Just Because I’m Alone Doesn’t Mean I’m Lonely

After my first season coaching little league baseball, my wife insisted that I select an assistant coach “with people skills.” She wasn’t being ugly. In many ways, she was simply serving the role of dutiful spouse and trying to protect me from myself.

I won’t claim I was the greatest coach in the world, but I was very focused on the kids. Our goal every year was to win as many games as possible but more importantly, I wanted every kid to play baseball again the next year. One of my happiest seasons was a 2-14 train wreck of a team. My starting catcher that year broke his arm falling off a donkey. Another kid broke his hand when he shut his car door on it. The Bad News Bears had nothing on us.

But every kid on the team got better and they all played the next year. The theory was relatively simple: if the kids felt like they were getting better, even if they weren’t the star of the team, they would keep playing. Our practices were brutal and we went four days a week. Some kids played every inning and some kids only got the minimum. We played every game to win, but we practiced every day to improve. During the games, I played kids in positions where they would have the most success. Like so many other things, kids recognize that discipline breeds success. Hustle beats talent unless talent hustles I told them. Over and over.

And I had very little time for parents who wanted to ask questions. “Why,” one father asked, “is my son not catching? He really wants to catch.” Well, I told him, because he’s just not very good and our pitchers are throwing the ball right past him. “Why, one dad asked me after practice, was my son still running after everyone else was finished?” Because the baggy jeans he wore to practice made him slower, I told him. Next time get him dressed for practice not the club scene. “Do we really have to practice 4 days a week,” some parent grumbled. Only if you want your kid to get a hit this season. I did not, as they suggest in the little league manual, enlist a bunch of parents to help during practice.

You can see why my wife might encourage me to find someone with a little more tact, even though the next season parents wanted their kids on my team.

The truth is that I’m just not much for small talk. I don’t dislike people who are good at it. I’m even glad we have such people in the world. Extroverts serve their purpose. They keep the bar loud and the music playing.

But I’m not one of those guys. I wouldn’t claim to be an introvert either. I can be outgoing and friendly. Today, for instance, I sat around a table with 5 other people for 8 hours discussing faculty evaluations. I’ll spend another 4 hours tomorrow with the same people. They are nice, professional, and friendly. I don’t doubt that I could be friends with any of them. But when they all asked me at the end of the day if I wanted to meet up for dinner, I declined. Probably not all that politely at first. With my wife’s voice in the back of my head, I managed to cover what probably seemed rude at first by claiming some work commitments before I just came clean.

Eight hours being friendly is just too much for me, I told them. Going out to dinner would have been good for my career. I would have made contacts for the future and I might even lay the ground work for some future promotion. But it would ,have been work.

And I suspect I’m not the only one who feels that way. As I sat alone, happily I might add, at the restaurant tonight, I watched various people talking, yakking it up, and having a great time. There were people at the bar on the make, wedding rings slipped off fingers, hoping to avoid a lonely night. There were men and women working the crowd, hoping for a useful contact, a job, or an invitation to speak some place, anyplace really and there’s people like me sitting on the outside looking in. In many ways, the hotel bar is a microcosm of American culture.

The idea certainly isn’t new to me. Susan Cain, in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, reminds us that those quiet folks on the margins serve an important function in the working world. Most importantly, she reminds us that we trumpet and value the guy talking at the bar while ignoring those who would prefer to be home in their pajamas. We do this, she shows in her book, to our own disservice.

Working in groups and collaborating, she tells us, is overrated. Sometimes, it’s okay to let us sit in the corner quietly. We would prefer that to the social niceties that either bore us or scare us half to death.

And so tomorrow I will decline lunch, politely I hope, in favor of spending time by myself. If I’m lucky, no one will try to talk to me.

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

4 Responses to Just Because I’m Alone Doesn’t Mean I’m Lonely

  1. g says:

    Perhaps the people with which one is associating and the particular situation one is in, influences the degree of intro/extroversion.

  2. I think it’s a little easier for introverts to understand extroverts, than vice-versa.

  3. Some people don’t know the difference between solitude and loneliness. Is it conceited to state out loud that I love my own company? I have never been lonely. But for some irksome reason I am never alone.

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