Introverts love solitude. As a full-fledged introvert myself, I relish my time alone and completely understand the desire to forego socializing. Socializing is draining for many introverts and, frankly, a lot of it feels like pointless chit-chat.
Solitude, however, is like the air that some introverts breathe. But this deep need for solitude—a legitimate need, by the way—does have the potential to turn into harmful social isolation. It’s a balancing act: How much time alone is too much time alone? How do you know when you've crossed the line from delightful aloneness to fretful loneliness? As someone who’s been through the journey, I’d share this advice for maintaining precious alone time, while still staving off loneliness:
1. Pay attention to how aloneness makes you feel.
This, in my opinion, is the Number One piece of advice. The amount of time one can spend alone while still feeling perfectly happy varies from person to person; for introverts, this amount of time can be substantial. Monitoring your own individual feelings about the amount of time you’re spending alone is the best way to know when you’ve crossed the line from tranquil to lonely.
If you choose to be diligent about this effort, keep a regular log of how your aloneness is making you feel. Once a day, on a scale of 1 to 10, rate how happy you feel with the amount of aloneness you’ve experienced that day.
2. Focus on hanging out one-on-one or in small groups.
Many introverts strongly prefer socializing with just one other person or in small groups. They tend to dislike a lot of stimulation, so when they attend a gathering at which large numbers of people buzz around them, they’re likely to leave feeling more distressed than when they arrived. One-on-one or small group interactions, on the other hand, are excellent for staving off introvert loneliness because they provide all the benefits of socializing without the overstimulation.
3. If attending a large gathering, set expectations about when you will leave.
It’s a bit of an introvert’s nightmare to go to a large social gathering (especially if you don’t know anyone) without any definite endpoint in sight. As I discussed in my previous article, "How Your Flaky Friend May Have Gotten That Way," some people feel an anticipatory anxiety around social gatherings that make them prone to flake out—not because they don’t want to be included, but because they’re genuinely anxious.
One of the best ways to mitigate anxiety around large gatherings is to make clear— both to yourself and to whomever else might be invested—what time you need to leave. Not only will this prevent you from inappropriately ghosting early in the evening, but your host will appreciate that you came for as long as you could.
4. Keep to a weekly quota of social interaction.
Some introverts have wiped social interaction off their calendars altogether, while others feel overwhelmed by the volume of social gatherings they’re expected to attend. A good way to strike a balance between solitude and socializing—no matter which end of the spectrum you’re on—is to set a weekly quota.
Let’s say you decide to hold yourself to two social interactions per week. If you currently have no events scheduled, this will prompt you to reach out and start inviting people into your life. If you receive many invitations each week, this gives you permission to attend only the one or two you’re most excited about—and to turn down the rest.
5. Stay smart about your online socializing.
When you find real-life interaction draining, it can be tempting to shift your entire social world online. The Internet allows you to chat with people when you feel like it, yet disengage at any moment. It creates the feeling that you have social support even when you’re alone. No doubt this is an intriguing prospect for many introverts. But don’t rely too heavily on the Internet (or your smartphone) to fulfill your desire for togetherness. It’s profoundly difficult to get to know another person well through a device. And if, at any point, the person you thought you knew turns out to be a fraud, you’ll likely end up lonelier than you were before you initiated contact.
Fellow introverts: We all have special gifts to share with the world. Don’t let our propensity for solitude get in your way.
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