I am by habit, if not by nature, quite a loner. As an example I often recall the extraordinary lengths I went to in learning my way around London ahead of a trip there with a group of fellow high school students. Why? So I could go out on my own unencumbered by group decisions on sightseeing routes. (I cannot imagine a chaperone letting a student do this nowadays nor, however, can I blame this for any of the land-mines I stepped on later in life.)
We are, it is said, social creatures – no matter how often I have begged to differ or change that – and so it should not surprise me when I feel better, in what might be called a spiritual experience, just for having been with friends with a collective feeling of goodwill for one another.
Between the days of wandering London and my wish to recover from myself these many years later, I see myself standing (or hopefully sitting, perhaps leaning against a wall) in a crowded and, in those days, smoke-filled bar full of people. Feeling completely alone, save for the contents of the glass in my hand, I was soothing the savage beast of my self-consciousness -or so I thought – and yet repeatedly measuring my success on whether I remembered going home, or elsewhere, alone or with whomever else. More often than not it did not matter if I went home alone, either under my own steam or in the back seat of a cab hailed on my behalf by a bar-keep who had turned up the lights twenty minutes before.
Hardly social, or sociable, nor comfortably alone.
In my support circles we occasionally read that “we are people who would not normally mix”. For many years I saw that as a class divide – that highly-educated doctors (of whatever discipline), lawyers and the like would, so I thought, normally be unable to relate to people with different life experience. The common need for support tears down walls. While that may be true, it took on a new and profound meaning in the painful, isolating weeks preceding my return to the aforementioned circles in June of 2007. It wasn’t subsets of society which would not normally mix, it was me – I – who had become loath to mix with anyone, one-on-one or in small groups, more than at any time that I could remember. The stark choice – I hope this doesn’t seem too melodramatic – was to “mix” (again) or die, the pointlessness of that notwithstanding.
Recently I have observed myself feeling isolated, even while showing up for commitments. Rejecting (if not ignoring) the “shoulds” more often than not, I followed through with my desire this evening to be among friends and it paid off. Without saying too much, save for individual conversations before and after the meeting, I came home feeling like I had experienced something great.
Lesson learned and written into the record. There are some things an “agree” or a “retweet” cannot replace and the term social networking, for me, needs to more explicitly imply a f2f follow-through!