Why Some Loners Are So Happy
Self-awareness, confidence, and knowing what works for them.
Posted July 22, 2019 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
Author and advice columnist Dan Savage was asked this question by one of his readers: “Why do I say yes to dates if I love being alone?”
In his answer, Savage pointed to relentless social pressures, then described three kinds of loners:
"Because we're constantly told—by our families, our entertainments, our faith traditions—that there's something wrong with being alone. The healthiest loners shrug it off and don't search for mates, the complicit loners play along and go through the motions of searching for mates, and the oblivious loners make themselves and others miserable by searching for and landing mates they never wanted.”
The first thing I appreciate about this answer is that Savage is using the word “loner” in the positive and accurate sense of the word. As Anneli Rufus told us in Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto, loners are people who prefer to be alone. They haven’t been rejected or ostracized; they are on their own because they want to be.
Now let’s consider Savage’s three kinds of loners, in reverse order.
Oblivious loners, the ones making “themselves and others miserable by searching for and landing mates they never wanted”:
They don’t know any better. They don’t realize that they are at their best when they are alone. They probably think that they just haven’t found the right person yet. Or maybe they think they have “issues,” and once they work on themselves, they will be ready for a romantic relationship.
There may be people who fit that description, but they are not loners. They are people who really do want to be romantically coupled and need to figure out how to do it. Oblivious loners do have “issues,” but their issues are that they don’t yet understand that they would be happier on their own, and they continue to pursue one ill-fated romantic relationship after another.
There is no need to be judgmental about oblivious loners. As Savage explained, “we're constantly told—by our families, our entertainments, our faith traditions—that there's something wrong with being alone.” It is hard to resist a message that is so pervasive and so rarely challenged. Many oblivious loners will not be oblivious forever.
Complicit loners, the ones who "play along and go through the motions of searching for mates":
They know what they are doing. They keep going on dates and starting new romantic relationships, knowing all the while that they want to be alone.
I think social pressure is to blame for complicit loners, just as it is for oblivious loners. The sad truth is that loners are judged harshly by other people—especially those who do not understand the strength and wisdom involved in living the kind of life that is most fulfilling for you, even if it goes against the prevailing cultural norms. Complicit loners probably realize that judgments would await them if they stopped playing the dating game, so they just keep doing it.
Healthy loners, the ones who shrug off the pressure and “don’t search for mates”:
They are the best kind of loners. They prefer being alone and so that’s how they live. They don’t bother faking it by going through the motions of dating when their heart just isn’t in it.
Healthy loners have a lot in common with people I call "single at heart": those who live their best, most meaningful, fulfilling, and authentic lives by living single. Some of them are loners in the sense that they like spending time alone, but that’s not a defining characteristic. Some people who are single at heart are very sociable people, as are single people more generally.
(Rufus, by the way, thinks that people can be loners and still be married. She was married when she wrote her loners’ manifesto.)
The road to being a healthy loner, if you really are a loner, is self-awareness. Pay attention to how you feel when you are on a date or thinking about going on a date. If you dread dating, not just because the process can be awful, but because you are not all that psyched to end up in a romantic relationship, that may be a sign that you are a loner.
If you do go on a date and find that you are having a bad time with a good person, and if you never seem to be having a good time no matter what your date involves, that may mean that you would be happier and more comfortable on your own.
What if you do get involved romantically, and the relationship ends? If one of your strongest reactions is a feeling of relief, if you are so very happy to go back to your uncoupled life, then you may well be a loner. Embrace that, and you will be the best kind of loner—a healthy loner.
One big difficulty with all this is that you can’t become a healthy loner if you really aren’t a true loner—someone who prefers to be alone. If you really want to be romantically coupled, and not just because you know you are supposed to want that, then you should probably keep trying. For specific advice, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I’m all about the true loners and the single-at-heart.
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