The Lowdown on Loneliness

2:11 PM

Last semester I was lonely. This prompted a sociological inquiry into how my personality deals with loneliness. The results:

I think I spent too much energy focusing on introvert/extrovert dynamics. Why? They're not big controlling factors in how I interact with the world. Sometimes I get energy from people, and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I long for a huge party, and sometimes the very thought makes me crawl behind a closed door and read for hours. When I worked all day Friday (yes, that's how I spend my free time -- working), I'd interact with people all day: "Hi, how can I help you? The hand soap's over here." Even though I worked a service job, I felt incredibly, incredibly lonely all day. I came home to an empty room burnt out with people and aching for my people all at the same time.

When I'm at school, I experience loneliness in ways I do not at home. I'm functionally introverted at home. I spend Sunday afternoons Googling theology, work breaks reading books, and hours writing alone in my bedroom. (With the door open.) I can go for weeks merely texting friends and ignoring coffee date invitations and feel 100% satisfied as far as people go. At school, if I go an hour without seeing a friend, I get antsy. Really antsy. Make that hour into an afternoon and my productivity vanishes. Make that afternoon into an evening ending in going to bed in an empty room, and mark my words, the tears will start coming. It's scientifically proven.

I don't share a room when I'm at home. I never cried over the fact that nobody shares my room while I'm at home.

This obviously isn't an introversion/extroversion problem. I'm more extroverted than most of my friends at school, and all of them spend more time with friends and random social interactions than I do. Plus, that dynamic doesn't solve the conundrum of contented academic nerd who resides alone in her home bedroom and the academic-shunning extrovert who cries herself to insomnia if she hasn't got in an hour-long chat with her best schoolfriends.

If we're going to use a personality spectrum to solve these emotional issues, than I think the Perceiving/Judging dynamic in my E/INFJ personality does the trick. I'm split 50/50 on introvert and extrovert. I'm almost 100% a J -- which means I like order, control, and no spontaneity. It means I get panic attacks if someone shows up late to a dinner date. It means I throw a tantrum if my boyfriend cancels a chat in order to finish up physics homework. It means that I go over plans a million times...just for fun. I love planning things. I don't always like doing them, because doing them requires spontaneous energy and changes in plans. I just like nice, packed schedules and to-do lists. I like looking at them.

I grew up at home. I grew up with the home order...sleeping in until whenever, switching up the order of English, science, and math, interspersing schoolwork with blog posts, studying whatever I liked. I knew whom I would encounter every single day: the ten members of my family. I was familiar with their personalities and how we interacted. I determined what I did every day. I was loved, home was familiar, it was what I was used to.

At school, I have lots of external order and little control. Zero control. I don't know who I'm going to run into. I don't know if my plans are going to get disrupted because someone stopped me in the hallway or Professor B assigned a paper the weekend of the dance or homework took longer than I expected and now I'm going to bed at 1 AM instead of 11 PM. I have no family. I have no home. I come back to an empty dorm room, not an adorable five-year-old who whispers "I love you" every five minutes. It takes a couple minutes to find a spot at lunch, instead of sliding into my predetermined seat at the dinner table. And there's order, of course -- a class schedule for a whole week, times I'm always trying to make, slave to my phone's clock. It's just not my order. And it disrupts my plans.

This uncertainty of social situation and everyday moments makes me a mess.

How does this translate into loneliness? Because, hello, I'm surrounded by people 24/7. There is no privacy at all at school. None. Except maybe at noon on a weekday when everyone's at lunch. But even then, it's still a risk to belt Disney songs.

It's actually because of all the people that I feel lonely. I feel lonely because I'm sitting with people who have no emotional attachment to me, nor I to them. I feel lonely because I continue to sit with them and still no emotional attachments form. I feel lonely because I feel like I should be able to form emotional attachments to at least a good chunk of the 1400 people who attend my college. I feel lonely because I can't be myself in front of everybody. I feel lonely because somewhere, somehow, there's always someone around who will misinterpret me for something awful. I feel lonely because even though I have friends, I have no family. I feel lonely because there's hardly ever a place on campus where guys and girls can be together studying and hanging out for as long as we like without worrying that random people will burst in on our shenanigans. I feel lonely because the walls of my dorm room are thin and my poor hallmates can hear every personal thing I'm saying...yet they still don't know who I am.

I think if I could be alone on campus more, I wouldn't feel as lonely. If I could go home to my family every afternoon, I'd feel happy. If I had a place and a time and a tribe of Bergmanns of my own, life might make more sense. It might be a little less lonely.

My J aggravates this. It hates spontaneity, so if I settle down into some semblance of a routine, I don't want to go do something that shatters my sense of control...even if my E will be ecstatic with the people interaction. It hates change, so when I finally find best friends, I don't want to open my heart up to the scary unknown of learning to get along with someone else's soul. My J is nostalgic, not intrepid: it wants my old home life, where I was secure, known, loved, and in control. It's not suited for the independence, tumult, and crazy adventures of a college girl.

Fortunately, all my best friends at school are radical P's -- spontaneous with a capital S. I say fortunately because maybe (crossing fingers) they'll rub off on me and I'll hit a magical balance of spontaneity and order. For now, I'll just have to plan out my spontaneity...and try to be a little less lonely in the process.

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3 impressions

  1. As an INFP/J, I definitely related to the things you said in this post. A friend of mine shared a link on Facebook yesterday about extroverted introverts, and I thought you might enjoy it.

  2. A thought:

    A well written story about being lonely and unproductive without crowds of people in college.

  3. this is so me. i'm living with a whole bunch of people in el salvador and this post describes the struggle to a T


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