Miina Matsuoka lives by herself in New York City. She owns two cats and routinely screens her calls. But before you jump to conclusions, note that she is comfortable hobnobbing in any of five languages for her job as business manager at an international lighting-design firm. She just strongly prefers not to socialize, opting instead for long baths, DVDs, and immersion in her art projects. She does have good, close friends, and goes dancing about once a month, but afterward feels a strong need to “hide and recoup.” In our society, where extroverts make up three-quarters of the population, loners (except Henry David Thoreau) are pegged as creepy or pathetic. But soloists like Matsuoka can function just fine in the world—they simply prefer traveling through their own interior universe.
Loners often hear from well-meaning peers that they need to be more social, but the implication that they’re merely black-and-white opposites of their bubbly peers misses the point. Introverts aren’t just less sociable than extroverts; they also engage with the world in fundamentally different ways. While outgoing people savor the nuances of social interaction, loners tend to focus more on their own ideas—and on stimuli that don’t register in the minds of others. Social engagement drains them, while quiet time gives them an energy boost.
Contrary to popular belief, not all loners have a pathological fear of social contact. “Some people simply have a low need for affiliation,” says Jonathan Cheek, a psychologist at Wellesley College. “There’s a big subdivision between the loner-by-preference and the enforced loner.” Those who choose the living room over the ballroom may have inherited their temperament, Cheek says. Or a penchant for solitude could reflect a mix of innate tendencies and experiences such as not having many friends as a child or growing up in a family that values privacy.
James McGinty, for one, is a caseworker in Cleveland who opted out of a career as a lawyer because he didn’t feel socially on-the-ball enough for the job’s daily demands. He has a small circle of friends, but prefers to dine solo. “I had a bad cold over the Thanksgiving holiday, but that spared me from having to go to my brother-in-law’s,” he says. “I’m not a scrooge; it’s the gatherings I dread.” Matsuoka feels his pain: “I can’t do large crowds with a lot of noise,” she says. “It’s stressful to maintain positive interactions and introduce yourself 20 times. I really have to turn on my motor to do that.”
Matsuoka, who is divorced, is open to romantic relationships, but “whomever I’m with must know that at least one day a week I need to lock myself in my room and stick feathers on a sculpture,” she warns. Artwork is a form of meditation for her. “I get completely sucked in. It clears my mind until nothing disturbs me.” While a few studies have shown a correlation between creativity, originality, and introversion, perhaps more striking is the greater enjoyment introverts seem to reap from creative endeavors.
Svoboda, E. (2007). Field Guide to the Loner: The Real Insiders. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 21, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/2007/field-guide-to-the-loner-the-real-insiders/
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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