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 introverts and, frankly, a lot of it feels like pointless chit-chat.
Solitude is like the air that 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 that all introverts face: How much time alone is too much time alone? How do I know when I’ve crossed the line from delightful alone-ness to fretful loneliness?
As someone who’s been through this journey, I’d like to share my advice for maintaining your precious alone time, while successfully staving off painful loneliness.
- Pay attention to how your alone-ness is making you feel.
This, in my opinion, is the #1 piece of advice you can receive on this topic. The amount of time one can spend alone while still feeling perfectly happy varies from person to person, and 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 alone-ness is making you feel. Once a day, on a scale of one to ten, rate how happy you feel with the amount of alone-ness you’ve experienced that day.
- Focus on hanging out one-on-one or in small groups.
The average introvert strongly prefers socializing with just one other person or in small groups. Introverts tend to dislike a lot of stimulation, so when they attend a gathering where large numbers of people buzz around them, they’re likely to leave the gathering feeling more distressed than when they arrived.
One-on-one or small group interactions are excellent for staving off introvert loneliness because they provide all the benefits of socializing without the overstimulation.
- 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 end-point 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 ghosting inappropriately early in the night, your host will appreciate that you came for as long as you could.
- Keep to a weekly quota of social interaction.
Some introverts have wiped social interaction off their calendars altogether, while others feel overwhelmed by the amount 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 for social interaction.
Let’s say you decide to hold yourself to two social interactions per week. If you currently have no interactions scheduled, this will prompt you to reach out and start inviting people into your life. If you receive many invitations per week, this gives you permission to attend only the two you’re most excited about… and turn down the rest.
- Stay smart about your online socializing.
When you find real-life interaction draining, as most introverts do, it can be tempting to turn over your whole social world to the Internet. 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. There’s no doubt that this is an intriguing prospect to the introverts among us.
But don’t rely too heavily on the Internet (or your phone) to fulfill your desire for togetherness. It’s profoundly difficult to get to know another real person 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 met them.
Keep these tips in mind, fellow introverts! We have special gifts to share with the world, so don’t let our propensity for loneliness get in your way.
Girl in the forest photo available from Shutterstock