Introvert Monday: How Introverts Become LonelyPosted: April 15, 2013
The Lonely Introvert: It seems like an oxymoron at first. How can people who desire time alone and often thrive working by themselves get lonely? Fairly easily, actually. People are social creatures whether introverted or extroverted. Consequently, if introverts spend too much time alone, they can get lonely just like extroverts. However, it can be more difficult for introverts to find a way to fend off loneliness. They need a certain type of interaction to fulfill their social needs.
For introverts, it’s not the quantity of social interactions they have that makes them feel socially satisfied, it’s the quality of those interactions. Sophia Dembling explains in The Introvert’s Way, “Introverts don’t get lonely if they don’t socialize with a lot of people, but we do get lonely if we don’t have intimate interactions on a regular basis,” (pg. 63). This can be a blessing and a curse. Introverts don’t need a herd of friends to make a fulfilling social encounter, meeting someone for coffee is perfectly suitable for them. However, since introverts desire such a deep connection to feel fulfilled, it makes it difficult to find people to connect with. That’s why introverts can feel lonely at a large party–they may not know anyone at the party or the atmosphere may not be suitable for long conversations. In all honesty, this is why I never got into the bar scene in college: Hanging out with strangers with loud music blaring and alcohol flowing didn’t seem like fun at all. This need for intimate interaction is also why some introverts still want to socialize after working with others during the week–they may not have a deep connection with their co-workers.
Of course, that’s not to say that extroverts aren’t capable of socializing on an intimate level. Some of the women I’ve developed the deepest friendships with in my adult life are extroverts and I love meeting up with them for a cup of coffee (you know, when we actually live in the same state). Partly that’s because they didn’t have the same hang ups I have when meeting new people–they were willing to start a friendship while I was still studying them (wow, that makes me sound like a serial killer. I promise I’m not!). This is willingness to open up quickly is important when moving so often and I admire that in them.
This move has shown me the importance of having close friends nearby and just how lonely I can become in a crowd. The first couple of months we lived here, my week went like this: Monday-Thursday I spent by myself while my husband worked. Friday I worked (but only with the kids–enjoyable, but not exactly fulfilling my social needs). Saturday I spent the morning by myself and the afternoon with my husband. I had ample alone time but little to no meaningful interactions with anyone besides my husband. I could communicate with my friends via internet and telephone, but there wasn’t anyone I could spend time with in person. The first part of introverted loneliness was created.
Then came Sunday morning. Every Sunday felt like I was caught in a hurricane of people. Faces would blur together, people would try to chit-chat with me and I would freeze up, and the constant interaction with others would have drained me of my social energy. The problem was that I had no social energy to give–without the intimate social interactions during the week that I desperately need, my socializing fuel gauge was running on empty. I couldn’t interact on Sunday mornings.* The second part of introverted loneliness was created–I felt alone in the crowd.
Thankfully, things have gotten better. I have found a few people that I can meet with for one-on-one, intimate interactions during the week. That means I have some sort of fuel in my socializing tank. That also means I have some friendly faces to help me through Sunday mornings, whether or not they know about my anxiety–these people can be called a “surrogate.” The Introvert’s Way explains it as, “If you’re shy among groups, there’s nothing wrong with latching onto someone who isn’t and riding along,” (pg. 165). Surrogates help shy introverts like me start meeting new people. Typically my husband would be my surrogate, but he cannot fulfill this role on Sunday mornings when he has to work.
There you have it, the two ways introverts get lonely. It is well put in The Introvert’s Way as, “Introverts are not immune to loneliness. We can be lonely surrounded by people if we haven’t found anyone to connect with. We also can get lonely if we allow the momentum of solitude to override our natural need for companionship,” (pg. 76). This is just further evidence that introverts aren’t antisocial like some people claim. If we were antisocial, we wouldn’t get lonely.
Do any other introverts get lonely? Have any extroverts ever felt lonely in a crowd?
*To be clear, church isn’t all about socializing. Obviously it’s about hearing God’s Word and receiving His sacraments with the body of believers. But believe me, this is so much easier to do when you can interact with others.