Who Do You Become When You’re Left Alone With Yourself?

I’ve been left alone with myself–like many others–for weeks now and I can’t say that I’ve encountered too many surprises in my moments of introspection. The following is probably too long for you people in a hurry, so the short version is that I’m getting more introverted the longer I stay isolated.

The Now

Forced away from public places, I take my walks alone on long stretches of empty suburban sidewalk. It’s not thrilling, but the activity has remained pretty much the same as when I walked around crowded theme parks: I let my mind wander as I walk. I’m not out there solving great problems or coming up with some genius creative idea or writing the Great American Novel. I just use the down time to get some exercise.

Being kept away from people has been slightly more challenging. Mind you, I live alone and spend much of my time that way. However, in the pre-pandemic world, I could always find somewhere to go and be among human faces. Sometimes, I’d even hang out with family or friends. Now, like many others, I’m restricted to screens and voices, and I have to say that they’re substandard substitutes. Group Zoom meetings make me crazy because it’s difficult to get a word in sometimes so I just shut up. There are days I’d appreciate just the opportunity to sit down at a bar and have a drink with a one-on-one friend. Hell, there are days I’d accept a handshake and a pat on the back, though I suppose we’re now so viralphobic that handshakes are doomed and pats on the back are violations of social distancing. Hugs? Close bodily contact? Get a grip.

Left to myself without social pressures, I’ve come into my own as a somewhat stuffy, quiet, pompous middle-aged male. I exchange a great deal of wit on Facebook and Twitter, but my personal tastes in culture tend toward the serious. Books? Science fiction or some form of nonfiction designed to improve my mind. Music? Movie soundtracks and classical with occasional doses of ’60s-’90s pop or classic rock. Not a lot of music one can dance to. TV selections? SF again, serious dramas, some Shakespeare, and documentaries. And I’m pretty okay with all this.

I manage to keep my home mostly orderly–maybe a bit less of late, given that I expect no visitors–but I stop short of actual chaos or filth under foot.

My wardrobe and grooming remain consistent. I get up, shower, shave, and get dressed every day. I am not a “no pants” person, nor am I prone to lie around in pajamas all day. I can’t think straight unless I get cleaned up. Mind you, my wardrobe remains bachelor-casual: Hawaiian shirts, shorts, and sneakers, with a baseball or outback hat thrown on top if I have to face other people to cover up the retreating hairline and bad Jean-Luc Picard haircut I gave myself last month.

The Future

What will “normal” look like in the future? For me, life won’t be normal again until I can go out in public without a frickin’ mask. I am not a fan, and I now wonder if my choice to acquire more fashionable/fun masks was a mistake. By keeping masks medical/functional, it’s a reminder that such things are temporary. When they become mass-produced accessories, they start to become permanent, and I don’t wan’t them to be permanent.

I want to travel again, though that’s probably a year off or more. I have no problem with going out–I visited Universal CityWalk a couple days after they opened–but the viralphobes around me will restrict my ability to relax and have fun. Be truthful: is anyone out there relaxed wearing one of those stupid things?

And before someone starts lecturing me about their fragile grandmother and the glories of maintaining public health and sacrificing personal convenience, YES, I KNOW: they’re medically necessary. YES, I’m wearing them in indoor/crowded places. NO, I don’t have to like it, nor do I. I’m waiting for one of the talking heads out there to give us an honest answer as to when we can shuck them and get back to normal. I’m not out there protesting. I’ve got a job, and I’ve no interest in joining an angry mob. But yes, I want things back to normal. I don’t want to live in a permanent state of medical watchfulness, and I don’t know too many who do. I want a vaccine out there so people lighten up. Honestly, some days I don’t know who makes me crazier: the scofflaws or the scolds.

I also don’t want to live in a permanently locked down economy where more and more people are unemployed every week. I’ll take a working economy first over a mask-free environment. You want people to wear a mask and stand two meters apart? Fine. Just get things moving again.

All this said, left to my own devices, I’m afraid of how I’ll behave once things ARE normal again. My social skills have always been a conscious activity for me, and I haven’t had a lot of practice lately. Will I start getting anxiety attacks from having to “perform” for people again? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll come out of all this no longer wearing on a publicly charming exterior (say, in a dating context) and just letting people see me in all my lazy, selfish, grouchy, libertarian bachelor glory. (Don’t say you weren’t warned.) I might decrease my chances of finding a partner–assuming I want one after all this–but I also might be more relaxed and at ease with myself without one, so there is that.

Wherever your personal journey takes you, I hope you realize that it is not a sin to be yourself. In fact, it’s the only thing you can be, pandemic or not, so you might as well enjoy it.

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