A long time ago, after a few very hectic college years, friends convinced me to go on a vacation with them. Nothing extravagant, just us seeing the sights in Chicago, maybe catching some jazz, a little hot museum action, Chicago’s fabulous aquarium, and good food.
I didn’t want to go.
I didn’t have a genuine reason not to, but that didn’t stop me from coming up with a thousand “reasons” why I shouldn’t.
They vetoed me. I was haggard and unkempt. They relieved me of command of the good ship Me on the grounds that I was unfit for duty. They booked the trip, told me when to be ready, and left it at that.
When we got there, we did all the things we planned, sometimes all together, sometimes split off in pairs, and sometimes solo. It was a good trip, yet something just under the surface of my gratitude and vacation gregariousness felt unsettled.
When I got home, I reflected on that unsettled feeling. It wasn’t the first time I’d felt it, but it was odd that I felt it now amidst so much love, compassion, and deep friendship. I was glad they’d dragged me out of my exhaustion pit. I felt refreshed.
Then it hit me: I’d felt the most refreshed those few times I’d engaged Chicago alone.
The time spent in the company of my friends was in no way restricting or taxing, as it may have been to someone who is highly introverted, but I only felt like I was returning to “me” when it was just me, the city, and the random conversations between us.
I looked back to see whether I’d felt this way before; what I saw was a clear pattern: I’d always had friends, but I was just as likely to be off by myself having an absurdly wonderful time.
I was a loner.
There were no easily-accessed checklists at the time, so I made my own:
Did I enjoy being by myself? Yes.
Was I comfortable with silence? Yes.
I already knew I was more introvert than extrovert, but were there times I even needed to get away from myself? Yes. (I came to meditation fairly early in life.)
Did congratulating and approving myself feel just as good as congratulations and approval from others? Yes.
Confirmed, confirmed, and twice more confirmed: loner.
But how could I be a loner? I didn’t own a single leather jacket! I wasn’t a rebel. If I’d even attempted a smoldering look people would likely have offered me medical aid.
Loners were the bad girls and boys we secretly thought were cool. I was so far from cool I was volcanic, and so far from hot I was sub-freezing.
Plus, loners had the reputation of being anti-social to a fault, whereas I had friends, and they most certainly were not loners.
Yet the checklist didn’t lie. So, being a loner and all, I tried to embrace the advantages of accepting my status.
1. Date Night
Can anybody say “cheap date for life”?
I was completely comfortable going to the movies, a restaurant, the mall, hell, even bowling if need be… ALONE. Always had been.
I never had to worry about impressing myself with what I was ordering, or being seen as rude for burying my head in a book while waiting for appetizers, or even snort-laughing during a movie and thus killing any chance I had of being seen as sexy enough for fun times later.
I was a cheap date of one and I loved it!
2. Life Of The Party
Having realized I was a loner, it dawned on me that people enjoyed inviting me to things, sometimes even when there was zero reason for me to be there.
Parties, brunches, weddings, impromptu vacations, you name it. People liked seeing me come to their shindigs and visibly enjoy them.
It was like they knew intuitively that I was a kind of human pregnancy test: a plus smile on my face meant you had a successful event! A sigh or a minus: better luck next cycle, I’d have had more fun at home.
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3. Trends Whoosh Past You
Loners are the truffle pigs of life: they root out delicious, odd tidbits others might never notice, particularly within the arts.
The corollary being that they are often either the last to know about current trends or never find out entirely, which, in an age of YouTube stardom, is not always a bad thing.
I will never have Justin Bieber on my playlist. Advantage: Morningstar.
4. Honest Appraisals
Because loners aren’t motivated by an overriding need to be liked by a large social group, they skew toward honesty, especially when asked a direct question.
This means I’ve told friends when a certain coat makes them look like an escaped bear; I’ve advised couples on the untold benefits of their breaking up; I can’t count the number of times I’ve been the only person to tell someone they had food stuck in their teeth.
5. Loners Make David Bowie Proud
“I know when to go out,” sang David Bowie in the song Modern Love, “And I know when to stay in, get things done.”
I totally do. Which is not to say that I always act on that knowledge, but I have far fewer guilty binges of “Why didn’t I do XYZ?!” than someone my age would normally have accumulated.
I get things done. Granted, that’s not a trait exclusive to a practical-minded loner, but we often get things done while totally naked in our homes. That counts as “win.”
6. Time Lord
Looking back over my life, I clearly see that my “morning” knob was always set to “whenever I want to,” my relaxation dial went from zero to fuzzy slippers in two-point-six seconds, and I never made it to a movie late, seeing as my enjoyment was nothing to be trifled with.
Loners appreciate time in deep, often unspoken, ways. They won’t make you late, or make you wait for them, or even flake out entirely. If they ever do, you know it’s either an alien invasion, sudden volcano, or they’re rescuing ducklings from ninjas.
7. No Shame In Their Public Game
I probably should have realized I was a loner after about the billionth time being asked, “Don’t you feel weird eating in public by yourself?”
None of my friends ever got asked that. People are so conditioned to think that if they’re not in contact with a group in some form or other, they’re deviant.
Deviants are supposed to feel shame in order to bring them back to the straight and narrow.
Once you know you’re a loner, shame at not wanting constant outside interaction is but dandelion floof on a very strong wind.
8. Me, Myself, And I As Charitable Foundation
Loners are givers. Why? Because they’re not beholden to the notion of commercialism as identity. They have no problem giving money or time away that could have gone toward the latest smartphone or a power brunch with clients.
The moment my purse defines me, I immediately declare my apartment to be an ashram so that the healing process can begin.
9. Mistaken Identity
It might be that the biggest advantage of life as a loner is that people mistake being alone for loneliness, and they’ll approach with the intent to help.
This is when the loner, if they’re as patient as I am, gets to open them to the differences between being alone and being lonely.
There’s a calmness to being alone that the lonely rarely experience, and each time I get someone to understand that, their own lives invariably open a bit more.
I’m glad for my friends. Not a loner among them, yet somehow they’re able to work the David Bowie magic with me. They know when to get me out, and when to let me stay in.
Coming together never feels like work, and being apart doesn’t make any of us come undone. It’s like each one loves me as an individual, and I love each of them back exactly that same way.
Which, for some strange reason, seems to make perfect sense.