I was sitting with a group of women, chatting about our plans for the weekend. One woman had made plans to look after her young grandchildren for the day on Saturday. Her daughter had then called to asked if she would also take the kids for Friday evening. The answer was a firm no. “But,” protested the daughter, “You never do anything on Friday evening.”
Which, my friend informed us, was exactly the point. Friday was her night to do, or not do, what she wanted.
Verbiage about differences between introverts and extroverts occupies almost as much internet real estate as the cute cat pictures. It is therefore commonly understood that some people get their energy from being around other people, while the rest of us need to retreat from the world to recharge.
In spite of this, I’ve noticed that we all– introverts and extroverts alike– tend to refer in conversation to time spent home alone as “doing nothing.” “Doing something,” on the other hand tends to have the default meaning of “engaging in some sort of activity away from home, and probably involving other people.”
On my “About” page I describe myself as, “A big-time introvert who makes a living with people, and comes home to people.” Now don’t get me wrong, I love the people — well, person– to whom I come home. But the truth is that when she heads off for summer camp my own introvert’s soul relishes its own kind of vacation. I look forward to coming home from my people-filled office to a quiet space and filling my evenings with my own thoughts. With reading and writing and long walks. With strange little meals eaten at odd times. With no one but me caring when I do the laundry and whether the milk is getting low.
When I know I’m going to have some extended time alone, I plan all sorts of delicious solitary pursuits. But when the world gets wind of the fact that I’m on my own for a stretch of time, invariably this thing happens: well meaning people (of whom I am also very fond) start inviting me for dinner because I am alone. Sometimes I say no.
Here’s where it gets awkward. Because of our apparent cultural bias toward “doing things,” part of me feels guilty for saying no (really, it’s not you–it’s me). And then I feel like I should feel guilty for feeling guilty. And then I end up trying to explain myself to the universe in a guilt-laden blog post, when really the whole point was that I just wanted to guard my time alone for doing things like, say, writing blog posts.
Sometimes I say yes to the invitations. And I have a lovely time, and enjoy the people I’m with. But if I happen to have said no to you, then please know that it doesn’t mean I don’t want to spend the time with you. Rather, it means I need to spend the time with me.
I don’t really feel that guilty. But I do wish we could all stop referring to home-alone time as “doing nothing.” Because you should see the list of things I’ve got planned for these few, precious days of solitude! The list that, truthfully, I’ve been making for months in anticipation of this time. On the one hand, I don’t want to feel compelled to share with you everything that’s on the list. On the other hand, if I don’t guard the time I’ve set aside to do these things, then when I (inevitably) find myself back in the middle of other peoples lives, the things I didn’t do with my time alone will haunt and frustrate me.
I will, in other words, be happier when we do spend time together if I also spend some time alone. Doing something.