I’ve seen a few blogs recently written by self-proclaimed introverts. Peeps who claim they don’t need mom tribes or a mom’s night out cause well, they just like being alone. Don’t get me wrong, I get it. I’ve done life with introversion (ahem, I’m married to one). I understand their ways. I’m also a trained social worker who geeks out over brain function and human behavior. Sometimes even, my typical extrovert ways will temporarily subside and my anxiety turns me into a couch loving hermit crab who hates all the people. People can sometimes be overwhelming. Relationships can be overwhelming.
But here’s my beef: Claiming loner status, does not give you a get out of jail free card to be a crappy friend.
I struggle with articulating my stance here cause I truly understand both sides, especially as a mental health professional. For people who live with anxiety, particularly the social variety, self-care is critical. I’ve been known to suggest cancelling plans and turning off cell phones so someone can eat Little Debbie cakes in complete solitude. Ok, maybe that was something I did myself, but whatever the case, I support the need to sometimes shut yourself off from the world. That in itself can be therapeutic. But where this can become problematic is when it isn’t actually used for self-care or growth. When the behavior becomes your norm and you aren’t pulling your weight in a relationship, well that’s just mean.
Even more, your friends, family, coworkers, etc. are human beings with feelings just like you. Just because they don’t have the same need for solitude, doesn’t mean they get to do all the work to maintain your relationship. If you ignore them, cancel on them frequently, or don’t pull your emotional weight in the friendship, then they have every right to say peace out, because guess what? That’s not a friendship. Believe it or not, relationships are a basic human need. All humans, introvert or not, need connection. Sure, many of us don’t need a whole tribe, but everyone is capable of doing the work to connect and the ones who can’t probably legitimately suffer from a mental illness.
This one blogger in particular wrote a whole paragraph about what a great friend she is. How she listens and empathizes, but in the same breath also said don’t ask her to do anything because that just becomes an obligation. Since when is a friendship an obligation? Since when is any relationship an obligation? And that’s my whole point, your anxieties about spending time with other humans is not an excuse to be a jerk. It’s not an excuse to not follow through on things or be dependable or caring or kind.
Of course there is also a huge difference between anxiety issues and someone who’s personality is more reserved. Some people are just shy. But shy people got besties too and they are capable of creating emotional connections with humans that aren’t one-sided. It might look different than an extrovert, but however the effort looks, when 50 percent is given from each side, the relationship can flourish. My point here is relationships don’t happen on their own and they can’t be maintained by one person. Each person has to do their part or the connection will only fizzle.
So if you truly like being alone then be alone. Call it what it is. Don’t pretend you are a good friend, embrace your loner status and leave everyone else out. Because that’s exactly what’s going on here. Your anxiety or introvertness or scrooge personality is your own issue.
You can either be at peace with this part of yourself and happily spend your days alone or you can put in the work to maintain your relationships, but if you don’t actively do the work, no one is going to wait around for you. Relationships require attention and commitment and if you don’t have the desire or ability to put in the effort, well you can’t expect others to fill that void for you either.