Loner or Introvert?

A couple of months ago, I went to a sit-down restaurant by myself. If I remember correctly, that was the first time I had ever done that. When I walked up to the hostess’ podium and she asked how many, I said, “Just me.” She asked me if I was sure I was the only one in my party. I said I was. She walked me to my table, handed me a menu, and asked what I’d like to drink. When she came back with the drink, she asked me again if anyone would be joining me. I said no. Her eyebrow went up for a fraction of a second, like she couldn’t believe it, but I smiled to dispel the moment of awkwardness (but it didn’t feel awkward to me).

That was the first incident I thought of when I picked up Party of One by Anneli Rufus, a book that attempts to (among other things) differentiate between introverts, loners, shy people, and people who suffer from social anxiety. The subtitle is “The Loners’ Manifesto,” so the focus was obviously more on loners than any of those other varieties of people. The author characterizes herself as a loner, and she considers nonloners “the mob” and “the masses,” which came across to me as angry and bitter, even though the author continued to say throughout the book that she was not in fact angry or bitter (I wasn’t completely convinced).

I sympathized with most of the anecdotes from the book, so it did hit me on an emotional level. I remember times when I tried to shoehorn myself into certain groups at school, the time when I was invited to someone’s birthday party but didn’t participate in the festivities, and the time when I was at a Girl Scouts sleepover and desperately wanted to leave early because the idea of camping out and socializing just didn’t appeal to me. But there have also been times when I’ve had fun with friends, looked forward to spending time with them, and was energized after I had seen them. I don’t always avoid the social functions at work, because honestly, some of them are entertaining and refreshing. (And when there is free food, I will go. Guaranteed.)

So I wouldn’t consider myself a true “loner,” at least not in the author’s sense of the word. I don’t quite have the self-confidence to feel 100% at peace with being alone in all situations. Society tries to ram down people’s throats the idea that the only time that’s well spent is time spent with others, so when I am alone, I sometimes wonder if it’d be more fun if my best friend was with me because, you know, society is a huge fan of “friends going out together and doing fun things,” not “young woman going out alone, even in broad daylight and safe neighborhoods.” But I don’t feel that way all the time.

And sometimes it is fun to blend in with crowds and the “mob” and act like one of them, even though there is a part of me that feels like I’m watching the situation on TV and not truly fitting into it. In the end, I suppose I consider myself just a regular introvert, not a “loner” (what the book seemed to define as a more extreme version of an introvert).

So Party of One was an enjoyable, thought-provoking read, even though I disagreed with the author on some points. I don’t believe that I consistently avoid social situations or consistently seek them out because I’m not consistent, and I don’t believe any human being can be perfectly consistent all the time. But most of the time, when given the choice, I would choose to be alone in my bedroom with a book (or staring at a blinking cursor in MS Word).

4 thoughts on “Loner or Introvert?

  1. As a teenager, I often went to movies alone. My little brother thought that made me some kind of freak. Whenever he wanted to watch a movie, he dragged me along, and I went, even though he usually watched crap.

    (These were $1 matinees in the 1970s. I’m old.)

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  2. Based on my experiences, and on things I’ve read, your restaurant experience is pretty specific to women. I’ve eaten alone in a _lot_ of restaurants — from the cheap to the fancy — and I don’t remember a single eyebrow ever being raised.

    Let alone the huge issue of asking the question more than once. Someone get this woman some customer service training!

    (It may be specific to younger women, too. As my mother used to point out, there’s a whole separate set of assumptions about “lonely old women.”)

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