Dear Dr. Andrea,
For months now, my co-workers and friends have been talking about how hard it has been to be stuck at home, how much they miss socializing and hanging out. I have read so many essays about how dreadful this all is and what a mental health toll it is taking and how unnatural it is. And then there is me. I actually don’t really miss anyone in particular. Occasional chitchat with my co-workers online is more than enough for me, and I don’t at all miss the loud bars that I occasionally went to with a circle of acquaintances. I am sort of relieved to be free of it. And if I am being real, I actually don’t feel like I need it. I am sort of over being with people. I have three pets (a dog and two cats) that make me content. I love being with them and I consider them my family. I find myself getting annoyed when friends suggest distanced ways to meet up or expect to hang out online. Maybe this pandemic has brought out my best self? Or my worst? I don’t know. I never thought of myself as being a hermit, but what if I don’t actually like people? That doesn’t seem like a good way to go through life. I’m 28 for what it’s worth.
—Second-guessing my comfort
I understand your concern, but let’s start by getting one thing straight: Just because you’re not excited to meet up in cumbersome, distanced ways with friends in 95 degree heat, or you’re not jumping at the chance for yet another glitchy, awkward, everyone-talking-at-once and then no-one-talking-at-all Zoom happy hour, doesn’t mean you dislike people. A lot of folks have been quite surprised at how little they want to make those particular things happen, in part because the unnatural restrictions of these pandemic-era events can be very uncomfortable. They differ immensely from the ways that people were able to socialize spontaneously and organically in the past.
And as for your past, you certainly are not alone in being more than happy to leave the loud bar scene behind, whether it’s a pandemic that caused the shift or not. There are plenty of people who are finding parts of shutdown life to agree with them more than they would have imagined: a quieter, less busy schedule; fewer pressures to show up at things; fewer expectations to be living large and being “impressive.” None of this is anything to be ashamed of, so let’s release you from the expectation that you’re absolutely supposed to be miserable right now: That’s an invalid judgment that can make you miserable in its own right.
That said, I know you have a more subtle worry here, and if I’m reading it right, it’s this: that you are growing to like pets more than you like people. Can I play devil’s advocate and ask what would be wrong with that?
It’s one thing if you hate people; that’s going to be a tough life. But might we view your connection with your pets not as a deficit in your connection with people, but rather something special and excellent in its own right? Maybe it says more about your ability to bond with animals than your inability to bond with humans.
I’d relax on the judgment of yourself for now. Maybe this period of time will help empower you to streamline your life and help you be truer to yourself. Or maybe in a few more months, you’ll be excited to get together in more authentic ways that are safe again. Or maybe you’ll realize that the co-worker chitchat and loose contact with a handful of others is just enough socializing for you, and you’ll embrace and appreciate that for what it is, rather than feeling like you “should” need more. Because if you don’t, there’s likely no reason you should. (And that’s coming from an extroverted friendship expert!)
Of course, if you find yourself feeling empty or unfulfilled, or the lack of contact with others puts you at a disadvantage in getting by with the daily tasks of life, then we can reexamine. But for now, let’s not create a problem where there is none. Especially when there are furry snuggles to be had.