Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Making of a Recluse

Uh, oh. It’s happened. I’m a recluse. A hermit. I’m no good around people.

It’s always been brewing. You can’t be a writer and a distance runner and not be comfortable with solitude. And if your other pursuits are reading and art and lap swimming, you’re not quite a party animal.

So when Covid-19 and self-isolation first hit, it was almost business as usual. I remained absorbed in my projects, my reading, my quiet contemplation. My well-developed art of doing nothing. My mother used to say I needed five hours of alone time a day in order to be good around people. Even though Covid-19 gave me lots of Tim Time, we’ve learned to be alone in our house: I go downstairs; he stays upstairs. And Tim’s not a chatty guy.

Withdrawal crept up on me gradually. Most of my human interactions involved doing things with other people. I’m good at finding things to do, and other people make it more enjoyable. Want to see the quilt show with me? Want to go to the movies? Want to come over for dinner?

When things-to-do shut down, things quieted. Then there was Zoom.

Lovely Thursday and Friday morning gatherings became Zoom gatherings, as did book club. For a while, that was a New Thing and it worked. We could stay in touch. But after a while, the faces in the gallery became facsimiles of people, mug shots. Staring at mine was disconcerting at best, excruciating at worst. I took to turning off video. That helped, but it’s still video conferencing – for meetings! – not relaxed human conversation and play. (Except my weekly sibling Zoom call: siblings can still tease, play, and goof on Zoom. It’s innate.)

Staring at a screen is now torture. I’ve gone way past Zoom fatigue; I’m in Zoom abhorrence.

Fortunately, there are now social distancing meetups. My art group was my first, and it was glorious. We sat in a very wide circle on the unoccupied university lawn and heard real human voices with real human bodies. Then my book club did it, too. Hooray!
We have visited with friends sitting six feet apart outside. I have walked and biked with friends six feet apart. So why am I now a recluse? Why now do I feel socially awkward, like a misfit who would do socially inappropriate things in public?

I often do socially inappropriate things in public. (Ask my daughter.) It’s a battle I’m constantly fighting because there have always been rules my mouth and I just don’t get. Until I get home and review all the mistakes I’m sure I’ve made.

Now, some people might say, “Oh, Barbara, recluse isn’t you! You’re such an extrovert.” Actually, introverts are mistaken for extroverts because we overcompensate when in public – we can be ebullient in public! – even socially inappropriate – but then we have to recover in private.
The thing is, if we don’t have a “public” for months on end, we forget whatever social skills we might have had. Or we become convinced we’ve forgotten. It’s not exactly fear, more like reluctance or resistance. Or fear. It’s not the fear of catching the virus; I protect myself enough for that.

It’s simply the fact that I’m out of practice with being around people. For communicating. It even makes writing difficult – even this blog – because I’ve become so well-separated from communication. And it actually started with texting-instead-of-phoning; we’ve all been on elaborate back-and-forth texts that could have been resolved with one phone call … but the phone call doesn’t happen. Now Covid-19 has introduced even newer walls in our lives, but they don’t get dispelled with conversations, time together, empathic listening. Like I’m a bumper car banging around – bumping, not touching.
Lately, I’ve seen articles on “How to be Alone,” advising people how to use Covid-19 time as an “opportunity not to escape solitude but to lean into it.” But nothing about the people who’ve leaned in so far they’ve tipped over.

I think I’ve tipped over. Sometimes I actually hide. Tell me, am I the only one this is happening to? Hello? Helllllooooo???


  1. Hallo. So you think you're the only one, huh? I recently told Gene I won't even try to get another job as I don't 'do people very well'.

    Lots of us; I'd say most of we humans aren't that good at being humans -- or we just can't help thinking we're bad at it.

    But enough of me. Be well.

    1. Somehow, while I might think other people suffer my same difficulties, I always think mine reach the point of pathological. But I do look forward to your "first in the time zones" comments!

  2. Dale just informed me that Rotary has now opened up membership to wives and asked if I might be interested. My days of interacting with people and volunteering are best left for the younger members. It's time for them to step up. I'm enjoying my reclusiveness. I too have to force myself to interact with people.

    1. Wow, Liana, I wouldn't have thought that with you. Are we on the road to becoming curmudgeons??


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