I Want to Be Alone, Not Lonely

There was a time when I could outlast every guest at a party. And though I gave up the bar scene decades ago, for the longest time you could still think of me as Pepper “Last Call” Evans. As I get older, however, I get my fill earlier and earlier. It’s not the hour of the day that does me in, but I get “people-full.” I’m spent. It takes more energy to make the small talk and chit chat that I relished in younger days. At the weekend-long family reunion, my need for conversation can now be met in an afternoon. The very thought of having company—or being company—for an extended period holds absolutely no appeal. Am I becoming a late-blooming introvert?

A quick Google search, asking if it’s common to become more introverted as we age, shows that I’m not alone in my introverted inclinations. Like me, others commented on feeling less inclined to go out or even gab on the phone, as they did when younger. Could it be that the sense of who we are is more developed, and we no longer need the quantity of interactions, but are satisfied with more quality interactions?

Even though I crave company less, I have no fear of becoming a hermit or one of the many, isolated older adults dying of loneliness. Many older people living alone have felt the absence of connections, especially in the pandemic. No one wants to feel neglected or forgotten.

Studies show loneliness and social isolation can accelerate dementia and cause mental health issues like depression, anxiety, even suicide. My primary care provider always asks if I remain social, and I do. I’m an elected official in my town and serve on the boards of a couple of nonprofits, plus my work has me in the company of others and my adult children are close. I am not concerned that my social pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, I’ve simply begun to appreciate solitude over conversation as I age.

I have a long day ahead tomorrow—my regular workday plus a doctor’s appointment and a board meeting. I’ll be on the go from 8 am to 9 pm. I need to mentally prepare for a few conversations so I can make them more efficient, and I know at day’s end, I won’t join colleagues after the meeting, nor will I make phone calls when I get home. I’ll need to just curl up with a book or watch some mindless television. Like Greta Garbo, I’ll want to be alone.