That’s Why I’m Better Off Alone
“They judge me before they even know me. That’s why I’m better off alone.” —Shrek
We’ve all been there. Some of us more than others. That space between confidence and intense insecurity. That momentary terror between small talk and silence or conversation. That look. The stare. The uncomfortable smile. The head nod. When someone makes eye contact with us but then they walk the other way. Or maybe you walk away from them because you don’t want to have to try to figure out what to say. It’s just easier to be alone.
I’ve been on both sides of that equation. When I was a kid, we moved a lot and I was constantly having to make new friends. You never know when you go into a new situation just who the players are and how you’re going to fit in. I was always the quiet, shy one who people thought was stuck up and aloof. So, I tended to be a target; first because I was the new kid and second because people misunderstood me everywhere we went. What they didn’t know is that I was filled with anxiety and I was doing everything I could to play the part, to mask my fear and push through. I wished that I could just be alone or blend in like a wallflower instead of standing out like a sore thumb because I was new.
The Spring before my sixth grade year, we visited the new school I was going to attend in the fall. I did my best to appear confident, to smile and show kindness to everyone I met. What I didn’t know is that in my attempt to look like a nice person, I was labeled by the other kids as a “stuck up snob.” Plans were put in place that day with the major players on the playground, that if I showed my face there in the fall, there would be hell to pay! Unbeknownst to me, over the summer, the battle plan was prepared in great detail and the attack was scheduled for 3:30pm on the first day of school near a huge oak tree just outside of the playground.
What happened on the first day of school, was nothing short of a miracle. Sonja and Tina, my new neighbors, who I had become great friends with over the summer, became my guardian angels. Without me knowing, they had laid down the law with the school hierarchy and told them that if anyone tried to touch me, they would have to go through them first. I walked home with Sonja and Tina that day in peace and tranquility. No one was lying in wait for me by the big oak tree. I mean, they might have been there but slinked away when they saw me with Sonja and Tina. But we went home together that day with no drama, no fights.
I didn’t find out till a year later about that “first day of school attack plan.” In an ironic twist of fate, I became great friends with the kingpin of the bully squad at that elementary school. She was the one who was actively planning my demise a year before and now she was one of my best friends. When she told me the whole crazy plan, I laughed with her about it because I know that they would have beat me to a pulp. I was not a fighter. I had no idea how to defend myself. So, they would have definitely gotten the best of me and they knew it. But Sonja and Tina apparently had more power on that playground than anyone else but they did it quietly…orchestrating things and people in the background for my protection. You see, they had taken the time to get to know me over the summer and learned that I wasn’t who the “gang” thought I was. They knew I didn’t deserve the beating that was being planned for me so they put a stop to it. Just the two of them. Unbelievable!
I tell that story to make a point. Our moms always told us that “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” I was definitely not the person those sixth graders thought I was when they saw me for the first time that spring. Sonja and Tina seemed harmless to me as I played with them over the summer. But little did I know the power they held on the playground at school. Thank you, Jesus!
But now as an adult, I still walk into situations in which either I am the one feeling the judgement or the one doing the judging. Of course, we are too civilized and mature now to consider meeting someone after work by the big oak tree to tell them what we think about them. But we still have our ways of hurting people either by our actions, our gossip or our inaction.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and wondering about myself. What do I silently communicate to others? What do my body language and facial expressions say to the people around me? How am I making someone feel when I acknowledge them and then walk away because I don’t know what to say?
I had dinner with a friend recently who was able to talk to literally everyone! He struck up a conversation with a military guy who was there eating dinner alone. He bought the guy dinner and thanked him for his service. But he didn’t stop there. He sat down and had a whole meaningful conversation with him. I sat back and marveled at that. I just don’t possess the ability to walk up to a stranger and make them feel seen, heard and appreciated. That is a skill that is absolutely remarkable to me. I long for that kind of ability to socially interact with anyone. But it’s a real struggle for me so it’s just easier to smile and walk away when I know in my heart I should have said something, extended a helping hand or an encouraging word.
Putting ourselves out there is hard. Because just like that little 11-year-old girl who did her best to look sweet and kind in a new school, there is always the risk of the people around us misinterpreting our actions and drawing their own conclusions without taking the time to get to know us. And that’s when Shrek’s words ring true. In my own social awkwardness in my 52 years of living on this planet, it often does feel better and easier to just be alone. It feels safe. It feels comfortable. It feels impenetrable by the judging eyes of the outside world. I can just walk around in my own personal bubble, protected from anything and everything. That’s perfectly fine with me.
But that’s the thing. Even though we create that alone-ness, we really aren’t alone. There are a million people out there who are struggling with their own issues and insecurities who find it so much easier to just be alone too. We are definitely not alone in our loneliness. There is an army of “loners” out there who really long for connection but just don’t know how to connect. Connections are hard, messy and so very risky. But they’re also beautiful, wonderful and necessary.
And here’s my challenge to you and to myself: let someone in. Make an effort. For those of us who are introverts, this is extra difficult. But it’s worth the fight within ourselves to do it. We don’t need a lot of friends, but we do need some who we know will fight for us, even if it’s silently in the background like my friends Sonja and Tina.
Call to action: Step outside of your comfort zone and befriend someone who you know doesn’t make friends easily. Find the quiet, shy person in the corner and introduce yourself. Befriend a mom or dad who is struggling. Invite someone out for coffee. Take a family a meal for no reason other than to bless them. And if you are the quiet, shy person in the corner, or the person hiding out at home because it's "safe," find a way to come out of the shadows and put yourself in a social situation. It’s going to be hard, but the risk just might be worth it in the end. Let’s just commit to give it a try. Just look at Donkey and Shrek! It worked for them. Haha.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.
For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.