My children (3 boys, 26, 23 & 17) and I were trying to figure out a weekend to go visit their grandparents. The older 2 have full time jobs, Monday through Friday.
The task seemed as simple as picking a weekend to make the 2 hour drive, but it was complicated by my middle son. He wanted to take off Friday, go down Friday and Saturday and come home Saturday night.
My oldest son was chiding him, and said “suck it up and go for the weekend”. The middle son summed up his personality in one simple sentence. He said “I am the most sociable person around Monday through Friday, but I can only do that because I have Saturday and Sunday to recover”. In that moment I understood how similar he and I really are.
This son has always been socially competent. He was the leader of his OM team, he was the student leader of his marching band and he was the brains behind most of the stunts he and his friends pulled off. Like Slicing flying watermelons in midair with a machete. Or Planking over a lit fire pit. (He was terrifying, but really fun, to raise.)
As sociable and welcoming as he was with his friends, he was the opposite with me and the rest of his family. He spent most of his free time in his room. He learned programming languages, wrote music and played video games. Attempts to socialize with him were met with the guttural grunting only a teenage boy can pull off. I was hurt. I took his hiding out very personally.
When he made that statement, it all made sense. He went on to say that he relies on his alone time, it is hard work for him to be the sociable guy, and, if he didn’t have his weekends alone he’d have to run away from his job. All of that rang true to me, because I am the same way.
I love being alone. I come up with projects, crafts, writing pieces, drawing, sewing, baking, etc. I am never bored, rarely tired and I can’t remember the last time I felt lonely. I can spend entire weeks at home alone and never once feel like I am missing anything. No FOMO here. I suffer from FOTP – Fear of Taking Part.
For the most part this isn’t a problem. My family and long term friends know that I disappear and that nothing is wrong; I have simply lost myself to a new solo activity, or am feeding my soul. The problem is with new friends, one of which really clarified for me how this felt to her.
I met her working at the yoga studio. We are both divorced and about the same age, so we immediately hit it off. We started going out one or two times a week and practicing yoga several times each week. I really enjoy her company and, honestly, I didn’t even notice when she suggested we go see a movie in January and the next time I talked to her it was April. I think this is a skill particular to introverts – the ability to lose ourselves so completely that time disappears.
She was very kind and gentle with me, but also very firm. She said “I understand you go into hibernation during the year and I’m fine with that. I have other things to do and I can manage without you. What I can’t do is have you dropping in and out without explanation, because that hurts. When you disappear I can’t help wondering what I did wrong”. In that moment I understood what she felt, because it is what I so often felt with my son – hurt. She asked me to tell her when I was heading into hibernation, at which point she would leave me alone until I was ready to come out again.
I can’t tell you what a relief it was to have that conversation with her. For most of my life I’ve been wracked with guilt every time I’ve gone into an antisocial phase. Spending time alone, especially time that appears to be unproductive, is a no-no in our culture. Or perhaps just on the east coast. The only time I was allowed to spend doing nothing was when I was sunbathing – but even then it was preferred that I read a book. Not going out on the weekends, spending Saturday night at home, not having a barbecue on a holiday has been a serious wedge between my family of origins and myself. I eventually learned to keep my solitude to myself, lest I get the lecture of our family history of depression and my own battle with depression as a teen and young adult. “You must socialize every single day or you will get depressed” my mother says to me. Mostly she says it when I am hibernating. For the longest time I believed her. Throughout my marriage, as I grew into who I have become, I was filled with shame. My mother, and my ex, were constantly berating me for spending time alone. How similar they both are. My mother is out every single day with friends, as is my ex. A life like that would drown me.
I have always been popular, and surrounded with people who think they want to be my friend. Unfortunately, what most people see isn’t the real me. They see the part of me that is able to summon up all of her energy to be the life of the party. If I meet them at work they believe I am energetic, a conversational whiz who is always able to offer a sympathetic ear, remember details about their life, engage in an educated debate, connect on a spiritually deep level. And I am that person; in very small doses. Like my son, that sociability drains me, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The only way to refill my soul is to spend time alone.
So I will take my friends advice. When I feel a state of hibernation coming on I will proactively tell my loved ones that I’m out. I will verbally tag out of life. I will also assure them that I will be back, and I know I will. What a way to honor my own needs while acknowledging the needs of the people I love!