In a college class I took, a presenter one day led an icebreaker game called Cross the Line. Maybe you’ve heard of it. In it, the presenter read out statements one at a time and students crossed onto the other side of the room if they agreed with the statement in question. Years later, I still remember what happened when the presenter announced, “Cross the line if you’ve ever felt lonely.” Everyone except one woman crossed. Then, a woman who had crossed along with the rest of us called out, “Well, you’re alone now.” It was funny but kind of sad.
According to a recent Globe and Mail article on a loneliness crisis, almost 25% of Canadians describe themselves as feeling lonely. Yet we don’t talk about it.
Feeling lonely as an introvert can be kind of weird in my experience, and I haven’t discovered any easy answers. So, instead of me trying to make answers appear out of thin air, here are some general thoughts on the complicated nature of introverted loneliness.
#1: You really can feel lonely in a crowd–even in a crowd of your friends
I’ve written before about making friends as an introvert. But one thing that I didn’t touch on there is that while you can become skilled at making friends, there’s no guarantee it won’t be incredibly difficult to meet the right people.
Many introverts have a lot of friends. But quantity doesn’t matter in the long run if you don’t have your needs met with those people. I’ve felt miserable when I had a group of friends and happy with just a couple of good ones. I’ve had friends that I considered to be awesome in every way but I still felt lonely around them–maybe because our lives were in different places or something else entirely. The pain of loneliness never depends on how many people you hang around with on a regular basis, just as the value of a true friend can’t be quantified.
#2: Social media can make it easy to disguise your loneliness, to your own detriment
When I was working abroad, I was diligent about posting photos on Facebook of all the places I travelled to. A lot of it was for myself (and I am glad I kept my photos organized, because it’s nice to have now), but I also did it because I felt lonely.
I wanted to connect with people at home but rather than posting, “help, I live in a foreign country and don’t really have any good friends!” I shared all of the outwardly awesome things I was doing. And you know, I never got a huge response from the photos I sent, and the responses I did get often left me feeling empty. Like, a few people think my life is great, but what does that do?
Social media allows introverts to stay inside their bubbles and let everyone know they’re okay, when really we might benefit more from reaching out. I’m not saying that opening up on social media about feeling lonely is a solid idea either–it can definitely backfire to make yourself so vulnerable–but it’s worse to hide behind a mask of “everything is great!”
#3: When it comes time to actually socialize, you no longer feel lonely or up to it
Do you ever make plans with great intentions to put yourself out there and be brave and outgoing–but then when the day comes, you no longer feel the drive to go ahead with it? Maybe you’ve recharged with your favourite hobbies or had a long talk with yourself and decided your life isn’t that bad, after all. So, you don’t put in the effort anymore.
And then a little while later, you’re lonely again.
It’s a difficult cycle to get out of, but it’s worth it to get it right–to realize that on those days when you don’t feel like being chatty, you still might benefit from talking to a stranger.
Loneliness as an introvert is complicated indeed, but things can always improve. If you’re reading this, then I’ve got good news: you’re alive, and there’s time to work on finding some of the gooey goodness that life can offer. 🙂