Better Together, or Alone?

January 16, 2012

We all have our parents to thank for our existence on this earth. Once they procreated, we came into being. But we entered this world alone, and we’ll leave it the same way. It’s a trip we must make by ourselves. In the meantime, there’s all kinds of people here in this world that we can surround ourselves with…if we choose to. Think about it. There are going to be people we meet during our lives that we’re going to love. There are some we’re going to loath. And then there are all the rest of them, the ones who pass fleetingly by, most of whom we’ll never exchange a word or a glance with. But over the course of a normal human life, there’s going to be a wide range of relationships that we cultivate, through work, through school, through chance meetings. It’s been on my mind a bit lately because Megan and I joke about how we’re becoming more isolated, how we’ve lost touch with friends, and how we don’t seem to have made any close new ones in the time that we’ve been here in New York. Does that bother me? No. It really doesn’t. And that leads to another question: should I be bothered by the fact that I’m not bothered? I’m a solitary person. I crave that solitude; I need my alone time. I think we all do. But how much is the optimal amount? How much is healthy? Before I was married, I remember thinking sometimes how happy I would be if I could just go off by myself, live somewhere isolated where I’d seldom or never see anyone else. Live the natural existence, like Thoreau. I’ve talked about it here on the site before. Now I’m married, and I’m very gratified and fulfilled because of it. It works for me. But I still do have that urge, that need sometimes, to just get away, from everything, from everybody. How many good friends, or even decent friends, does a person need? It’s been established that children, when they’re in the developmental stage, need and crave human contact, if not from their parents, then from anybody at all. If they don’t get the attention, the physical contact, it effects them badly. They’re malnourished, and they become antisocial. Since the world has rejected them, they draw further into themselves. But does this mean they’re worse off? They may not get along so well with other people anymore, but you know what? They don’t need to, because they’ve become self reliant. They’ve learned to survive on their own, and the reason for that is because if we don’t get help from other people to survive, we get it from ourselves, from an internal source. Either that, or we perish.

I don’t know that I advocate one way, that is, being very sociable, being well liked, having lots of friends and family to talk to and interact with all the time, versus the other way, that being to cut yourself off from contact for extended periods of time, either intentionally or through circumstance. I don’t think it’s fair to say that one way is right and one is wrong, because different things work for different people. One person’s lifestyle might be completely different from another, but that doesn’t mean one is superior or inferior. That is why, if in my life I have few friends, and it doesn’t seem to be bothering me, then I won’t let myself be bothered by it. The fact that, although I live in the biggest city in the country, and enjoy it, but I still sometimes crave that solitude, escape, and anonymity, may seem like I paradox, but I don’t think it actually is. Because to be surrounded by people, but not know any of them, and to not want to know any of them, well, that’s a way of being alone, isn’t it? I’ve said before, I’ve seldom felt more alone than when I’m in the biggest crowds. And while there are some people who might balk at the idea of living with few good friends, I’m not one of them. As long as it continues to work for me, I like having a sparse, streamlined social life. Because let’s be honest, even the people who profess to have so many “close friends,” how many of them do you think these people are really close with, and how many do you think they just tolerate, either because of the convenience factor, or because of a shared past that no longer has any bearing on the present? If to crave solitude is to be misanthropic, then I think I can live with that just fine. Because there’s times that I don’t like my own company, as is true of all of us. But there’s precious few people I’ve found in this world whose presence I can tolerate, let alone actually enjoy, for very long at all, and I just don’t see that ever changing.

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