I’m a part-time loner.  I love spending time with my partner, my friends, my family.  But I overload on people easily.  I love my alone time.  I need it like I need food: often.

Last night my girlfriend’s parents threw a party to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.  (Forty years!)  Their house fulled with friends, spouses, aunts, uncles, a co-worker taking photographs, a surprise visit from a sibling, and just… people.  Plus an abundance of food, a fire in the fireplace, and jollity.  Her parents are lovely people, and so the friends and relatives that gravitate to them are likewise warm, intelligent, engaging people.

But there were so many of them.  Family friends I’d met but whose names, spouses, and professions I couldn’t keep straight.  An aunt and uncle I hadn’t met before.  Several people I’d heard of, and a few more I never even met.  It was completely overwhelming.

I’m kind of shy.  Not in the sense of being afraid of people; I’ve largely grown past that.  Not in the sense of disliking people, because many people have many good qualities. But I’m shy about starting conversations.  I worry that I don’t come up with interesting things to say, that my jokes will fall flat (my humor can be quirky), that I’ll look stupid, that I’ll flunk socializing. (Because let’s face it, my social life has not been the highlight of my time on this earth.)  I’m shy in the sense that I’m kind of awkward, well-meaning but not always smooth.  I ramble on too long or run out of things to say.  Plus, last night I burned my hand trying to revive the fire in the fireplace, and I was trying to ice it without looking like a schmoe.

I put on my game face and waded in, talking here and there, sipping wine and nibbling appetizers, acting like the poised young lady I’m supposed to be.

After an hour, I just wanted to sneak upstairs and hide.  I pictured myself sitting in the back room, joining the cat who was kept out of the way, where it was quiet, where I didn’t have to talk with anybody.

I remembered being a kid and doing just that at family gatherings.  On Rosh Hashanah or Thanksgiving or Passover, with my parents’ house full of grandparents and aunts and uncles and friends, in-between soup and gefilte fish, or between dinner and dessert, I’d slip upstairs, close the door to my room, and revel in the emptiness of the air around me.  Sometimes I’d read a chapter of a book, sometimes I’d just lie on my blue carpet.  I’d listen to the distant conversation and clatter of dishes downstairs.  It was so soothing to be alone.

And soon enough I’d feel better, and I’d want to ask someone or question or help out with the food, and I’d go back to the din and dive in again.

It’s not that I don’t like people. It’s just that they take so much energy. By the end of last night, I wanted to abjure the company of humans for days.  And honestly, I spent time with people today, and I’m fine. Let me recharge, like a run-down battery, and then throw me back in.  But please give me my regular dose of solitude, for it keeps me sane.

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