Someone inquired of me in the recent past, “Are you anti-social?” My response, based on my understanding of the word was “No.” But it’s been niggling away at the back of my brain since then like a piece of popcorn seed shell can worry you in the gums, and I’ve revisited the question many times in quiet moments since then. I did a little research on terms, trying to see if I could find a label that I would willingly wear should that question arise again in the future, or some variation of said question. I will not fit into all peoples lives, and that’s okay. As long as I fit within my own skin, then those with whom I do fit will find me and like being around me. I do not seek to ‘fit in’ – I simply seek to be fitting where I am and with those that I care about.
First of all, I adore words. We use them to shape and form our world, both inner and outer ones. We label people, places and things so that they fit neatly into our perspectives, both of ourselves and of others. So often though, we do not know enough about another thing or person to accurately define it. This is how stereotypes are born. Usually there is a kernel of truth inside a stereotype, but not always. And all of us, even those striving to be open-minded and receptive, harbor stereotypes in our grey matter. When someone said anti-social, I thought of mean things, hurtful things – and I am neither mean nor hurtful intentionally. I rummaged through words and their meanings like others might rummage through their cupboards to find a suitable vessel to hold something, as I realize that labels are meant to hold another’s vision of me inside their heads.
Hermit. Recluse. Asocial. Anti-social. Misanthrope. Loner. All of those words have a negative connotation in today’s close-pressed societal demands on our availability. We are expected to be available at all times, via cell phone or E-mail or other some such intrusional device created under the guise of productivity increase. As a person who thrives within very deep, connected and intense relationships, most of those words above do not fit me. Yet I require very little from those that I have only a superficial connection with. I’m not offended if someone at the office I barely know doesn’t greet me. I don’t need someone to accompany me on every break I take to step away from my desk; in fact, I prefer to break alone. This allows me to clear my thoughts, envision a new way to tackle a problem, or simply to daydream of more pleasant things, particularly when I am at work. Apparently this is an aberrance. Breaks at work are the new ‘water cooler’ activity, usually so someone can vent about something. I vent, so I understand that need. However I’ve learned through self-experience that if I have no one to vent to, to give that issue continuing steam, I usually forget it and move on. Rehashing it can sometimes keep it alive indefinitely until it grows out of proportion to what it is. Since I am somewhat of a worrier by nature, this realization was a surprise to me and so now it’s something I try to practice with irritations. Don’t rehash it, don’t keep it alive. Experience it, let it go. It makes me happier inside. It’s still a new habit in progress, so I don’t profess to have it mastered yet.
Back to labels. Our life experiences create our social comfort levels is my belief. Coming from a family of extreme extroverts and spotlight loving types, it was hard to find my natural inner preferences surrounded by the constant hubbub. They have very little understanding of me and often chastise me for being a solitude seeker, as if it were a personality defect reflecting poorly on them. I get questions about what I can possibly do to keep my time filled if I am not out and about. I heard often, when living alone up here in a remote location…”but what do you DO?” Hah! There was rarely enough time to get what needed doing done, much less any extra time for running hither and yon looking for other things to fulfill me. I surrounded myself with comforting things – music, scents, plants, objects d’art, and of course, books. I had the internet, basically a bottomless resource for nearly any topic you can conceive (at lots of ones that you can’t!) I had close, if remote, friendships that fed and nurtured me via E-mail or phone. And I had nature, seasons, plants, animals. I was very content.
“Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty.”
Returning home to the country, I feel the stress of close proximity living rolling off of me and my natural desire for solitude rushing up to greet me. There is however, an extreme difference in the solitude of one versus the solitude of two. I miss the solitude of two, the united front, the partnership feeling. I was married to a misanthrope, so I know I am not one. Our harshest battle were sometimes me seeking the good in others and he seeing only the bad, the untrustworthy, the potential for hurt. While my life experiences should have created a naturally distrustful person, they have not. This bothered him greatly, my continued optimism about things, about people. He used to say he needed to put me behind a baby gate, to keep me from getting hurt, that I lacked a natural defense system. Since his death, I have become more guarded, because I now have to be. No one is watching my back daily. But often I forget to be so. I am a bad judge of character, assuming all to be good because I truly believe there are more good people and things than bad. Then reality will sometimes rare back and bite me and off I go scurrying to lick my wounds in solitude, and to ponder how I missed obvious signs of ill intent.
“Everyone suffers at least one bad betrayal in their lifetime. It’s what unites us. The trick is not to let it destroy your trust in others when that happens. Don’t let them take that from you.”
Sherrilyn Kenyon, Invincible
Because I love and live deeply and fully, I do not think I really want to go through the remainder of my life alone, hermetically sealed against the outside world. While I enjoy my own company and can entertain myself, I desire the interconnectedness of a solid, loving relationship. Am I anti-social? No, I am simply aware of my giving limitations and the amount of ‘me’ to go around if I am to give fully to others who are important to me. Asocial? Perhaps, if asocial can be defined as limiting ones additional social interaction once the needed people are in one’s life. Recluse? Yes, to some extent. I find pleasure and fulfillment within a small, defined circle of people and do not need to go out and about in search of other pleasures, other things, other stimuli. I am a homebody, gathering pleasure from my center of existence. Loner? I am often content to do things alone, and some things are preferential activities alone. However there is immense multiplied pleasure in sharing activities, particularly productive ones. There are some experiences that lose depth when only enjoyed by oneself, that lack the shared bouncing of joy off of another and watching it bloom kind of thing.
True love isn’t about being inseparable; it’s about two people being true to each other even when they are separated.
My vacation draws to an end today and tomorrow will be full immersion in that thing I do called earning a living. I’ve taken time for me, for friendship, for memories, for feeling. I’ve slept in once or twice for a bit of luxury that is free. I’ve met new people and seen new things. I feel refreshed and happy. There is still a lot of work ahead, but the balance I practiced is helping me to feel it is not overwhelming, and has lifted the sadness that hunched over my shoulder peering and announcing that this was a terrible thing, to lose this place. I am viewing it simply as a doorway to the next thing. I am extremely thankful for the time I have had here, and am currently having here. I am thankful for the opportunity to test myself, to meet fears and overcome them, to develop the inner me. I sought healing, and found it. I sought solitude and self-sufficiency, and found it. But mostly I sought beauty, and found it, inside and out. Life is good.
“There were people who went to sleep last night,
poor and rich and white and black,
but they will never wake again.
And those dead folks would give anything at all
for just five minutes of this weather
or ten minutes of plowing.
So you watch yourself about complaining.
What you’re supposed to do
when you don’t like a thing is change it.
If you can’t change it,
change the way you think about it.”