Last weekend, I spent two days and three nights alone. My boyfriend was busy with work. My best friend was occupied. I just happened to not have any plans.
At first, it was glorious. I cleaned my apartment, started a new book, and went on a walk alone, listening to a new album and getting lost in my thoughts and the snow. As an introvert, spending time alone is like returning to my natural habitat. I felt energized, my mind bubbling with creative thoughts.
Then Sunday night rolled around. I found myself begging my boyfriend to step away from his laptop, take me out to pizza, and talk to me. What happened?
I’ll be completely honest: I got lonely.
No, I’m Not an Extrovert
At this point, you may be tempted to dismiss me as an extrovert. “Only extroverts get lonely when they spend time alone,” you may say. “They gain good vibes and energy from socializing.”
I guarantee you that I check all the signs of being an introvert. As an author, I spend most of my days alone, writing and editing. My ideal Saturday night involves takeout and Netflix, and if you invite me to a party, I’ll probably make up an excuse not to go. I read constantly, feel unnatural networking, and find it easier to write my thoughts than say them out loud. There’s literally a sign on my desk that says, “Please go away.”
Yes, I’m truly an introvert. And introverts crave connection, too.
Why Do Introverts Get Lonely?
Introverts get lonely because humans are wired to be social creatures — us “quiet ones” included. Research shows just how valuable social connections can be. People who are lonely are more likely to die an early death than non-lonely people. Loneliness might even be deadlier than obesity, according to one study.
I’m not the only introvert who struggles with occasional loneliness. When I asked introverts who follow me on Facebook if they get lonely, I got dozens of responses.
Some said they were lonely often, while others said it happened rarely. Many emphasized that it’s the quality of the interaction that matters, not just the fact that they’re around people.
“I am often lonely,” one woman wrote. “I work in an office and much of my daily human interaction is utilitarian and superficial. Then I go home and hang out all by myself until my partner gets home. I don’t really have anyone to have coffee with, discuss wild ideas with, chat about the nature of human existence with, or even just comfortably sit in silence with.”
Another wrote, “My lonely moments have been based mostly in feeling misunderstood or misinterpreted.”
For some introverts, struggle with loneliness is real. But it’s a problem we rarely talk about. Instead, we glorify spending time alone. We post memes about wishing everyone would go away. We carefully explain to our loved ones why our alone time is so vital.
And there’s a good reason we sing the praises of alone time. Generally, it’s absolutely amazing. We introverts need alone time like we need air to breathe. Without it, we can’t “show up” for our jobs or relationships. Too much socializing may make us feel physically unwell, something that’s been dubbed the “introvert hangover.”
What introverts need is balance — and a different way to socialize.
Introverts Crave a Different Kind of Connection
And it’s not just “people time” that we crave. In fact, some introverts told me that they feel loneliest when they’re surrounded by people.
It’s not the crowd we want. It’s connection.
Introverts get lonely when we lack emotional intimacy. When there is no one with whom we can share our big ideas and raw, inner thoughts. When we feel very different from the people around us. When no one can relate to our experiences or perspective.
Although we may ditch the wild party, we crave connecting deeply with just one other person. We want to peek into their inner world, and unravel our own.
Finding this kind of connection isn’t easy. For some of us, it has eluded us our entire lives. For others, we get it, but only fleetingly. The lucky ones have a partner or friend who “gets” them.
When I asked my boyfriend to get pizza with me, I didn’t want to chat just about his weekend or the latest TV shows he’s been watching. I wanted him to tell me everything happening in his inner world. How did he really feel? Has some new insight caused his perspective to shift?
Introverts can be surrounded by people all day long. But until we get the kind of meaningful interaction we long for, we’ll feel lonely.
I’ll always be an introvert who loves alone time. If given the choice between a weekend alone or a weekend spent partying, I’d choose the weekend alone, every time. I need very little people contact to be happy.
For introverts, it’s about quality, not quantity.
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Learn more: The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World, by Jenn Granneman
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