At the beginning of lockdown, I saw lots of memes on Twitter about introverts in lockdown. “When this is all over, continue to stay 6 feet away from me,” one joked. “I‘ve been preparing for this my whole life!” another quipped. At first, I laughed along with them, realizing I was exceptionally well-prepared for the social distancing requirements the pandemic had put in place. I had lived alone before, moved to a new city with no friends before, gone on an international trip by myself. I had a long list of things I enjoyed that could be done by myself, and an already fairly unpacked social calendar, which eased any potential disappointments due to canceled plans. This would be easy, I thought.
More than 70 days later, I can say that for this introvert, the pandemic is not my idea of paradise. Sure, I am not wallowing in despair. Yes, I’m able to cope. But what people might misunderstand about my particular brand of introversion is that I actually do like people. Introverts are not introverted because we dislike people, nor do we celebrate at every canceled plan. For me, meaningful plans—whether that’s a trip, a dinner, a family party—add deep and important value to my life, and I’ve found myself hugely disappointed to miss out on them. I learned this when I lived in Nashville, about 10 hours away from my family. Most days I was totally fine living far away, but on days when I knew my family was together, or doing something fun without me, I struggled with intense homesickness. I longed to sit with people who knew me, either in silence on the back porch or around the kitchen table while having the kind of conversation you can only have because of the firm foundation of a decades-long relationship.
I know extroverts, especially those that live alone, are struggling with a lack of in-person events. But I’d say don’t be so fast to count introverts out of that either. Zoom calls might be fun every once in a while, but too many start to make relationships feel like business interactions, or video conversations feel like interviews. There is nothing that can replace being in the same physical space as another person, seeing the same things, smelling the same smells, hearing the same hums and dings and whistles of the world around you. Introverts miss that, too. We miss meaningful conversations on a park bench, serendipitous chats at the grocery store, a long-awaited trip to visit an old college friend which will allow for in-depth conversations you just can’t have over the phone. We miss hugs when we haven’t seen someone for a while. We miss making a friend laugh and seeing food drop out of their mouth. We miss making fun of them for it.
Most people who have ever been in a long-distance relationship will tell you the same thing: they are hard. While there are positives about long-distance relationships—the overt task of learning to communicate well, the sweetness of a surprise, the joy of a reunion, etc.—they are also draining by their very nature. Now, in a pandemic, every relationship is a long-distance one. For an introvert, someone who already finds most social interaction to be a stretching thing, the online component can add even more strain to an already stretched circumstance.
I have felt this strange dichotomy of loving and hating to be alone when I was in Scotland. I enjoy traveling alone—setting the plan, moving at my own pace, having the freedom to change my mind. But during that trip, I also spent time visiting 3 friends. The moments I had with them turned out to be some of my favorites, not because I beheld the most beauty in them or did the coolest things with them, but because I got to experience Scotland with people who meant something to me which made everything have a new layer of meaning. I made such special memories by myself, ones that I will remember forever. But there’s a special kind of joy for even the introvert to call up a friend and say, “Remember when?” “Remember how?” “Remember?”
For now, I am doing fine. I am reading books and until I got injured, running and walking and exploring the streets of my town. Many days are lovely, but many days are lonely, too. But I truly look forward to the day when I can sit with friends again, go to church again, and yes, even have plans to say no to again. I look forward to having the choice to be alone or to pick up my keys and drive to see a pal. Maybe this whole pandemic is helping me see that while it can be good for me to be alone, there is a deep and beautiful and abiding joy in simply having the freedom to be together.