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When Solitude Becomes Isolation

Getting out when you start getting weird

One of the hallmarks of introversion is an ability to happily spend copious time alone. But have you ever had that run away with you?

I live on almost three acres in a quiet part of town. I work at home. I’m married, but my husband’s business requires a lot of interaction all day, and so by evening, he’s ready for some homebody action (or, more accurately, inaction). I have a couple of close friends nearby, but many have moved away over the past decade, and making new friends is difficult as I get older. At this point, most of my friends live in my computer. An online social life is great, but it’s no substitute for face to face.

It’s easy for me to get isolated.

Isolation can creep up on you. You’re doing fine, you’re doing fine, you’re doing fine, enjoying your solitude, getting stuff done, perhaps even preening a little over your self sufficiency. And then one day, you blink a few times, look around, and realize that the world outside has drifted very far away.

Well, that is to say, the world has stayed where it is but you’ve drifted so far into your own head that it’s like looking out through the wrong end of the telescope.

Helloooooooooo…..Is anyone out there?

Even if you have a job that requires interaction during the day, if every evening and weekend is spent alone, you can miss out on the kind of soulful connection that keeps us emotionally healthy.

The potential problem for us solitary types is that solitude begets solitude begets solitude begets isolation. Solitude becomes inertia.

You make no plans and eventually fall out of mind for people. Your social circle rolls on without you. You’re out of touch with what’s happening around town; all too often I hear about fun events the day after they happen. You fall into default mode: Sweat pants and staying home.

And the more isolated you become, the weirder you get. Conversation feels awkward. Getting together with people takes a level of commitment you can’t seem to muster. You intend to call friends but put it off and put it off and put it off. It’s so much easier to hang out with them on Facebook. You promise yourself you will do something fun today, but then find a million little things to do until another day has slipped by and you haven’t done anything more ambitious than go to the supermarket. You might start feeling depressed.

Friends, no matter how proudly introverted you are, isolation isn’t good for you. Solitude is great, until it’s not.

The only cure for isolation is discipline. The discipline to make yourself pick up the phone and call someone you like. Sometimes that means moving out of your comfort zone, connecting with someone who is still just a potential friend. (See First Leave the House: Strategies for Making New Friends.) You need discipline to plan an outing and follow through. You need discipline to say “yes” to the next invitation you receive, even if it’s not the greatest thing you can imagine doing. The point isn’t that you have to do something wonderful. The point is that you have to do something. Anything, as long as it involves other people. Preferably people with whom you can converse.

I’ve been pushing myself in that way recently and it is having the desired effect. My husband noticed how much cheerier and more relaxed I was a couple of weeks ago, after an evening of wine and conversation (and wine) with a friend. Even spending some time on the telephone with faraway friends has been helpful. And when I see an event listing that interests me, I buy tickets or put it on my calendar right away rather than waiting for who-knows-what, until it's too late.

The only cure for isolation is reengaging with the world. Force yourself out and about, make yourself interact, rejoin your community. Do it because it’s good for you.

And then, when you’re on the verge of exploding head, return to your nice quiet room and enjoy the solitude again.


Check out my books, Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After; The Introverts Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World; and 100 Places in the USA Every Woman Should Go. Support your local independent bookstore; click here to find an indie near you.

And please join me (and a bunch of other introverts) on Facebook.

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