Damn It Feels Good to be a Recluse

I love being alone, and I hate it. Am I a natural introvert, or a thwarted extrovert?

I spent all Sunday by myself. Some people would envy the pants off me for that — I’m thinking again of my married siblings. I know they love their kids and love spending time with them, but I know from my years as a teacher that being surrounded, all day long, by little people who need things, makes you crazy.

I enjoyed my day. I coded, watched a bit of Netflix, wrote, did laundry, accidentally deleted my blog, resurrected it again, spent some time tweaking it. Is it weird that I enjoyed a day like that? Is it normal? Is there anything called normal? Is it selfish or pathological or just okay?

Sometimes I feel guilty for spending too much time alone, like I’m feeding a tendency in myself that I should be trying to starve. But I played poker on Friday, and went out with friends for drinks and a movie on Sunday, so I rewarded myself with a day of total hermitage.

If I ever spend a whole weekend alone, it’s too much, and I get depressed. But even then, I can’t tell whether I feel crappy because I want people around me, or because I feel like I ought to want them.

I come by it honestly, by the way. My mother’s never been comfortable in social situations, and as for my father, he’s been known to leave by the back window — freaking literally — when company is coming. And I can dig that.

Ever seen Punch Drunk Love? It’s one of my favorite movies. Adam Sandler plays his usual emotionally-stunted, self-absorbed man-child, but with a tragic accent: he’s alone, miserable, has no idea how to act around people but no idea how to be by himself either.

Maybe my favorite line is this: “I don’t know if there’s anything wrong, because I don’t know how other people are.”

Yeah, I dig that too. My older sister once knew a girl with severe Asperger’s, who went around wearing strange, medieval-looking clothes and bringing people cookies in a basket. My sister says: There’s someone who got the chance to build herself from the ground up, without wondering whether her life fit anybody else’s patterns.

Which is a good thing, right? But it’s a fine line. Americans make a mantra out of self-determination; Caring What Other People Think is one of the few universally-recognized sins of the 21st century. But it can go too far, no? If I let my idiosyncracies run wild, I think I’d barely even be human. I’d go live in a cave somewhere.

As long as the cave had wifi and coffee and cigarettes.

19 Comments on “Damn It Feels Good to be a Recluse”

  1. Laura says:

    I know what you mean… sometimes I wonder if/how much I should make myself be like everybody and go out and party… I think there’s nothing wrong with you enjoying a day by yourself, it’s just the way you recharge.You should draw the line when it starts to become a permanent isolation from humanity and you start caring less about others. Anyways, I don’t think a single day of reclusion is enough to be worried.

    P.S. Have you checked Leila’s last post and hell broken-loose at Stacy’s combox?

  2. Zach says:

    I might have done the same thing. Reread my favorite passages from 1984 and Lord of the Flies. Played video games. I know I’m an introvert. My friends make me feel guilty for it.


    1. Bah, indeed. That is some cheery leisure reading you’ve got going there. But then I tend to bring Rilke and Faulkner to the beach, so who am I to talk?

  3. Ron says:

    That sounds like a perfect day to me! Even the Lord himself withdrew to the mountains for solitude. For people in any kind of helping professions, some time to recharge one’s batteries is essential.

    What you experienced, Steve, is solitude. When we spend time in solitude, we are at least aware of our connectedness to God and other people. Ask any contemplative man or woman!

    1. I do like to think about how Jesus went away to the mountains. I can really dig that! I agree that it’s good and necessary. On the other hand, there’s a difference between Jesus heading for the mountains to commune with his father, and me vegging out with Netflix and a pack of camels.

      1. Teresa says:

        I can dig this. : )

  4. Murb says:

    It’s the dang virtue-being-in-the-mean thing: that blasted, ephemeral, ungraspable balance between “I want to, so it must be good.” and “I want to, so it must be bad.” I butt heads with it all the time, except in reverse from you: if I wallowed in my idiosyncratic tendencies, I’d be surgically attached to people at all times. With wifi, coffee and cigarettes, too.

    I just hope the line I’m walking is actually the tightrope, and I won’t have the Wiley Coyote moment of “Oh crap, no ground.”

    Oh, yeah, and there’s that praying thing, too.

  5. Emily says:

    I desire to be more extroverted, but then I come on far too strong, and it’s awkward because I interrupt with scatterbrained thoughts and often stutter.
    So I just sit at home and let my social anxiety fester.
    But oftentimes I’d rather feel safe and reclusive than look like a total crazy when I make an effort to talk to people. And it is a gross effort for me to be social.

    At any rate I’m familiar with such sentiments.

    The worst part is, the friends I would normally spend time with are all dreadful introverts too… conversations between us are quite pathetic. :/

  6. Dante says:

    I am an major extrovert yet I seek the solitude and quiet pretty regularly. Lots of time this has to be simply getting up a couple hours early before the other wakes up. Its like the solitude refuels the extroversion and then the follw-up solitude heals the senses. I agree on the three things needed to make the cave doable: wifi, coffee and smokes…but can we add a bit of Guiness and Blue Moon as well?

    1. Hm, actually Dante, maybe we’re not that different after all. Except I’d take a Harpoon or maybe a Smithwick’s.

  7. Jamie says:

    I’ve told people I’m an extroverted introvert, and I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone but me, but I think it might. I love being around people, but I also love (and neeeed) to be by myself sometimes.

  8. Bruno says:

    re: “Ask any contemplative man or woman!”? Yup. AND: Isn’t extroversion/introversion the place where we energize and ‘work our stuff out’?


  9. Peter says:

    Hurricane Irene handed me a beautiful Sunday; the steady rain meant no guilty feelings about not leaving the house, and I spent a quiet, peaceful, cozy afternoon doing nothing more important than conquering the world in a computer game.

    The funny thing is, because I actually was a bit anti-social and neurotic as a younger person, I recognize that my Sunday solitude wasn’t that. Now that I can take pleasure in being extroverted when the situation demands it, being happy alone isn’t the sign that “something’s wrong” that I once thought it was.

    That said, a quick plug for how hard it is to be an introvert in an extrovert’s world! They outnumber us two to one, according to an article I read somewhere a while ago.

    1. I appreciated this, Peter. I think you’re right, the more we overcome the neurotic parts, the better we can appreciate real solitude for what it is. I’m getting better at it!

  10. Claudia says:

    I have a chronic health condition (fibromyalgia) that requires me to spend time not talking or doing anything. so that is how this Labor Day weekend is going to be spent. alone (well that is nothing diff), sleeping, not talking, maybe a little Facebook, some eating and maybe a whole movie, or not. This however brought much disappointment to a friend who wanted to come south and spend the weekend playing because he needed time off. 2 introverts in an extrovert world, both with extrovert personnas which is how we deal.

  11. hey there- love the blog!

    You might find this post of mine interesting- on a ‘danger’ of celibacy


    but this is NOT to say that you can’t have a hermit-day every so often!

    1. Great post, priest’s wife! I have been thinking about exactly this, and your post put it into words for me.

  12. Melissa says:

    I felt the sinful pangs of jealousy while reading this! Pre-marriage, pre-children: this would have been the ideal day for me too. I often think back fondly to the long, solitary days I spent in my single dorm room as a MA and Ph.D. student … So long ago. It was a time when I was not beholden to anyone or anything aside from the pursuit of my own pastimes and intellectual pursuits. If I felt like reading all of “Hamlet” in one sitting, I could. Ah … there is definitely a lot of beauty in the solitary life.

  13. Shari says:

    It’s great to be reminded that I’m not the only one who wonders if I spend too much time alone. I often skip going to parties because I’m afraid of being the awkward one. I’m lucky enough to have friends who know when to leave me alone and when to drag me out, kicking and screaming if need be.

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