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How Much Alone Time is Too Much?

6 June 2023

Barbara read the New York Times article, I Love You, Now Leave Me Alone: What Friendship Means to an Introvert, by Catherine Pearson and used it to help her return to the right amount of socializing for this stage in her life.

Tags: barbara read, grief, mbti

I resonated with the title and first line of this article. “Few things in life satisfy me as much as canceling social plans.”

I’ve written often about enjoying being an Introvert. As I go down the grief journey, I’m reading about it even more because I know social connection is good for your overall health. In the two months after my husband died in December, I didn’t want to see anyone but family members.

My main thought was—please let me be alone without caregivers in the house for the rest of my life. But after those first two months of healing silence, I thought I needed a little more social interaction, so I went to in-person church. Turns out it was too much too soon, and I went back to Zoom church and played the piano anytime the loneliness washed over me. If I play the piano, I instantly feel my husband’s presence.

I loved that Pearson’s article cleared up two issues for me. Being introverted is not the same thing as being shy or having social anxiety.

“Shyness is the tendency to feel awkward or tense during social interactions.” I’m not shy. I can talk a blue streak when I finally decide to be with someone especially if they are willing to go a little deep—tell me something about their personal life and be receptive to hearing something about mine. Small talk gets old for me fast.

“Social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition characterized by an intense and persistent fear of being watched and judged by others that gets in the way of daily life.” I don’t struggle with that either.

Another month passed and I thought I was ready to meet some people. Pearson has three recommendations if you are an Introvert and want to try to make friends. I’ve now tested all of them.

  1. "Take the initiative." Invite someone to do something you want to do like having lunch at your house. I invited my college friend to lunch. I had a neighborhood gathering of women at my house called WineTime to thank my neighbors for the welcoming kindnesses they have shown us since we arrived in May 2022. My daughter did everything that needed to be done to get ready for the party and then led groups around our newly renovated house so they could enjoy the progress with us. This also allowed me to have just a few people to chat with at a time rather than being overwhelmed by the whole group.
  2. "Seek out comfortable people and comfortable places. An easy way to gauge whether you find someone ‘comfortable’ is to pay close attention to how you feel after spending time with them." I have continued to go to my oil painting classes at The Center at Belvedere and my virtual writing group. Both gatherings meet the comfortable criteria, and I always feel as though I’ve had the healing power of a group without constant talking the whole time.
  3. "When making new friends, lean into your natural ‘opener’ tendences." Pearson said Introverts are good listeners. I used to be a good listener and could ask questions to draw someone out. However, in the five months since my husband's death, I've only been able to listen to my family members and very closest friends.

A good test of whether I was ready to do all three of these things at the same time, was to go to the University of Richmond for my 55th college reunion last weekend. My college friend has been asking me about it for ten months. Two weeks before it, I finally said yes. In addition to being more social, I also wanted to see if I could drive comfortably for an hour at 70 miles per hour. Due to some aches and pains that cropped up after my husband died, I’ve only been driving around town.

My friend is an Extravert and talks a lot so I could just ride her coattails when I went into an event just like I used to do with my Extraverted husband. When we walked into the reception, everyone was in two close-knit circles, and she just walked into the middle of one of them and started to talk. I followed and listened until I had something to say.

She was a history major and reads history and current events like she is still in Dr. Gregory’s class in 1966. She loves to reminisce. Sometimes I couldn’t hear all of what she was saying because Google Maps was telling us where to go, and I’d zone out a bit, but then a gem of information would pop up like this... Her mother, who was a women’s libber like mine was before it was a term, married at 30 after she had been teaching for eight years. She bought a fur stole scarf that was popular in the 1940s—the ones with the head of the animal on it with those little beady eyes. She sent a letter excitedly telling her husband who had gone back to WW II five days after they were married. He wrote back that in no uncertain terms was she to spend that kind of money again without asking him. She wrote back that in no uncertain terms would she ever tell him again what she bought with her money.

I thought—right on. No wonder we always had a connection. Our mothers were ahead of their time in terms of asserting their boundaries and just like my parents’ relationship, both of our fathers respected those boundaries.

I was thrilled to get back home to my soothing silence after the reunion, but I am also glad I added a weekend of talking to my new amount of solitude. It made me feel more like the person I used to be before COVID-19.


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