Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I'm not aloof, I'm just alone

I know what she's thinking

Years ago I worked in a natural foods cooperative in New Mexico. That place was full of interesting people who were in that twenties stage of life, in between degrees, or ideas, or road trips. I fell into all three of these categories at the time, and my years at the Co-op are among those that I remember most fondly, and I have several lasting friendships that were born there.

I had been working at the Co-op for a few months, when I finally bit the bullet and asked one of my co-workers out for coffee. I had been working there daily, and even though everyone was surely nice to me, no one was overly friendly.

This always happens to me. Always.

I was in my early twenties, and battling the general insecurity that is such an inherent part of those years, I asked my co-worker straight out if I was doing something to turn people off. I remember so well how she looked at me and exclaimed, "Are you kidding?" I told her that I hadn't managed to get to know anyone yet, even though I would surely like to. Her responses to me were limpid and honest.

She said, "You just seem so... so aloof. Like you just have everything you need and don't care about adding anything extra. Like you really have your shit together."

At the time, this comment led to a flood of comments like "That is so not true" and "I don't feel like that at all" from me. I had gone through this same experience with the few men I had had relationships with up to that point, who always told me they never approached me for the sole reason that they thought I wouldn't pay any attention to them.

Looking back on that ever so enlightening conversation with a woman who would come to be one of my dearest friends, today at forty I can admit that she was right. Not about my having my shit together! Or even about me having everything I need. She was right about me not caring to add anything extra.

Extras are something that I've never liked, and never been good at. I'm a horrible person to chat with about the weather. I don't tend to dedicate my time to anything that doesn't matter in an important way to me. I don't have superficial relationships, and if I was to have a birthday party of my dearest friends, the room would not be very full. I walk right past people I know and don't say hello to them, for the simple reason that I don't see them. I cannot count how many times so-and-so has said to me, "You walked right past me the other day and didn't even say Hi. You didn't even blink!"

I have long considered this to a kind of fault in me, like a certain kind of arrogance. I'm rude. I'm self-absorbed. But you know what I'm finally realizing at this late hour?

I'm just a loner. And my best friends, my husband, and all the people I love best, are loners just like me.

I'm not aloof, I'm just alone.


Jennifer said...

You seem to realizing so much about yourself with this move coming up.

One of my readers once sent me an article about change and how the expanse of nothingness between your past and future when you make a significant change in your life is the only time you really live and grow. If you're interested, I will send it to you.

sognatrice said...

I've been accused of/labeled as "keeping to myself...not really bothering with others" by another expat who lives in the area. Um, because I don't hang out with you? Like you, Jennifer, I have no desire to foster forced or fake friendships, and plus there's that whole overall loner vibe. Is it wrong to enjoy your own company more than most others'? I like your conclusion that this isn't necessarily a character flaw--it's just the way you are. Maybe if more people stuck to their own business in this world, we'd have fewer conflicts ;)

The article from (the other) Jennifer sounds interesting--I wouldn't mind a copy if either one of you would be so kind: bleedingespresso (dot) sognatrice (at) gmail (dot) com.

jennifer said...

Hi Jennifer- I would love that. You have my address. I can forward to you, too, sognatrice. Loners abound...

Jennifer said...

I sent it to you both!

Jenn in Holland said...

Sign me up for the article too please?
This post was dead on to something I have been feeling too. And then songnatice's comment really sealed the deal for me. So I add my hearty hear! hear! to all you have said here Jennifer.
But I do have to protest just one thing. You really do have your shit together. You really inspire me.

cathouse teri said...

That's a good differentiation.

Oddly enough, although I am rarely alone and people swarm to me like buzzing bees, I am a bit like you. I am not into small talk. And people sometimes make the mistake that, while discussing some idiotic and meaningless subject, I give a shit. I figured out why this is. Because I smile. And I smile because I'm happy.

I never approach strangers to talk to them. When on a plane, I don't visit with the person next to me. I am often lost in thought and NO, I don't need any EXTRAS! Good God, I have quite enough, thank you!

Once, I was at a park with my kids (a people meeting trap) and we saw a woman with a dog (we also had a dog, so this is a people meeting trap) and the kids said, "Look! She has a dog just like ours!" I thought, Ugh... pahleez, I do not need another friend right now.

BUT, she struck up a conversation with me and we remain the very best of friends to this day. That was over ten years ago. Sheesh. (I had to realize MANY years ago that I am NOT in charge of my own life.) ;)

So, I know how you feel. But listen, Wild Woman, let's try to move from not aloof, to alone and aware. You might be missing stuff!

And smile. Even if you have to think about something wonderful, and I am SURE you don't have any shortage of wonderful things to think of! :)

Thanks for stopping by and delurking... and letting me comment in the form of a post here!

cathouse teri said...

PS Sorry, I didn't mean to cuss in your living room. I'm just incorrigible.

Also, as sognatrice pointed out, there is nothing at all wrong with liking your own company. In Anna Karenina, Konstantin Levin said to someone, when asked if he gets bored in the country, "Why would I get bored? I have my own company?"

I say, only the boring get bored.

jennifer said...

Hi Teri-
Cuss away! No need to ever say you're sorry here. I'm so glad you stopped by- and I'm the first to admit how much I love my own company...
And I smile alot, too, usually at the wrong times!

anno said...

This hit home in so many ways, it felt like you'd somehow channeled my own experience.

Time to myself--unmeted, unmeasured time alone--is like a vital nutrient for me. My biggest fear about the year to come is that there seems to be a peculiar gravity to our house, drawing everyone home--my husband is beginning to work from home, and my daughter will be schooling from home--and I wonder if there will be any oxygen left for me.

Extroversion is highly prized in this culture, but to me it looks like people who are independent, self-contained, and self-sustaining (I'm not convinced this is the same thing as introversion) are the source of our most interesting ideas and creations.

Jennifer, I'd love a copy of that article, too: annoa2mi (at) yahoo (dot) com. Thanks so much!

Brillig said...

Beautiful post. And for a "loner" you sure have a big fan club.

By the way, since I haven't mentioned it yet, I'm loving your second sidebar. :-)

jennifer said...

Hi Anno,
I love your comment about extroversion being highly prized in our culture, since it's so true. That's always been a hard one for me. I'll send you the article today.
Jennifer sent it to me and it made me get teary yesterday- so good luck to all of you who get it!
Brillig! I almost, almost e-mailed you in desperation yesterday as I worked on this site, but then realized strep throat and 4 kids should get you off the hook! Then I got it...

Rebecca said...

I'm a bit of a loner too...I don't often need much more than my direct family....and perhaps it's a very sad reflection on my character...but I think I have more blog friends than real ones.

Betsy said...

Hi Jennifer! Great post! I've been thinking about these kinds of issues a lot lately-- that, and something you mentioned in another post about the people who think they know us but do not know us well.

I found your blog through Carol's blogroll and am really enjoying reading it.

I grew up in Winter Park and have been overseas since 1992. I can really identify with a lot of your sentiments and appreciate your point of view. And I haven't even mentioned that I like the quotes and artwork that you use.

But now I'm starting to sound like a stalker. ;-)

I just wanted to stop lurking for a moment and tell you you've got a new regular reader. I've got bicultural / bilingual boys as well and am interested to hear your experiences as you settle in to your new life in Colorado.

I'm sorry to hear about the deaths you've had in the family lately. Hope this is a major turning point for you and that you can now get back to your charmed existence...