Culture has a complex relation to loners. Often, culture has demonstrated this relationship in the depiction of vampires as a loner archetype. Vampires, in archaic culture, represent the loner outside the lines of the social norms, and therefore feared or distrusted. The legendary tradition supports the xenophobia against the lone outsider or loner. Think about it, vampires can’t hurt you unless you invite them in. This myth supported their fear, and gave people an excuse to leave loners as outcasts from society. On the other hand, contemporary depictions of the vampire reflect current views of loners. Their solidarity is construed as strength. Their lonesomeness is dignified.
Real life loners probably don’t feel the same glorification, though they may suffer the same alienation. Loners often feel unable to break these two equally fictitious treatments of them. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird demonstrates how an alienated loner broke the expectations of him. Boo Radley, is the feared and ostracized loner who comes to the aid of the two young protagonists. Other famous loners demonstrate the potential value of life spent alone. On the hand, fictional Travis Bickle from Martin Scorsese’s movie Taxi Driver embodies the pain and insanity that a loner accepts when they attempt to live outside of society. These two fictitious treatments offer accurate insights on loner’s experiences.
Famous loners also made their own mark on the world. Transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden that details the introspective reflection, depth of thought, and appreciation of nature that comes from being alone. Nikola Tesla’s solitary life shows one can make practical advances in the world, like revolutionary electronic technology while being a loner.
So, what is a loner exactly? The dictionary definition of a loner is “a person who is, or prefers to be alone, especially one who avoids the company of others.” You may be asking yourself, am I a loner? Do you enjoy being inside your head and focusing on your own ideas? Do social interaction drain your energy, and cause you stress, so much so that prefer to avoid them altogether? If so, you may consider yourself a loner.
Is it bad to be a loner?
As a loner, don’t think there is anything wrong with you. Celebrity actor and loner, Emma Watson explained how she used to feel that something was wrong with her because of her loner tendencies. She said appreciated the book, Quiet by Susan Cain because “it discusses how extroverts in our society are bigged up so much, and if you’re anything other than an extrovert you’re made to think there’s something wrong with you. That’s like the story of my life. Coming to realize that something about myself was very empowering, because I had felt like ‘Oh my god, there must be something wrong with me, because I don’t want to go out and do what all my friends want to do.’” Emma is not alone, and neither are you. As Jonathan Cheek, a psychologist at Wellesley College puts it, “Some people simply have a low need for affiliation.” Don’t hold yourself to a standard that doesn’t please you.
Being a loner can mean a range of experiences and personality traits. While some with the loner personality are happy to remain a reserved person with little personal interaction, other loners suffer from social anxiety and loneliness. The second type, often deemed “enforced loners” want to make friends and spend time with them, but find it hard because of their shyness. The “enforced loner” is caught in a difficult system of anxiety. They stress over not making friends. Then when they are in a social interaction they stress over their performance, often inhibiting their sociability, creating a perpetual cycle of social anxiety. Loners can also feel like they are going at it alone. They are much less likely to find support from friends in times of need.
However, lonerism doesn’t have to mean lonely isolation. Some loners are happy with their solitary pleasures. Loners are more likely to engage in creative, original, or meditative activities. In fact, a study done by psychologist Amanda Guyers at the Natural Institutes suggests that loners may experience more pleasure from personal endeavors because of a higher sensitivity to stimuli. Child subjects were separated into “outgoing” and “reserved” and then played a game in which they pressed a button to earn money. The “reserved” loners’ stratium region, which typically signifies rewards, lit up with two to three times more activity than the “outgoing subjects.” This sensitivity allows loners to spend plenty of time alone, with rewarding personal ideation.
Whereas this amount of stimuli is more intense in a pleasurable way for loner-types, certain social situations can overstimulate their brains. Their sensitivity is a disadvantage in these scenarios. More attuned to noticing the small details and having greater feelings about them, loners often tire quickly from social interactions. They place a lot of weight of every interaction. Writer Peter Cameron explains this feeling in his novel This Pain Will Be Useful to You: A Novel. He writes, “I felt this awful obligation to be charming or at least have something to say, and the pressure of having to be charming (or merely verbal) incapacitates me.”
There’s an upside to a loner’s sensitivity too. Their attention to detail allows them to be very perceptive and respond quickly to a friend’s distress. And thanks to their depth of feeling, they can show unusual empathy for a friend.
How to be a loner
You don’t have to wear black and stalk the dark shadows of your town to be a loner. Many loners have a passion like art, literature or anything that is conducive to creative and original thought. These practices offer an outlet for the rich, imaginative interiors many loners experience. Find something that pleases your sensitivity and lose yourself in it.
Once you’ve committed yourself to embodying the loner, you can cut out the friends in your life that only offer superficial levels of friendship. Don’t feel the need to be friends with everyone. Instead, remain loyal to a small group of friends. This way, you won’t waste your precious social energy on people who you don’t care about as much, and who don’t care about you as much. You’ll allot your energy to your most valuable friendships. This will satisfy your need for social interaction.
Even though the loner has friends to reach out to if you need or want to, he or she also takes time all alone to sit and appreciate nature, read a book in quiet, content solitude. The life of a loner is actually very vibrant when he or she goes off on personal adventures. The loner meaning of life is just as outward and pleasurable as any extrovert. Loners find unexpected pleasures that please their mind.
The lack of connections to the outside world is often seen as a disadvantage to extroverts. To loners, this is one of the major advantages. This is the freedom many loners enjoy. David Levithan expresses this freedom very eloquently. He writes, “I am a drifter, and as lonely as that can be, it is also remarkably freeing. I will never define myself in terms of anyone else. I will never feel the pressure of peers or the burden of parental expectation. I can view everyone as pieces of a whole, and focus on the whole, not the pieces. I have learned to observe, far better than most people observe. I am not blinded by the past or motivated by the future. I focus on the present because that is where I am destined to live.”
The loner, even when detached from others, is an important component of the society in his or her ability to observe life and appreciate it. Without the typical connections the others, loners can view life in a detached perspective without the typical biases most people live with.