The Happy Loner

In her book, Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto, author Anneli Rufus attempts to reclaim the word “loner” from the negative associations it often carries. Frequently used by the media to describe serial killers and sociopaths who are said to have “kept to themselves,” the term “loner,” Rufus asserts, more aptly corresponds to the much larger group of people who are not mentally disturbed, but simply prefer solitude to any other state.

While I don’t consider myself a loner (not that there’s anything wrong with that), I strongly agree with the argument Rufus puts forward, namely, that it is unfair and incorrect to assume that introversion should necessarily be equated with anti-social and violent tendencies.

I was reminded of this argument when I began reading the news coverage of the incredibly tragic events that took place at Virginia Tech on Monday. True to form, newspaper articles made liberal use of the word loner to describe the shooting suspect, subtly implying that his solitary nature somehow influenced his horrific behavior. I found the information that he had previously displayed signs of mental illness to be much more pertinent to his state of mind.

While it may be empirically true that this man did spend a lot of time alone, what gets missed is that there is a difference between having a preference for being alone, and feeling isolated. One state of being is a choice; the other may be a symptom of a larger problem. It is the difference between someone who gains happiness and contentment from their loner state, and someone who yearns for connection with the larger world, but is unable to realize it. Sadly, it seems that for some people, committing large scale acts of violence is their twisted attempt to communicate their rage and despair to others; it may be that they felt unable to communicate in any other way.

For this reason, I think there needs to be more attention paid to distinguishing between happy and unhappy loners. While those of a more extroverted nature might not be able to understand how being alone can bring happiness, there are a lot of us who understand this perfectly well. Perhaps we need to set aside our preferred mode of silence more often to make this point; to proclaim that it is possible to be healthy and happy even if—and sometimes especially if—we are left to our own devices.

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9 Responses to “The Happy Loner”

  1. Brian Clasby said:

    I’d just like to say, as an introvert myself by the way, that there is a definite difference between aloneness and loneliness. The adage that the loneliest place is a crowd is so very true – I’d rather be alone by myself than lonely in the mass. Yeah, I’m a loner but a reasonably well adjusted. I’m OK with it.

    -Brian

  2. Tinker said:

    As a newcomer to this introvert thing([4] stroke[s]) I was finding it difficult to adjust. Love your blog. I have enjoyed it a lot in the last couple of days. Been tough enough, not being able to do the thing I love best(professional programmer/software tester), but to be unable to relate to others, and to have little opportunity to do so, was a bit overwhelming, even isolating. I was a rarity among computer types, as I generally liked people and was rather gregarious. The prototypical computer nerd is a “moody loner”, and generally only attacts attention for his nerdiness or his lack of social skills, and both forms of attention are basically negative. I was able to pass for normal in social situations, however, and my current situation is peculiar to say the least. Anyway thanks for your take on intoversion/intoverts, from a necomer to the cause.

  3. Cloud said:

    Well said. I’m afraid after the VT incident, people who like to be alone, such as myself, will be regarded with even more wariness.

  4. spectatrix said:

    Brian:

    I can definitely relate to the lonely in a crowd feeling, and to its opposite; I can be very good company to myself 🙂

    Tinker:

    Welcome to the club! I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog.

    Cloud:

    It’s sad but probably true.

  5. Sad and Shy, or Melancholy and Introverted? | Spectatrix said:

    […] a person’s mental well-being simply because of their external behaviour. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is a big gap between preferring solitude and feeling unable to overcome it, and that […]

  6. Frustrated Introvert said:

    I recently read the Loner’s Manifesto and I was very happy with what I read. It is so true that there is a difference between aloneness and loneliness. For the most part, I like to be alone. I can find things to do to entertain myself. When I had the time, I used to go to movies by myself. When the lights dim and the movie comes on to the screen, it does not really matter if you are alone or if you are with a friend. When I was in college, I used to go to a local coffee shop by myself. I would bring my laptop or a book and I would sit and have a coffee and enjoy my time alone. In the workplace, I have never minded eating my lunch alone. More often than not, I liked it when I was the only one eating lunch or taking a break in the employee break room. if anyone else came in to the break room, they would immediately want to make small talk and for the most part, I would not be in the mood for that person’s company. there’s a website that I sometimes visit which helps people with problems they might be having in the workplace. Well, one person wrote in to the site because she did not know how to deal with a coworker whom she described as being a loner. The person who wrote in mentioned that both her and her coworkers felt that it was odd that this “loner” coworker seemed to have no interest in socializing with the them. She had even spoken to the manager about this coworker. Well, the manager spoke to the “loner” coworker. The manager then told the complaining coworker that the “loner” coworker really did not care to socialize with any of them. He was not interested in getting to know his coworkers. He was simply content in doing his job. And guess what, the manager was fine with the loner coworker. As long as this coworker was doing his job and doing a good job, it should not matter that he did not want to socialize with other coworkers. So basically, the “loner” coworker did not have a problem, it was his coworkers who had to get over their issues with his preferred isolation from them.

  7. Loner Solidarity | Spectatrix said:

    […] undercut by the title given to the piece: “Loners, losers — and killers.” As I wrote a few years ago after the Virginia Tech murders, using the term “loner” as a key descriptor of the […]

  8. Loner Lore | Spectatrix said:

    […] I’ve written about in previous posts, I think the term “loner” is too often used to describe behavior that falls […]

  9. Scott Tucker said:

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