It is a strange thing to look around and come to the realization you are alone; it is even more strange to comprehend that you don’t mind it being this way. But how did you get here? Did everyone leave you, or was it a slow process of elimination until you were the only one left? Isolation can be comforting, especially for introverts, but is it healthy? At what point does cynicism overrule optimism and force you to accept your isolation? They say that hindsight is 20/20, so let’s take a look back at how this came to be, and what it means to be alone.
I am what some people call an ambivert: something like a middle-ground between being outgoing and introverted. However, I am not completely balanced in this regard and definitely lean toward the latter. I am naturally a wallflower despite knowing that participating is often more fun, though I am more than willing to engage once approached. This causes me to be less-than-stellar at going after things that I want, both tangible and otherwise, and it is something I consciously strive to work on. Though this personality trait is part of who I am, I didn’t have any issue playing with other kids as a child and was able to make friends without too much effort, which is a skill that I would come to hone through necessity.
In the summer of 2000, when I was 7, my family moved from Nebraska to Minnesota, back to Nebraska in 2004, back to Minnesota in 2007, where we lived for eight years before moving to Kansas for two years. . . then back to Minnesota in 2017. For those keeping track, this means I went to two separate elementary, middle, and high schools with one of each in Nebraska and Minnesota. Moving around as a child fosters the ability to create new friendships and restart old ones when moving back to a familiar area. I had a dedicated group of friends in high school, but I was also the cause of a lot of drama between them. I sought out attention in unhealthy ways while my mental health issues began to manifest, which combined to create situations of anxiety and annoyance for the people I spent a lot of time with. I look back at who I was and I’m not surprised that many of them remain close friends all these years later while I look in on the periphery of their lives through social media. I don’t hold this against them; I learned long ago to take responsibility for my actions and know that anything I reaped was a direct result of what I had sowed. However, high school wasn’t the only time I had difficulty holding on to my close friends.
I attended community college for two years after high school before transferring to a four-year college. I was living at home with my parents, working part-time, and spending time with people I considered my friends, but who turned out to be temporary characters in the story of my life. I lived in the dorms during the first year after transferring, and it was here that I had to learn one of the hardest lessons of my life so far. I spent too much time skipping class and, as a result, ended up on academic probation after my first semester. For those unaware, this means that my grades were barely passing and had dropped my GPA so low that I would suffer consequences, which included losing my financial aid, if I didn’t turn it around during the following semester. After having to tell my parents (I figured they should be aware since they were helping me pay for college) and creating a plan, I turned around and (figuratively) worked my ass off. The remaining semester and two years at college were spent with my nose stuffed in books. When I moved into an apartment with roommates, I didn’t go out and party much because I didn’t care for the bar scene, and I often worked early morning shifts on the weekend. This, along with my behavior toward my roommates who had fewer responsibilities at the time, created a divide between us, so we soon drifted apart.
I had met the guys who would become my roommates while living in the dorm and they were a couple of years younger than me; I suppose there is truth in the cliche that one shouldn’t live with their friends. My priority was keeping my job and bringing my grades up, so I was either at work, in class, or studying in the library. When I was in the apartment, I wasn’t fun to be around and found myself becoming embittered at how much time my roommates were able to spend together; seeing them bond while I was working all of the time caused jealousy in me that wasn’t healthy or fair to them. I think we all failed at communication, but myself especially. I was in charge of the utility bill during our second year living together, and soon became an annoying authority figure routinely checking up on my roommates for their share so that I could pay it early in the month. I didn’t handle the conflicts that arose very well, and took to secluding myself to my room. This forced isolation didn’t do me any favors and, though I graduated on time, I left with regrets; it wasn’t a difficult choice for me to move with my parents to Kansas after I graduated.
Leaving college is a simultaneously freeing and terrifying experience. Some develop close friend groups during their post-secondary education that stay together through the years and work as a support network for one another; not everyone is so lucky. Moving to another state after college increased the difficulty of meeting people my own age exponentially, especially because I began working in a warehouse populated by people who had families and were typically at least ten years older than me. I have been told I have an old soul which I attribute my ability to befriend those older than myself as easily as people around my age or younger. My work culture and environment were fine, but it was going home to live with my parents, and spending the weekends either with them or scouring dating websites for a potential partner, that soon began to wear on me. As I said earlier, we moved back to Minnesota in 2017, so there would be chances to reconnect with my friends from the times before; or so I thought.
Anyone who works retail will tell you that it destroys the possibility of spending time with people on the weekends. This is detrimental since that’s usually when everyone else is free because they either found full-time jobs through internships that use their degrees, were lucky enough to have a connection at a job to gain entry, or are working at another Monday through Friday gig that gives them two consistent days off in a row. I worked at a retail grocery store after the move, so the weekends were consistently busy, and I would have to request time off if I wanted to attend a family event or meet with friends. I was able to make some good friends at the job, and could hang out with them when our schedules allowed, but it definitely made meeting people outside work far more difficult; this was compounded by the fact that I was, more often than not, the only single person on our staff.
I haven’t had many romantic relationships over the years, which has become a double-edged sword; I know who I am as a person and never had my identity defined by another, but I also worry that I am at a disadvantage in the relationship department. I have gone so long without having to compromise with another’s wishes that I worry I won’t know how when the time comes. I know doing so is part of being in a healthy relationship, but knowing and doing are two very separate things. I’m not dead inside, and the romantic in me still strives (how else to explain my refusal to give up on dating despite so little success in the past?), but it can seem daunting to think about surrendering myself to another in such an intimate way. I have learned a lot of lessons over the years, and hopefully they will serve me well in this regard.
I have spent periods of my life wondering why it has been so difficult for me to hold on to friends and, through looking back, I can see the patterns that led me to where I am. I am okay with the fact I’m “alone” for now because I’m not really alone. I have parents who love and support me, a cat that basically exists to give me unconditional love (I’m not kidding; that furry little guy is like my best friend and I’m not even embarrassed), a sister who has become my best friend, and friends who I can now see on the weekends after a hard-fought career change. Sure, having a partner to share all of this would be great, but I’m not going to force anything for the sake of assuaging my loneliness; that is selfish and not who I am.
To anyone else out there who may be feeling alone, I want you to take a look around at the people in your life and really reflect on whether you are alone in the sense of self-imposed isolation. If you are, if you think, “You know what? I could probably do more to be social and escape my comfort zone”, then do it! I am trying, in my microscopic ways, but every avalanche needs that first little pebble sliding into another to start its momentum. I look forward to the future because nothing lasts forever, be it good or bad, so we should try and focus on how to maximize the good in our lives. There are far worse things than being alone, so take the time with yourself as something to be cherished; there is no better state in which to self-reflect.