While introverts want and need a lot of time alone, we also want to know that we are likable and that we have friends. Some of this desire is the genuine need to connect with others with whom we share understanding or at least mutual respect and appreciation. Some of it is merely because we believe we “should” be more busy socially and have more friends and activities. Sometimes it’s because it’s a holiday and it seems that everywhere we look, people are rushing around buying food and getting ready for what sounds on the surface like perfect and fun gatherings with their family members and friends, and it makes us feel like losers if our big plans are to watch a marathon of our favorite show on TV or work on our hobby alone.
Often when we hear other people talking in general about their friends, we imagine that they’re talking about an idealized group of people who are always fun to be with, even if a couple are a little quirky. They’re always glad to hear from each other or see each other, as if their lives were one big episode of Seinfeld or How I Met Your Mother. We go home alone each day and may not recognize a prospective friend if she’s standing right in front of us.
I actually remember about six years ago one woman who would never stop talking when we’d get our sons together to play and she or I would arrive at the other’s house to pick up. It would start off like pleasant chit-chat, and before I knew it we had stood on the front steps for an hour past bedtime with no end in site. Then she started calling me, leaving me messages on the home answering machine like, “Give me a call when you can!” At one point, exasperated after hearing such a vague message, I asked my husband, “What does she WANT?” He said quietly, “She wants to be your friend.” Oh. Well duh, of course! I guess a kindergartner would have known that but all I heard was one more interruption in a weekday evening.
Scrubs fans will remember this situation, but if you’re not a Scrubs fan, go to around 7:36 on this video and see this in action. Elliot is so lonely because her friends are busy doing other things, and she doesn’t even realize that the new doctor on staff has a lot in common with her and is making an overture to start a new friendship!
Potential friends are all around us. The neighbor we avoid who always seems to want to talk just when we only want to go inside and relax or go for a run. The coworker who always asks us to go for a beer after work, just when we have somewhere else we have to be. The mother of our kid’s best friend who won’t seem to stop talking when we arrive to pick up from a playdate. The acquaintance who suddenly calls us on the phone at inconvenient times, much to our annoyance.
Each of us has to decide for ourselves – do we prefer the freedom of always doing exactly what we want without having to constantly “worry” about other people stopping us to talk or bothering us with the phone? Or do we sacrifice a lot of our alone time because we want to be sure to be receptive to others around us? We have to find an equilibrium that makes us happy, and of course it’s fine to shift that equilibrium around at different stages of our lives. It’s just good to remember that we do have lots of opportunities to make friends; we just have to remember that they come in all shapes, ages, and situations.