Alone vs. Lonely

On the introvert-extrovert scale, I don’t even qualify as an ambivert: I am about 80% introverted. I love my family and friends dearly, I adore making chitchat with strangers in lines, and I can out cocktail party chatter even an 80% extrovert. The reality for me, though, is that I don’t get my energy from other people. I need to recharge my social/emotional batteries without all that many other people around me. My challenge is that, in the act of recharging, I occasionally get lonely. I don’t mean adopt 10 cats lonely or isolate myself from the world and write a manifesto lonely, I mean simply that I begin to crave other people’s company. This is usually a good sign that I’ve recharged the batteries sufficiently to go get back out there and have great conversations in lines again.

I began to explore the whole alone side of the alone vs. lonely equation recently. I know that loneliness is just my system’s signal that it’s time to connect with people, but this whole alone gig bothers me. I’m not usually alone. Even when I’m recharging my social/emotional batteries, I have my husband and either one or both of my kids around. But alone? Really by myself? Nope, not all that often. Enter my learning opportunity: I wanted to go see a whimsical romp of a movie recently, and I’ll avoid insulting anyone by naming it. My daughter was away at school and my son and husband were out on their weekend Railfan adventure. I thought about calling a friend or two to go see the movie with me, but I realized I really didn’t want company; I just wanted to go see the movie.

I toddled on over to my local Cineplex, bought my ticket and sat in my favorite spot of the theater. The world had not yet exploded, and the ground wasn’t shaking so I figured time was plodding along in its normal manner even though I was by myself. Nobody seemed to notice or care that I was sitting there without a companion. The movie began: I didn’t have to share my popcorn, comment about anything, or answer my husband’s questions. When the movie ended, not only did I have the cathartic experience that an enjoyable show provides, I was giddy, grinning, energized.

I called my daughter to tell her about the show and her first response was, “Mom, I would have gone with you.” I thanked her, and explained that I had legitimately wanted to go by myself. She rattled off a list of the friends I could have asked. I pointed out that, nope, I didn’t want to go with them either. This trip to the movies was my equivalent of hunkering down with a bowl of popcorn and watching Netflix at home, except for the fact that the movie wasn’t on Netflix and I wanted to see it on the big screen.

When one of my friends asked how my weekend was the following Monday, I answered, “It was great. I went to the movies by myself and had the best time.” She agreed and said that she likes to go to the movies by herself when she needs to recharge, but not with her usual people. Plus, she said, she doesn’t have to share her popcorn.

I’m not going to suggest that the whole not sharing of the popcorn is a reason to go places by oneself, only that enjoying my own company was the most fun I’d had in a while. The strange thing is that I haven’t had a bout of loneliness since then. This is an incredibly busy time of year for me, and even through all the social gatherings, I’ve been able to recharge more quickly, all because I know that me, myself, and I are pretty good company.