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The Beauties of Being a Social Recluse

The life of a social hermit is that of peace: fewer late nights, fewer falling outs, fewer pressures to show face at a dozen events a weekend. There is more money in the bank, more time to sleep, to find an interest or two, and to decompress. In short, the life of a recluse is an introvert’s dream. In the dark days incoming that are defined by cuffing season and days spent with an undesirable amount of family members, may I suggest the only true solution: hide.

Two months into the semester, I found myself in a state of deep paralysis: for the first time in recent memory I was left with an empty Saturday night ahead. Unaccompanied by social plans or imminent deadlines I looked around my bedroom in disappointment: on my bedside table lay a half-read book. To its left, a guitar which has accumulated an anaphylaxis-inducing level of dust and a stack of un-hung posters. In all respects my life was functional; no laundry piles on the floor, no empty mugs on the desk, I had remembered to buy groceries once a week and to pay my utilities. But in respect to my own sanity, well — at the very least I had not spent a moment without anything to do.

The hermit lifestyle can be expressed as a form of laziness: those who resist a night out for a night of nothingness in their room are seen as living ‘less’ than those who socialise. Such a statement assumes there is more to gain from speaking to others than there is having time to oneself, and that feeling busy is more productive than true boredom.

There is further the assumption that being a recluse is a symptom of modern technology — in reality, retreating from communities is far from new. Thoreau did not dedicate two years to solitude for it to be seen as a drawback to society’s new addiction to technology. Nor did Isaac Newton, quickly described by historians as a loner, or George Harrison of the Beatles (who spent more time gardening than appearing in public). Celebrities regularly take a step back from the public, just as often as others enter mental institutions and struggle to cope with the eyes of millions. There is no greater comparison than bumping into friends on the street and the dangerous gaze of paparazzi; sometimes, the only solution is to disappear.

But a well-trained recluse will know better than to step outside — there is far more comfort to one’s own home, where there is an immense level of control to surroundings. For many, their inner world is more interesting than any event which may happen on the streets. Mentally there is ample benefit to spending more time alone: it allows for the brain to rest, and to understand who you are in separation from anything you do or anyone you know. Spending all one’s time around others is a short road to social burnout, to adopting other’s opinions subconsciously, and to feeling short on time.

The phrase ‘burnout’ is tossed around in university on a daily basis in reference to coursework-related exhaustion, rather than the overstimulating nature of every other aspect of the early ‘20s lifestyle. In media, burnout is associated with overexerted tech employees, young creatives, and entrepreneurs. Rather than acknowledging the myriad of reasons someone might feel exhausted, it is attributed to 12-hour workdays and sleep deprivation. I’d suggest that without the added pressures of managing friendships, adjusting to adulthood, and extracurriculars, university is effortless. Hypothetically, removing these added factors from daily life would allow a surplus of time.

The Chinese born movement Tang Ping, or ‘lying flat’ is a contemporary social protest in rejection of overwork. Young workers describe the lifestyle as a contrast to societal pressure to overwork; participants would rather do the bare minimum their job demands and nothing more. In many countries this same idea is known as quiet quitting: prioritising psychological health over career goals. The same can be applied to social pressures: sometimes, there is far more benefit to a night of isolation than a night spent with others. And sometimes, saying no to opportunities will do far more for one’s wellbeing than a new experience. In this it is far more impressive to insist on a night — or seven — of the week spent doing absolutely nothing, than to give into the pressures of appearing busy.

Illustration: Sarah Knight

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