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So You Want a More Solitary Existence

Making a reclusive life work.

In yesterday’s article, I made the case that our perhaps most underconsidered lifestyle is reclusiveness, the largely solitary existence.

In response, I received comments and private emails requesting another article about it. So here are some thoughts on how one might make a reclusive life work.

Avoiding guilt and shame. Conventional wisdom is that we are a social animal, a sexual animal. So a reclusive person might fear being perceived as inferior even as not fully human.

It might help to remember that not only does the solitary life allow you to live the life you want to live, not only does it not hurt anyone, but it may, paradoxically, be prosocial. For example, some people feel obliged to spend significant time and money propping up a lazy family member, even though it does little good. That time and money could more wisely be spent solo, for example, on prosocial work: inventing or promoting a useful for- or nonprofit service or product, creating useful how-to videos, even, ahem, writing a helpful article.

We don’t denigrate the social funster. Why should we denigrate s/he who prefers a solitary life? And if we do, is that not our deficiency?

Work. Self-employment is an obvious choice for the reclusive person. However, while there are ways to boost your odds of self-employment success, some people might be wise to be employed by someone else. If so, you still may increase your solitude. For example, ask your boss if you might have a corner cube, telecommute at least part-time, or do more solo work and less of those team projects that often can drive even social people nuts. True, isolates may not build the relationships key to staying well employed but sometimes, that can be mitigated by preempting the problem: Tell boss and coworkers that you prefer solitude and that doesn’t mean you dislike your coworkers. Hopefully, they’ll celebrate that diversity of work style, not just the racial diversity that, these days, every employer implores.

Play. There are countless solo recreations and doing them by yourself means no compromising. Even within a given activity, if you’re doing it with someone, acccomodation is often required. For example, you both want to go to a sports event but do you spring for the $100 seats or go with the $15 specials? Compromise and you’re both dissatisfied.

Relationships. Reclusiveness needn’t be pure. It merely refers to a predisposition toward solitary activity. On an instance-by-instance basis, decide whether it’s worth spending that chunk of time with a particular person. Do beware of spending time with someone out of a misplaced sense of obligation: You believe it’s unwise to spend time with that person but do so out of irrational guilt or shame.

When you need help. One of reclusive people’s fears is that it will leave them helpless when ill or aged. That may or may not occur but if you choose to be social just to try to preempt that possibility, it’s a certitude you’re doing what you don’t like, and people still might not be there for you. Remember that if you do need help, you can usually hire it or, if indigent, use taxpayer-paid services or private charity.

The takeaway

The reclusive lifestyle is a road less traveled but might it be worth at least a brief sojourn?

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.

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