a people watcher. I want to read the room before launching in. Fortunately, I had met most of these folks (at one time or another) once or twice before. So they weren’t strangers to me. Within a few moments, I felt at-ease and delighted to have been granted access to the gathering. I watched as this group poked at each other and volleyed inside-jokes back and forth. I observed how my body, out of a sheer reflex, started to relax and take in the awesomeness that is being in good company.
“Ohhhh….that’s right!” my brain seemed to recall “THIS is good stuff TOO. Solitude isn’t the ONLY pleasurable way to spend time.”
When I went to work the next day, my desk was festooned with birthday decorations. My colleagues had put together streamers and balloons in my office. I was absolutely tickled. Delighted. Elated. My brain, once again, lit up as if to say “ohhhh yeeeeeah. And THIS is really nice TOO! How lucky am I to be celebrated by such fabulous people?”
Another close friend of mine, a fellow solitude lover, mind you, even stopped by later that evening to bring me flowers. Star-gazer lilies (my favorite). And as the perfume filled up the small space in my apartment, my brain said “Flowers! I hadn’t even THOUGHT to bring in FLOWERS! What a treat!”
Not even a few days after that (this, now, brings us up to yesterday) a friend reached out with a proposition. Her neighbor was in need of help with her garden. Her neighbor is going through chemo, and doesn’t have the energy needed to do the upkeep as she used to do. As it happens, I love playing in the dirt. So that wasn’t a hard sell.
Four of us arrived on the scene. In a few hours, we had weeded, boxed and mulched the bulk of her yard. The woman seemed delighted and grateful. I almost felt guilty receiving her praise, though. All she had done was given me an excuse to play in the dirt with my friends. Why wouldn’t I say yes to that?
All of this is to say that…yes. It’s true. My sensitive little nervous system does predispose me to enjoy my alone time. But that does not mean I don’t need other people in my life. My life, without these extraordinary people, would be a giant dopamine-kick of to-do-lists and get-er-done’s.
In point of fact, this is hardly the first time life has tapped me on the shoulder to remind me of this. I have gone through some really painful experiences (as we all have). But most of what I remember from those times is the avalanche of gratitude I felt as others around me rallied to carry me through it. When my step-dad died of lung cancer, my friends sat with me through long nights as I processed it all. When I left a difficult relationship, it was only due to my friends that I was able to navigate it (logistically and emotionally).
Likewise, every joyful chapter in my life I can think of was not marked by my achievements…but rather by the people who were around to celebrate them with me.
So while it may be true that solitude is a beautiful thing, it is also true that life can be enjoyed as a team sport.
In other words…some things are simply better done together.