One attitudinal difference between solitude and loneliness is choice: If I perceive my time alone as a choice, it is likely to feel like solitude, which can be nourishing and restoring and for me is an important part of my self-care. If time alone is experienced as the world abandoning us, as isolation, it feels like loneliness engulfing us. By seeing other people having fun, my mind turned the previous day from a day of solitude to a day of loneliness! In some ways, it seemed like a slide of hand, a trick of the mind. And, yet, it felt so real, I had trouble shaking it off – only after some people’s virtual holding did I regain my inner balance.
I was ruminating on “what is wrong with me,” which, as I pointed out, is my habitual way of dissolving the cognitive dissonance. It also points to a deep human need: To be loved and to belong just as we are. And thanks to an exercise developed by Robert Gonzales a friend of mine introduced me to (and Kristen walked me through it), I realized that my judgment about the picture-posting friend was really my inner reminder that I needed to accept myself, including anything that might turn other people off (or not turn them on).
On Saturday, I was able to watch myself in action in a group of people. After watching an improvisation performance by my teacher and her colleagues, most of the audience lingered. I could sense my discomfort. The only reason I stayed was because I had promised to help with the clean up. I realized that I am simply having trouble with small-talk! Getting any information out of me is like preying open a chest that’s locked tight with an elephant sitting on it (okay, one light enough not to break it…). Instead of going into “what’s wrong with me why can’t I do this?!?” I realized that this is simply a reflection of my introversion, something I am learning to accept after having read Susan Cain’s book Quiet. Rather than chatting with others, I prefer putting chairs away – and that is perfectly okay. Of course, I realize that this might make it more difficult to make new connections that could blossom into friendships.
And maybe that, too, is something I want to accept. It’s okay not to have thousands of friends (or how many connections more extroverted folks really have) and it’s okay to spend a Sunday with a book instead of with a group of friends. Seeking out solitude can also be a choice – one that I am reminded of as I feel increasingly overwhelmed by all the social things I scheduled last week in an attempt to avoid the loneliness. I cannot really avoid loneliness anyways, certainly not by piling up my social schedule. It’s an inner thing. And it’s also a balance thing: Having enough nurturing interactions with others while reserving enough time for solitude. I am working on learning that balancing act… And staying off Facebook…