Maarten Volders
Jul 20 · 2 min read

I’m walking down the river today, alone but not lonely.

I used to think there was something wrong with me. As a kid, I spent entire holidays covered in Lego bricks. Built imaginary castles. An indisputable allergy to youth movements. Avoided competitive team sports. I can hardly remember anyone else being in the room.

Don’t get me wrong. I was a happy kid.

Throughout my twenties, I followed societal norms. Doing all the things you’re supposed to do to be a normal, functional member of society. Going out with co-workers after work. Competitive sports with friends. Wicked bachelor parties. Boardgame weekends with family. Killing time with small talk.

Always engaged. Always on. Never alone.

Truth, social interaction wears me out.
Often, I wasn’t pleasant to be around.

I felt oddly lonely to never be alone.

As my twenties twilight, I discovered I was more affable and pleasant to be around whenever I carved out time for myself. Not as a way to make time for myself but rather to embrace my individualism, my personality.

Today, I spent most of my time by myself. I don’t know anyone who spends more time alone than me. I prefer not to socialize, opting instead for long baths, going to movies alone, hit the road with no destination in mind, avoid peak hours anywhere, obsessive reading, creative tinkering, and not a day goes by without deep reflection.

I’m not a scrooge. It’s the gatherings I dread. I can’t do large crowds with a lot of noise. It’s stressful to maintain positive interactions and introduce yourself 20 times. I really have to charge my social energy for that.

I notice the subtleties that other people miss. All kinds of emotional interactions and sensory cues. The little things that ramp up to a sort of overstimulation. It wears me out.

I’ve learned to enjoy the sound of silence. To sit quietly and hear what’s going on not just around me but inside myself.

Today, when I decide to immerse myself in social situations — be it dinner with friends, a client workshop, a networking event, a date, or hang out with my fellow hockey parents — I’m more pleasant to be around. Not only do I enjoy myself more, but everyone around me benefits too.

We all get the best version of me.

I’m able to burst into social situations with stored energy. Engage at a high level and employ active listening, humor, and intellectually stimulating conversation.

Growing older I learned to carve out time for myself.

But when that stored social energy is gone.
It’s time for me to leave, hide, and recoup.

— -

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