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Dec 11, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

One of the greatest joys of living alone, for me, is to think of my great-great grandmothers (and further back than that) who were constantly surrounded by noise, and required by circumstance and custom and law to acquire a husband and raise large numbers of children. I'm single by choice; I live alone; I have a career; I have a lovely home. I am living a life they could only have dreamed about, and I am so, so grateful for it.

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<3 Cate — this is precisely the sort of story that was never, and is never, told in the data

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Dec 11, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

Exactly! But I'm quite sure my foremothers are somewhere going, she is well fed and drinks clean water as if it were small ale, walks in public and coveys herself in her own carriage, has people deliver food to her porch, and her trousers do not catch fire from open flames. What a life of luxury!

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Dec 11, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

Wow, thank you for this reframe, Cate! I'm single, live alone, and am in my late 30s. Even though I made this choice for myself, it's something I worry about a lot. I don't want kids, and even if I were in a committed relationship, I'm not sure I'd want to live in the same house. In fact, a couple I know that lives in houses next to one another is goals for me. Anyway, social narratives around being a single woman living alone suggest it's a scary and shameful state of affairs. Even though I don't feel that way, it gets me more often than I'd like. All that said, your comment reminds me of a letter from my great-grandmother to one her sisters that my aunt showed me years ago. In it, she describes how boring and limiting she finds life at home taking care of kids. You have me wondering what life she might have chosen for herself if marriage and motherhood hadn't been presented as the only sustainable option. Living alone, and choosing one's everyday life, has rarely been an option for women; I'm glad it's one I have experienced.

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Yes! It's so very, very new for this to be an option, and it challenges so much about the conventions of what we're all supposed to want (and more, to need) that it's disruptive for us to embrace it and value it. There is absolutely stigma about being single, especially from powerful, white, patriarchal interests, who are particularly oppressive about the choices that BIPOC women make with their lives and bodies - but the fact that those interests hate it only makes it sweeter.

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Having a partner who lives separately but nearby is a dream for me too! I also live a lovely solo life as a woman in her mid-30s. I love that I’m not alone in that vision of a life with someone. :)

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There’s a tumblr post floating around these days joking our dream is to live in a sitcom, where we all live in the same apartment complex, but have our own spaces. Sounds like a dream to me!

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Dec 11, 2022·edited Dec 13, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

I've lived in 4 cities and 7 years and I've learned there is a significant difference between being alone and being lonely.

https://thatguyfromtheinternet.substack.com/p/when-you-have-the-opposite-of-fomo

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Absolutely!

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I relate to much of this - the career, the home, living alone by choice, and the gratitude that comes with being able to make these choices. The thing that has started to trouble me in recent years is the fact that, as I get older and need more help, I will end up being a burden to my younger siblings. Last year there was a possibility of me needing surgery, and all I could think about was who will take care of my dog, and will I have to call an Uber to get to the hospital?

When I was younger, my single independent life felt precarious because of money; the rent is the rent regardless of the number of people and incomes. I’ve finally reached the point in my career when I have financial stability, but now the lifestyle still feels precarious because of uncertainty about how I’ll get the help I need when I need it.

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One of the worst parts of our currently extreme individualist culture is that everyone feels like a burden for needing basic support from their community, which is really just a part of being a community. I try to ask myself, would I feel burdened by making a loved one’s life easier? The answer is almost always no.

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Dec 11, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

On Friday night I ended up taking an ambulance to the hospital for a flare up of a new chronic condition (I'm home now and back to my baseline). I live in a house with 3 units and we have a group chat. Someone asked if we had info about the ambulance, and I replied that it was for me. Both households asked if they could do anything. Today I replied that I'm someone who is learning how to ask for help, while also being someone who loves to give help. I said that if they are similar, in that they would feel good about helping, rather than thinking of me as the annoying, burdensome neighbour, it would be very helpful if they could, on occasion, share leftovers. They both said they would be happy to and asked about food restrictions. This newsletter and community have really helped me change my outlook on community and burden for the better, so thank you to everyone. <3

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Dec 11, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

I'm an immigrant, so I don't have any family here. But I already count on my friends to be my kin, and me theirs. I agree with Bree below (or perhaps above after I hit post!) - there is give and take in every community, and I wouldn't consider it a burden to take care of others. I have to extend the same generosity of thought to myself, too.

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Hear! Hear! Time alone, and lots of it, is essential for me. I don't think I would enjoy a life of dawn-to-dusk social interaction. Honestly, I don't think I could function at all.

With 400-500 students per semester, my working hours are extremely social. That's a lot of (mostly) 1-way, compulsory relationships. Fortunately, the students are wonderful. So is the work. But it requires so much attention and care. I need time and space to recharge, reflect and pursue my own interests.

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I used to be an extremely social person, the one that got the group together. Then, I ran into reluctance. Some friends had kids. Some had limited free time, and wouldn’t commit to a date until closer in. Some would commit and then cancel at the last minute. For a while, I took it very personally: they didn’t just have a conflict, they were rejecting me! Then, I decided to flip my viewpoint. I would do things I really wanted to do. If I mentioned it and someone said they wanted to come, they were welcome, but I would go, regardless of whether I had a date.

I got used to doing things alone - movies, restaurants, concerts, book events - I’ve even bought season baseball tickets alone. Sometimes, when you do things alone, you actually meet other people who enjoy what you like to do. And you end up with company after all.

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Doing stuff alone is absolutely one of my favorite way of eventually (or even just technically!) doing things with others. I love this outlook, Micheline.

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I'm very introverted, but still relate to this so much. By doing more things alone I also learned that things in the category I call "together alone" are actually the perfect version of social for me. I struggle to connect with people at big social events like parties, but find myself easily chatting with total strangers when we are all doing something together alone - taking a knitting class, joining an archery club, going to see live music, attending a book event. When I think back on how I've made friends in recent years, nearly all can be traced back to a together alone activity of some sort.

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This is absolutely me. I also like going out to eat alone, often with a book. I like getting together with friends one on one or in small groups so we can really talk but large get-togethers are loud and overwhelming for me. I usually end up people-watching in a corner somewhere.

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That's so excellent! You get to cultivate your interests and even if you end up being at something on your own, it's still super enjoyable because you've chosen what you love, I totally get this. You brought back memories of how I've unknowingly made this my own approach in some cases, I remember in graduate school, seeing a poster for a student bus trip to NYC, and I asked a classmate if she'd like to join me. Following her enthusiastic yes, I signed up and paid for my ticket, only for her to decide closer to the day that she wasn't going to go on the daytrip, and I still went and had a blast exploring on my own, treating myself to a gorgeous lunch, immersing in museums, reading on the bus down, absolute bliss (though I remember she was weirdly chagrined that I was still going? like that totally didn't compute for her)

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Yes! I used to go to concerts alone all the time (going to fewer concerts these days bc Covid). The first couple of times I felt very...exposed? But not lonely. It's actually great.

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The first time I went to a concert alone (Lyle Lovett) I ended up feeling the most confident and alive I'd ever felt, it was just amazing.

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This was how I felt the first time I went to the movies by myself. It was so great.

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The first concert I ever attended alone was Paul Simon with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. I was in Atlanta on business, and the company put me up at the hotel next to the auditorium where the concert was taking place. I really, really wanted to go and I scrunched up my courage and bought a ticket. I figured I could leave if I felt unsafe. It was great!

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Going to concerts alone is great. If it's a general admission show, you can much more easily find a little spot close to the stage, and then sing and dance your heart out. You don't have to worry about others' preferences on location, when to leave, etc.

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P.S. I wrote about going to concerts alone for Medium’s Human Parts publication a few years ago. If you’ve never tried it, highly recommend: https://humanparts.medium.com/the-art-of-being-alone-in-a-crowd-on-purpose-a3aaeb33f90

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Dec 11, 2022·edited Dec 11, 2022

That sounds so perfect and smart. I tend to have some shame about being alone, and it comes from childhood (even though I was often alone and mostly unloved). I have struggled to separate those feelings out and deal with them, lest I impose them on my children, especially as teenagers. It's so fraught, and your story sounds so incredibly healthy. Thank you for sharing that. I aspire to it!

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I discovered my love of doing things alone after a few times when I had plans with friends who canceled at the last minute. I'd already planned it so just went anyways and it was wonderful, although a bit confusing the first few times because I couldn't believe how much fun I was having by myself!

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I love this. I've gotten so used to movies and events alone that I think it would be a waste to attend with someone. If I've got the opportunity to connect with someone, what a waste to spend it looking at a screen! I've also become pickier about how I choose to spend my time. If I want to go to the football game, I'm going!

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Dec 11, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

I’m a lifelong introvert, who has recently discovered I’m also autistic. I *thrive* on being alone, and always have. My mental health has improved significantly since COVID, and that’s all down to the space it gave me to be completely alone, with no pressure to say yes to invitations just because neurotypical society says I’m supposed to need and crave social interaction. I think projection by extroverts plays a large part in this narrative, and for myself, I’m rejecting it.

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Yes I agree with this! I am an introvert but I am not shy, I'm very outgoing, so I spent a looooong time thinking there was something wrong with me since I love alone time. As I've gotten older I've realized how much America's culture is shaped by extroverts and therefore prizes typical traits of extroverts. I have people in my life who I love and enjoy spending time with, but I am physically and mentally exhausted after time around a group, even if they are people I truly enjoy. 100% agree about projection by extroverts in this narrative!

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So true about how extroverted American society is. Perhaps that’s why I like living in Europe. Introversion isn’t as much of a social stigma over here. Although that is probably truer here in Switzerland than in Italy, for example.

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Neurodivergence is so often accounted for in these readings of the data

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ITA. I’m a lifelong introvert too and it’s always bothered me how we let extroverts set the narrative for how life is “supposed to be.” If my favorite way to spend a Friday night is reading a good book by a fire while petting my dog, that shouldn’t be seen as “wrong” just because an extroverted person would find that boring. We don’t all have to enjoy the same activities but let’s not yuck other people’s yums.

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Totally agree. This "storyline" reminds me of how I felt about my introvert self (i.e. I'm "doing it wrong") until I read Quiet by Susan Cain. Finally, I realized, actually, I'm okay just as I am! I'm doing nothing wrong; I'm being myself and THAT IS OKAY. I'm a huge introvert in a world that allows extroverts to write the rules and write the "how to's" and write the "right way to do things."

I reject all those things.

I read these studies about alone-time and articles about how this is horrible and how we "need" more time together, and I think they're missing something -- the demographic who wants to be alone more than previously "accepted" and who are enjoying their time by themselves. THOSE people are quietly doing what they always do -- quietly reading and doing their own thing and being A-OK.

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Excellent book!

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Yes! That book changed my life!

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I was totally thinking this. My household is all introverts (2 adults, one teen with inattentive ADHD who's easily overstimulated). I was thinking about the shift towards understanding and respecting introverts—a thing totally non-existent when I was a teen and feeling so much pressure to have social plans every weekend. When we introverts are finally in a situation where there's at least a marginal amount of understanding that we need to regroup, it's helpful.

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Here for this reply, Kathleen. <3

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Dec 11, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

Joining to introverts here to say I never, ever get enough time alone :)

But one of the unseen structures that forces alone-ness is our car-centric culture. The way most North American cities are built is around car dependence, and I don’t know that most people really see how that shapes our interactions and how we spend time. When people think about how teens are interacting with friends online instead of in person, how often is anyone looking at where they live? If they want to see friends, do they have to get a ride or borrow a car?

This matters! There’s a great group in Washington state that did a good survey around disability and public transportation. Upwards of 30% of people who are eligible to drive (as in, not children), can’t or don’t, either permanently or temporarily. I bet that’s pretty indicative across the board, and it doesn’t even take into account how car dependence changes choices for people who do drive.

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I feel like there's also a story to be written at some point about the decline of teen car culture (safety increases, mobility decreases) -- some of it has to do with safety, of course, but also intensive parenting norms, intensely-scheduled kids who don't have the time to learn to drive (which is wild, when I was 15 everyone's lives was oriented solely around when they could get into driver's ed) and fewer shitty cars available for teen drivers (again, I realize there are safety benefits to these shifts, but there are other health benefits that we don't account for). The only way I was able to spend so much time with friends as a teen was because we all had cars. Shitty cars, but cars.

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Another result of these intensive parenting norms has basically resulted in kids these days not being *allowed* to do pretty non-risky things independently without the cops being called on them and their parents. You can’t let your 7 year old read in the car while you run in to pick up dry cleaning or milk. You can’t leave your 10 year old at home by themselves to watch TV or do their homework while you run back to the rec center to pick up their younger sibling from gymnastics. You can’t let your 9 year old walk to the park two blocks away because they have to cross a street where cars don’t have a stop sign (a friend of mine got Child Protective Services called on her because she allowed her 9 year old to do that). You can’t even let your high schoolers babysit without parental supervision, demoting them to “mothers’ helpers” who might play with the kids in one room while the mom gets chores done; most babysitters these days need to be 18+ and “vetted” through a formal third party agency.

It’s a far cry from my childhood a generation ago, where most of my elementary school peers took the city bus home after school and let themselves in, fed themselves a snack, and played until their parents got home from work. From my taking the train independently with friends to the city in middle school, or babysitting kids age 6 months to 10 years when I was in high school, having taken the recommended CPR course in middle school. And yeah, with today’s intensely overscheduled kids, you have their siblings trapped in the car just waiting to go home but not able to run around or play, you have each kid in activities requiring multiple commitments per week, even just trying to find childcare between school and the time you can get home from work. Nobody has time for the casual, unforced socialization of prior generations. Nobody has time to maintain relationships, or to build them, even with their neighbors.

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Yep! I get pretty frustrated with the way intensive parenting is frequently discussed as parents helicoptering or pushing their kids when there isn't much else we're granted by culture at large. We are pressured to give all of this to our kids and to be present for all of it, and then expect them as teens to be just as ready for driving, college, living independently, jobs. They can't just wake up at 16 or 18 or 20 and suddenly be independent when society isn't supporting or normalizing independence in kids at earlier ages.

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Plus cars are so much bigger than they used to be and so many people are looking at their phones when driving that it's really risky to let younger kids navigate alone! If we want kids to learn independence, we also have to build a world where drivers have little chance of running into walkers due to inattention or aggression.

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Dec 12, 2022·edited Dec 12, 2022

In case it helps you sleep at night, my youngest (who is my most irrationally confident child, and a new driver) is at least right now extremely committed to never ever looking at her phone while driving. And she took the driver ed admonishment to "make your parents better" very much to heart, so she's on my husband all the time to cut that crap out.

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I am actually glad to hear that! I find my fellow mid-40s moms far worse at that than our kids. It's awful.

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Yes, there’s definitely a story to be written about this. A lot of my friends with older teens and even college-age kids say they aren’t learning to drive, mainly because their parents are willing to drive them everywhere.

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Geeze! I think my parents were more thrilled than I was about getting my drivers license because it meant they were free from schlepping me everywhere and I could start helping with schlepping my sister! Most answers to "can I go out tonight?" were "yes if you get a ride."

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I have an 18yo who doesn't drive. In part—COVID. He was too young for a permit in March 2020 and this just hasn't felt like a priority to him—in part because he just spends so much time at home. He's also starting college later, probably not for a few years, because covid just seemed to pause a lot of development and independence. This trend of driving later started long before this, but it's certainly also playing a part. Now that he's starting to actually attend events outside of us, we're talking more about public transit, lyft, and studying for his permit test, but he's just not that interested.

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My now 18-year-old son was too afraid to learn to drive when he was originally of-age. His 2 sisters, one slightly older, one slightly younger, both learned ASAP. It tracks with their personalities, though. Now he wants to learn (but is still afraid) since he's ashamed of not driving.

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Nicole, this absolutely applies to my brother, who didn't learn to drive until he was in his 30s. He didn't really need to since he lives in a walkable Chicago neighborhood, but when he got married to a woman who had a car, he decided to give it a try. (She was very supportive!) While his wife still takes the wheel most of the time, he is a relaxed and confident driver (we went on a 3 1/2 hour car trip together last year). I think the key is just to let him learn on his own timetable. There's absolutely nothing wrong, or even abnormal these days, about learning to drive later in life.

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Thank you for this, Sue! My son wants to live in a city, but he knows he might not. If he is ultimately relaxed and confident in driving (and in everything, of course), I will shed tears of joy. :)

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There is a weird irony that the mind seems more able to learn to drive a zooming killing machine when we don't have full understanding of how terrifying that is.

My 40 year old husband of 15 years does not and has never driven, and we live in an area where that is very inconvenient. He grew up with public transportation and his folks and relatively urban area. When we got married learning was a goal, it was a "need to do this before baby", etc etc. But actually, over the years I, my family, and his more understanding friends have all realized he just can't. He is way too freaked out to think straight. A friend let him behind the wheel when they were 16 and he crashed the car and that was the end of that. Is it a huge pain in the ass to have to drive to everyone's drs appointments or shopping trips or playgrounds? God, yes. Does he have some great buddies who will pick him up or drop him off for fun trips? thank goodness, yes. Does he have to walk a mile in 20 degree weather to watch England lose to France in the world cup at a drinking establishment? Yup. Would I be happy even if he magically managed to get a license and was driving himself and our child around places? Nope.

I hate to be the negative balance to Sue, but the possibility is there. If he really can't get over the stress of it, it happens. And we manage!

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That's an important perspective, Alisia. Thank you for sharing that. When I'm at my best as a parent, I approach each optional thing they do or don't do with that sort of equanimity: if it's important enough to you, you'll find a way (which may include asking for my help, or may not). If not, you won't.

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Please tell your son I have loads of friends (we’re in our 30s) who either got their license later in life or haven’t gotten one at all. Driving is a serious responsibility and no one should be forced to do it before they’re ready.

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My 16 year old son is also terrified of driving. In an uncommon moment of confidence and optimism last summer he asked to take drivers ed but actually getting behind the wheel sends him into full panic attack. The steering wheel is actually *gritty* after he drives - he stress-sweats all the minerals in his body out. I don't want him to drive in that mental state so not pushing it. He says "maybe in a year". (His older sister on the other hand is still grumpy that the universe "cheated" her out of one day of driving when a massive snowstorm closed the DMV on her 16th birthday.) I know he does want to get a job, though, and we unfortunately live in a stupid suburb neighborhood with no public transportation and no businesses within walking/biking access so he'll have to figure something out.

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Forgive my yelling, but IS IT A BOY THING? My son is so much more afraid of failure than both my daughters (even though one of my daughters fears it much more than the other), and is more naturally risk averse. But the things that don't frighten him (like taking tests, bless him), don't frighten him at all. The other things? Anticipatory flop sweat, just like what you described from your son. The gritty steering wheel is SO FAMILIAR. And oh, btw, years after his sisters, my son supposedly wants a job this summer, too, so we'll see... We also unfortunately live in a stupid suburb neighborhood, too, but I work from home and am self-employed, so I can always drive (a blessing and a curse, of course).

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I didn’t get a license until 17 when I needed one to relocate a family car across the country. My son just turned 15 but has zero interest in driving. I’m okay with it!

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I really think this is true, at least for vast numbers of communities across the U.S. I've seen a lot of kids delay getting a license even here in northwest Montana, whereas when I was 14 I couldn't get through driver's ed fast enough. I mean, I look back on my own teen driving and watch teens driving in my town, and am convinced that teens should never be allowed to drive. But that would require building a world not dependent on cars, so ...

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At the risk of seeming like I'm now stalking you in the comments of this post, Antonia, I have to reply here, too! If teens don't want to drive in NW Montana, it's the beginning of the end. Which might be a good thing? Because I agree. Teens driving is nearly unmitigated terror.

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Conversation isn't stalking, is it?!

I don't know how widespread it is. But we have zero public transportation, so their options are limited. But I would really like to see this lifestyle fade away!

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I live in the formerly rural now suburban-ish (more subdivisions, still lots of cows) town I grew up in, and beyond two basic bus routes that run (one for commuters to Seattle and one to a train station to Seattle), it's impossible for a carless kid to get around here without walking next to the highway for miles. We all got cars asap because our parents only had so much time to take us places (junior year, I had 6am dance practice five days a week, then after school I had work in the next town over and needed a ride to and from my three hour shift, so my parents would be picking me up at 7pm). Kids here still get cars pretty quickly, even though drivers ed taught by your grumpy algebra teacher is no longer an option. If you live eight miles from the high school and have practice before or after school and the PM activity bus doesn't get within three miles of your half-mile-long driveway (personal experience!), you need a car.

OTOH, my friends who grew up in Seattle are fluent in bus lines and didn't bother to get licenses until college, if at all, because they knew there'd be a bus coming and they'd be able to get within a half mile of their destination in a reasonable amount of time.

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It's amazing how much car dependence or good public transit can shape our lives. I live in my hometown, too, and it's far more walkable than it was when I was a teenager, but once my kids hit the limits of town there's nowhere their feet can go.

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LOL I know I'll have to unpack that comment of mine on my own time. :)

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It's an interesting juxtaposition to have more neighborhoods than ever built literally miles away from commercial and social spaces and also have more kids who are reluctant to start driving. Maybe we're on the cusp of a transit revolution?

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I really hope so but the resistance at state and federal levels to investing in transit is huge. One example -- highways are funded at 50%+ from the federal government, but public transportation projects are lucky to get 30%. There is a LOT that needs to shift.

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There really is, and I would LOVE to figure out effective ways to put the pressure on to make that shift. It would be good for people *and* the environment.

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There are a lot of organizations working on these things! America Walks is probably the biggest one, and I like it because they focus on chapter-level things, too --- getting stuff done in our local communities. And they did a huge push to get comments sent to the NHTSA when they were rewriting the highway and street code book. They got over 20,000 sent in! https://americawalks.org

And Rail~Volution does a lot on public transit around the country: https://railvolution.org/about/

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Oh, great! Thank you, I'll look into them!

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Yes, this! I lived pretty far from my friends throughout childhood (not many kids in my neighborhood, living in a more affordable area while going to private school in a less affordable area). Luckily, my parents were aware of this and were willing to drive me to do things and be social, but it took some effort and I often wondered what life would have been like if I'd had friends living down the street.

Public transportation also provides more casual being-around-people time, which I think does matter even if most of us aren't actively interacting with those people most of the time.

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Dec 11, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

Yes, those weak social ties are so important. Car culture robs us of them in so many ways.

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I spent the first 10 years of my life in a small town and could walk or bike to all my friends' houses and to school. Then we started moving around and always rented houses outside of town. No more friend time for the most part! My parents were not into driving us places, so I didn't really socialize much outside of school until I had my own driving license (which came with its own issues).

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Oof, that sounds like a tough change.

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You know, there were a lot of other tough factors in my life, I never really thought about that particular aspect! But maybe I should for a bit. It was definitely a huge change.

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That is so, so true, Antonia! I've lived in the suburbs for the past 19 years while raising children, and the car culture is one main reason why I can't wait to move back to a walking city. It's so isolating in so many ways, and frankly I find it incredibly depressing.

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I’m having the same experience, Nicole! I’ve always felt very alone in it. I can drive, but I absolutely hate it. I don’t see well enough to do it after dark because I have a vision condition, and I’m terrified of doing it in heavy snow...and I live in Canada. Everyone else in the neighbourhood zips around at all hours and in any weather. The only reason I haven’t moved is that my kiddos have lots of friends on our street and a good school around the corner that goes up to grade 8. They’re in grades 4 and 6 now, but I’m counting down the days til I can reasonably relocate :)

That all said, I love every second of alone time I get. I’m an introvert and a solo parent so most of that time is the school day, or the times when the kids get together with their friends in someone else’s house. Mine seems to be the default.

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I don't love driving at night, but then again I just don't like driving at all (except electric cars, oddly?), Rosalynn. That's wonderful that your neighborhood is working out well for your children for the moment. The suburbs are built for the worship of small children, so you should at least get that out of it!

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“…built for the worship of small children” ! I’ve never thought about the suburbs in this exact way, but I think it’s absolutely accurate. Houses in neighbourhoods like mine are always marketed as “great for families,” but really, it means “great for kids”. The parents are just exhausted by it. I am, anyway!

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100%. To the extent something that's touted is great for parents, it's usually a derivative benefit, that it's "good for kids," and the parents love their kids, so...

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Driving at night is the worst! I have an astigmatism which makes all the lights starry and everyone has those god awful super bright headlights. It’s just one of the many things I used to scoff about older people not doing but now I’ve joined them lol

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Yes to the driving at night! I mean no to the driving at night. Even as a teenager I had trouble with it and it's only gotten worse for me. I avoid it as much as I can!

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I haven't driven since I was 18 (I drove a lot for the 2 years before I moved across the country, though, and like it very much) because I stupidly let my license lapse when it ran out at 21 and then...you have to do All The Things to get a license again. Which here (Seattle) is a pain in the ass, because you can't even do the written tests in the city, you have to go way the hell out to the DMV in the 'burbs. So for 22 years I have been procrastinating it (not that I want to drive here, but it would be convenient for, say, taking a trip or something). However, at this point, I have realized that my proprioception is so permanently fucked due to my MS that it just wouldn't be safe, period. I get thrown off often when just walking if there are any other moving things near me. I can't imagine that being in a large moving vehicle with other large moving vehicles all going a LOT faster than walking would improve that situation.

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Oh man. Here in Ontario you have to do a series of three tests to get your license…and I haven’t parallel parked since I took the last one almost 20 years ago…if I had to start over I think I would just leave the keys to my beater of a car on the front seat and move to a big city lol.

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I imagine proprioception issues would make it really hard. I've had a particularly difficult time driving since having Covid -- interpreting what's going on around me and what I need to do just takes that much longer -- and have always had a hard time with spatial relations. Anything more than that ... I don't know if I could do it. We shouldn't have to depend on cars for anything ever is my view!

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I got my license in my early 20s, but I'm 61 now and I have barely done any driving since then, for a number of reasons, but the main one being I live in a big city/busy suburban setting where the traffic is nuts, and it terrifies me. I'm a very nervous driver. My husband is great about driving me anywhere I need or want to go, but it sucks to be dependent (and if something ever happens to him...??). I've thought about taking some refresher lessons to build my confidence, but it seems like there's always something that gets in the way...

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I know exactly what you mean. I had the same arrangement with my husband when he was still with us, just like my mom did (and still does) with my dad. Maybe it’s a more common situation than I think, but every two-parent family on my street seems to have two cars. Some with teenage kids have three. Which kinda makes me wonder, what percentage of “time alone” is spent driving? Maybe for some that’s actually an enjoyable form of solitude?

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I lived in an exurban area for 12 years, where my kids were born and were toddlers, and it was so isolating! I'm a pretty serious introvert but it was a lesson to me in how lonely parenting can be when isolation is imposed by infrastructure.

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This is why I love being in the middle of a big, walkable city but also in the middle of a community. I can get my fix of people and then go and hide at home if I want to. Plus, there are many opportunities for incidental meetings or activities that you do with strangers that come with city life, which feel less draining to me than having to have organised a social thing.

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This is so interesting. I said in my comment that I hope commute time doesn't count as alone time, but I mean that it definitely doesn't count as *relaxing* alone time for me. Yeah, I can talk or not talk as I choose, but I'm on edge, preparing for one thing or processing another, and trying to get where I'm going safely to boot.

But you're totally right., as are the other replies. We're in our little tin cans, with no body language or casual contact, and weak social ties are reduced to recognizing fellow commuters at 70 mph.

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As long as I’m not driving in bad weather, I don’t mind my daily commute alone. Lots of time for me to think about stuff in the way some thoughts and ideas only come to us when we’re doing things like showering or driving. And also lots of time for me to sing my lungs out workout worrying about bothering the neighbors.

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Commuting's an interesting edge space, isn't it? If I'm on public transportation, I enjoy it a lot more because I don't have to focus on driving. But I'm also one of those people who attracts talkers -- people who come up and start telling me stories no matter what I'm doing -- so it can make me tense. But I find driving for a commute far more exhausting.

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Yes! I spent so much more time with friends in university, when we were all on campus all the time, and could run into each other randomly or meet up at the same place regularly. After we graduated, we all moved to different places, but even for those of us who stayed in Toronto, transit and traffic is so bad that sometimes we have to factor in an hour of travel each way just to see each other. It really sucks.

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I honestly think one of the reasons college or university can feel so good to people is that it's a physically walkable space. On many campuses you rarely have to interact with car traffic, and it makes such a huge different in how we move around the world.

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I also live in the GTA. Yes, there's transit, but you're right, it takes forever to get anywhere, and if I'm in the west end or out in Mississauga or Oakville, and my friend is in the east end, or Whitby or Oshawa, it's not likely we're going to be able to meet up very often...!

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I came here with this thought in mind and I’m so glad to see others are aware of it, too! Most Americans’ built environment forms such strong barriers to getting around by any means other than a car - which basically chains parents to the expectation of being an everyday chauffeur a lot longer than in other countries where tweens and teens have infrastructure that permits safe independent movement, like sidewalks, bikeways, and reliable frequent transit. We’ve built our homes and community destinations and the paths between them in such sprawly, car-centric forms that in many neighborhoods, you can’t reasonably get there from here without being in a car, which means you need to be old enough for a license, skilled enough to get a license, and rich enough to have a motor vehicle at your disposal. And because of this, we’re denying our kids and teens any modicum of independence of movement. Compare to the Dutch model, where they have suburbs and rural areas and big cities, but they expect you to pretty universally be able to get yourself around by age 12 or so because you’ll need to bike yourself to their equivalent of junior high, as far as 15 km (nearly 10 miles!) if you’re really out in a rural area. But they provide safe separated infrastructure to do that; those same bikeways and pedestrian routes, each distinct from each other and from motor vehicle routes, allow families of all ages to teach their kids how to get around independently, much more safely and sustainably than depending on parents’ overflowing schedules permitting them to be driven somewhere. Even the Dutch king’s children do it daily!

(And I haven’t even mentioned how frequent reliable public transit is another key enabler of independent movement, not just for kids, but also for adults who cannot drive, the same way providing sidewalks and bikeways help adults of all ages and abilities to get around. We *know* that adults’ abilities to safely drive heavy motor vehicles declines as they age; I am absolutely dreading having this conversation with my parents in the coming years because they live somewhere they can’t walk anywhere, and transit to go the places they need to takes 4x as long as driving; on an average day my parents each drive 40-60 miles round trip in their own cars to go to work, run errands, do volunteer work, sometimes see friends on weekends. And they live in a major city!)

I don’t think the answer is propping up (teen) car culture, for the most part - Dutch teens can’t try to earn their car driving licenses until they’re 18, by which point the vast majority of them have six years of experience getting themselves around in other more sustainable and safe ways. And the “safety benefits” of the shift in car types available in the American market are *all* about the comfort and safety of the driver - since SUVs and light trucks began to dominate, pedestrian deaths have doubled. The NHTSA car safety ratings *ignore* the safety of people outside the vehicle, and how much pedestrian safety has plummeted because our vehicles keep getting bigger - yet another barrier to getting around safely and socializing with people outside your household if you’re not also encased in your own personal tank.

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(I wrote a book about walking a couple years ago, so have all of this stuff on my mind a lot! Including the NHTSA ratings AND their persistence in road and street standards that focus on traffic flow instead of safety and navigability for everyone, especially those not in a car.)

I find many people don't want to have the age conversation. Which is understandable because the U.S. so heavily leans into the whole idea that driving = freedom and independence. If we had comprehensive public transportation like so many European cities, it wouldn't be an issue. A person's life shouldn't be curtailed just because they can no longer see well enough or don't have the reaction time to drive safely anymore!

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As a fellow introvert, I think there's also something to consider that getting around mostly by bike means that I can stop and have 5-10 minute conversations with people that I know throughout my day. Not everyone needs to be an EXTREMELY CLOSE FRIEND that you have to plot and plan to spend time with. Those 5-10 casual interactions go a long way towards filling me up.

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I have to drive *everywhere* for safety reasons (ie I don't trust myself to get through car traffic undamaged) and every time I do I think about how much better it would be to be able to safely go the same places by walking or biking. The car is a lonely place.

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That is a home truth :/

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I find this in my life, too. Most of the weak social ties are easily maintained by the fact that I walk pretty much everywhere. It can get tiring, but maybe having intentional gatherings would be a lot more so.

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Living outside of a major city for the first time in my adult life, not knowing how to drive a car is a huge obstacle to spending time with people. The busses don't run frequently. There's no train from my place to where my brother lives on the weekends. Even when there is transit, usually someone has to pick me up at the station and drive me the rest of the way to wherever we're going. It's really frustrating!

I'm disabled but I think not having a driver's license is more disabling that my chronic illness.

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I just think it's really wrong that not having a license should be so limiting!

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This is interesting! Sometimes I decide whether or I will attend an event based on how far/long I have to drive to get there. Commuting is killer! I read once that one reason people love college is that everyone lives close to each other and life is walkable. Outside of certain urban areas and small towns this life is not often possible for people. When I make decisions about where to eat out, go to the doctor, drop off dry cleaning (much less go socialize), I base my decisions on whether I’ll have to drive or not and for how long. Even as a privileged car owner and driver I am affected by city planning that prioritizes cars.

I am an international teacher and have lived in housing where teachers were concentrated together and housing that was provided by the school but not close to colleagues. It’s definitely easier to socialize when you live closer to other people.

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This resonates with me a lot!

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I agree with you, per the usual, and (if I may veer off course), did you read that NYT piece on corner-hopping? I read it and thought of you.

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I did! Someone sent it to me. I've been following that case through Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. Such an interesting case study in what private property is and the rights it entails.

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This is a longer convo that probably isn't served by hijacking an AHP thread, but absolutely. I about died at the picture of the two private property signs (also isn't this exact situation was an easement is for???).

But to circle back to your actual comment on the subject matter, your words got me thinking about my own life as a teen. A car meant a lot more than transportation. It was escapism, it was freedom, it was 22 minutes driving into town and 22 minutes coming home from town that were my own. 44 minutes of listening to whatever burned CD I was into that I was hiding from my mom. I was a stereotype that had been written about ad nauseam by Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, and John Darnielle. I wonder what the modern equivalent is for our youngsters?

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Yes! No hijacking but yeah. It's a wild case. High Country News has had coverage of it I think.

I think that goes back to what some others have been saying, about the sheer lack of unstructured time for a lot of teens. It depends on a lot of factors, of course. My kids have a fair amount, but we live in a walkable town and they don't do any competitive sports. So my teen son has his air pods and phone and can wander around and hang out as he chooses, plus have a job downtown, no car. It's a very specific lifestyle, though!

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Excellent. Spending time with another person usually requires proximity, and that often means one, the other or both have to go somewhere. The move to the suburbs from the city made this worse. Increasing traffic has put a serious damper on spending time with friends. Add in the rising cost of housing which drives decision making towards affordability and location with respect to work as opposed to friends and family. We lived in the Boston area back in the 1980s and saw how the wretched traffic and various career, school and space tradeoffs made it harder and harder to meet up with friends.

I'll second modern parenting with respect to teenagers. Children used to have a lot more freedom. Childhood was noted for its blocks of unscheduled time and freedom to explore the niches and crannies of the world. At least it used to be. I've met too many children who have never engaged in unstructured play which is kind of scary.

When theorizing, it is too easy to ignore the basic mechanics.

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Just a general reminder as I read through these comments for subscribers: the Navigating Friendships and Community-Building threads in the Discord are really wonderful for, uh, navigating some of these more challenging elements of seeking out time *not* alone. (There's also a great thread for people who live alone, too, to talk about the joys and the challenges). If you're a paid sub and haven't yet joined the Discord, just email me (annehelenpetersen at gmail) and we'll get you set up!

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Dec 11, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

Wow, I’m surprised at the number of people commenting so far who love being alone.

My husband and I are alone more than we would like.

We have a 3 year old. We just bought a house, moving into a new neighborhood of our town. We both work full time, me with an additional evening job. We are both introverts.

That said, I would kill for more company. I am alone bc between working, parenting, and household management, there is very little time left over to engineer a social life.

I also feel like all my friends with kids are equally busy and any request to hang out is an imposition. We have very infrequent play dates or visits with adult friends. I don’t know what the hell everyone else is doing, but they’re certainly not reaching out to us to arrange events.

Covid has compounded that. At any given moment, someone we know is getting over a sickness, developing symptoms, or being extra careful in preparation for a grandparent visit.

Extreme busyness also means that there’s no spontaneous hanging out. I can’t just text someone to just hang out that weekend. We need to plan weeks in advance and that just feels like too big a burden. Ugh.

To sum up , making and keeping friends is more mental work on top of all of the mental work I am juggling, and I just can’t manage it. The same thing applies to hanging out with my husband: we hardly have any quality time together because that would mean more planning and execution.

I would love for someone to reach out to me and make hanging out happen.

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I think your situation is a *huge* cause for the number of people spending far less time with people outside of their household — everyone is too busy, too over-scheduled, working too much, too tired, to plan (or they plan and flake). When there's no give in the system, there's no possibility for spontaneity or even weekly commitments. The conversation here and the conversation around calendars and planner culture a few weeks ago are not, truly, that different. And just to add some comfort here: I know that you are very, very much not alone in feeling this way; I think it's true of most of the adults with children I know (and also the adults without children trying to make plans with those adults with children).

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The people with children making the socializing so much harder is absolutely so key. If it's any consolation to Miruna, now that my children are mostly grown, I've gotten back in touch with an old friend whose children are still in the thick of it and have just offered to blend into her life with her children, and it's been working so far. So she invites me to her child's basketball game, and I show up! It's a balm to my sometimes lonely soul. :)

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A friend text me one hour before her 6th grade's son game on Friday night, and I went! I also know it gave my husband 1 hour of alone time which he needs more than me. But it felt like a win just that I could walk to the game and had margin to just show up!

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Dec 11, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

I feel this 100%! I have a 2.5 year old, moved to a new house with my husband last year, and we both work - I run a business, which has an extra layer of stress involved. I'm a huge introvert, and enjoy quality time alone, but don't get any of that. But I do feel alone all the time - something about being home alone with a 2 year old is both lonely and imposing at the same time.

I'd love to have more time with friends and family, but it doesn't happen for a variety of reasons. I also feel like I'm "imposing" on friends to get them to commit to spending time together, but also almost always get cancelled because of constant illness with a toddler in daycare.

I have no family that lives nearby (closest is an hour away), so family visits don't happen casually. I think so many people are living isolated nuclear family lives, living further and further away from the rest of our family. That contributes a lot to our isolation - not only do we see family infrequently, but we also don't have easy access to childcare for time with friends or date nights. Finding reliable childcare adds an extra barrier to quality time with people.

I think in times past, there was more laid-back, casual time with friends, that you didn't have to plan so carefully. I would love to have a friend I could call up to run errands with, or to pop over for a bite of lunch with no frills attached. But that's not the default social interaction. Every social interaction feels like it needs to be important, or big, to warrant the effort to plan, coordinate, and execute.

I also feel that no one reaches out to spend time together or organize social events. I feel resentful of that, sometimes. I'm the one with a small child, a business, a house that needs fixing up, with barely any time to spare. Why do I also have to be the one to reach out and plan social events with friends? I feel like if/when I don't reach out, nothing happens. But I do want more time with others in my life. The easiest thing would be to not reach out, but if everyone feels that way, no one does.

Sorry for rambling, there's a lot more I could say on the matter, but not in any organized way. I spend a lot of time thinking about this contradiction in my life, and am still sorting it out. Thanks for opening this conversation - it's clearly something that warrants more discussion!

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My therapist and I have talked about how valuable it is to have some regularly-scheduled thing where you see other people you like, both for the social value of the thing itself and the ease of making future plans. Much easier to agree on a potluck in someone's backyard when you're at Tuesday night trivia or Wednesday afternoon tennis than when you have to have a million texts or phone calls.

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I agree with your feeling about creating plans in advance. It's so weird these days that very few people are available at a day's or hours' notice. It seems like people plan their weekends MONTHS in advance. Something else that seems like it's stopped is "visiting." When I was a child, my mom's best friend was our neighbor. Our neighbor would just walk over a couple of times a week (or vice versa) and they'd hang out for 20-30 mins with no prior agreement to do so. It seems like everyone is so afraid to infringe on people's time these days that now "visiting" feels like a foreign concept.

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I feel super strongly about this. Since most of us aren't lucky enough to live on a magical block or in a building with easy flow of chill, informal visitors and hangouts, we end up having to spend a ton of time planning our social engagements, which then become more high-pressure and involve more time, more money, more outfits, which is all fine until you realize it's not actually sustainable to rely on these types of plans for the nourishment of community and friends that many of us need easy, regular access to. It's just too much administrative burden to yield enough doses of community. My friends and I are trying to create informal weekly drop-in things where we sit together and work on annoying life admin together, then have a dinner of random leftovers, like zero pressure, come whenever, leave whenever, bring that onion you have to eat today and someone will make it into something.

(I'm an extrovert who also loves my own company but I need to co-regulate, as daily as possible, with other humans. My friendships are decades-long, deep, joyful, and essential to my survival and thriving.)

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Love this and it makes SO much sense. In some ways I think we haven't progressed as far as we think we have when it comes to terms of engagement with friends. We (myself included) can expect an interaction to have to be perfect in order to be worth having when that's not realistic. I'm sure there are plenty of dinner parties or coffee meetings or shared dinners that are complete flops and that's OK

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Either flops, or just "I'm in sweats dealing with health insurance claim BS on my laptop. Come over and get your own shitty tasks done next to me and then we'll eat beans from a can and drink a beer." My dream!

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This also reminds me of "errand friends" - the people you can text to say "hey, I'm going to Costco, wanna come?" and spend time grocery shopping together or whatever.

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I love the idea of weekly co-admin time! I really could have used this and eventually found online community, but having a space to bond with neighbors over paying the bills and scheduling the appointments and whatever would have been nice.

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Just here to plus one and say I totally feel you and am in the same boat. I’m also introverted and am not looking for boatloads of friends but would kill for a mom friend down the street who can get together last minute for a glass of wine after bedtime once a week. (I used to have this, moved, and miss it every day / am sad how hard it is to reconstruct.)

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Not a subscriber and have never commented, but just wanted to say thank you for posting this! I also have a three year old and relate to so much of what you wrote. Someone putting into words what I've been feeling makes me feel less alone!

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"I don’t know what the hell everyone else is doing, but they’re certainly not reaching out to us to arrange events." resonates SO MUCH.

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This really resonates with me. My child is a freshman in college now, and as much as I'm adjusting to a semi-"empty nest," I'm also becoming aware of how much time has passed since I had opportunities to work on relationships outside of my family, and feeling some grief around that. Parenting doesn't have to be all-consuming, but in recent decades it has been for a web of interconnected reasons -- the most apparent reasons for me were living in a car-dependent area, being expected to supervise my child in ways and at times that earlier generations of mothers were not expected to, and not having social spaces outside of the home to casually hang out. I did organize with other moms with shared interests over the years and developed a little group that would meet monthly and occasionally at other times. But sometimes I think back to the parade of people that came and went in my grandparents' house -- neighbors, friends, and family were in and out several times a week, usually with a quick phone call ahead but sometimes unannounced; a weekly regular game of cards (bridge? euchre?) at the game tables in the basement brought a few other couples; my uncle and cousins in to shoot pool; my widowed aunt asking my grandfather to fix a lamp or clock for her. Even the spontaneous things were regular enough that they were not -- or were minimally -- disruptive. They were just part of the rhythm of the place. We didn't develop a social rhythm while we raised our daughter. The people I know who seem to have come closest to that have done so as part of their church communities.

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Miruna, I feel this so hard. I have the same age kid and am experiencing a lot of what you list. I've always been the initiator in many of my friendships (including pre-kid) and it feels terrible that now that I'm too busy or exhausted to initiate a lot of the time, those friendships have just melted away. Really struggling with how to move forward other than cheerful texts with low-pressure asks (a walk, a cup of tea, etc.), which are often as not met with silence or flakiness.

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Interesting! At times I feel obligated to hang out with other people and sort of resent having to leave my cozy home. Then again, I am an extreme introvert with two young kids.

I think lately we’ve hit a good balance of hanging out with other people and being at home. I feel like I get enough adult conversation at work, but I usually eat lunch with colleagues.

I do wish I had more time for conversation with my husband. This is usually relegated to late at night after the kids are in bed. We are trying to incorporate regular babysitting (once a month) so we can have low-stakes adult time alone, and I feel lucky to be able to do so. It is still a hassle, but the more we do it the less daunting of a task it seems.

I think the key is to keep things low-key. For awhile my husband and I kept talking about having someone over for dinner, then she came over to pick up a slow cooker and ended up having takeout pizza with us for dinner. We were unconsciously making it into a big production when it was actually easy. I say invite people over even if your house is messy or it’s short notice. Most likely the worst that can happen is people will say no.

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Dec 11, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

I can’t really speak all that much to the wider adult experience (I’m a student rn, and our experiences tend to be significantly different from that of adults who have graduated), but I can speak to my experiences as a kid/teen (which I was fairly recently) and to my experiences as a student. I think people often complain about kids staying inside on their phones all the time not meeting with friends, but don’t really understand the reasons why (which are out of their control). I think parents are a lot more protective these days and are much less willing to allow their kids out on their own or to meet with friends on their own. When my mum was a kid in the seventies, she started walking to school without parents at the age of 6 (granted with her older sister, but she was only nine). Many people would consider that neglectful if it happened today. She was concomitantly ofc given a lot more freedom to meet up with her friends. But not only did she have more freedom, but so did her friends. I had relatively high amounts of freedom when I was a kid to meet up with friends, but my friends didn’t and so I couldn’t really meet up with v easily. Not only this, but parents also schedule their kids’ days alot more so even if they’ve got the freedom, they don’t have the time. So I think that explains (possibly more so) why we’re seeing higher rates of time spent alone amongst kids and teens. But I think this has more long term implications, which may be why we’re seeing more of this aswell amongst young adults. Because if you didn’t learn very well how to meet up with people when you were a kid, then you may find it harder to meet up with people when you’re an adult, and so I expect this may be why the young adults of today may be meeting up less with people than when my mum’s generation were young adults.

As a student, I can also talk more about my experiences here. Since I’ve come to uni, I acc meet up with people alot more than I ever used to as a kid (and I expect more than I will when I’ve graduated and gotten a job and settled down etc.) and so I think this can be a useful comparison - what is it about being a student that makes it easier to meet up with people than it is for older adults? Part of it I think is geography: most of my friends at uni live like 5-10 minutes away from me, and so it’s much easier to just meet up on a whim and play cards or something. This is often not the case for older adults who, particularly today with continued suburbanisation and higher levels of geographical mobility (as per the economy) are much more likely to live apart from eachother. The other is time and responsibilities. There are plenty of responsibilities that many older adults have that I don’t: jobs, for some kids, elderly parents etc. these obvs take up a lot of time, which I don’t have to deal with today as a student. And once again, critically, I think we’ve got to recognise the compounding effects of these shifts, for even if you as, say, a 30 year old acc have a decent amount of time, your friends might not, making it harder to meet up with friends.

Also of note is the decline of third places (stuff like religious institutions, or clubs or societies, or for kids youth clubs etc.) which facilitate socialising. This I expect is partly because of the decrease of people’s ability to use them (along with other wider shifts like secularisation), which means they have shrunk, which ironically makes it harder for people to then use them.

One other thing to note is demographic shifts which I think may have an impact. We do have an ageing population, and older people, because of physical difficulties (or the physical difficulties of their friends), as well as due to windowing, and their children having moved out (who often now have less time) are more likely to spend more of their time alone. So if more adults are older, then more adults will be spending more of their time alone in general

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You're on to A LOT here, Matt — thank you for this perspective, truly

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Your discussion of kids today v other generations is one I’ve had a lot lately. I’m a Gen Xer with a 6 year old and I see so many differences in the structure of life, activities, freedom of young people of prior generations v now. If I let my kid play without supervision in our urban neighborhood (as I did as a kid), people would be reporting me. My teenage nieces and nephews have so many activities and so many academic pressures that they are less likely to just hang out with friends. For many kids it’s virtual connection or no connection with their peers.

As for school v work life - in school you are much more likely to. E surrounded by people of similar ages and interests so making connections is easier. In the work world you often find yourself spending your days with people whom you have a lot less in common with. A few generations ago people were more likely to live in communities with their families and long term friends. As people move more and they have fewer significant local relationships. Since the pandemic, with more people working from home, the ability to make social connections has decreased further.

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You’re absolutely right about having people in common more. I hadn’t thought of that, but it’s totally true. I couldn’t relate to my neighbours at all back home, but I relate a lot more with my flatmates, and even more so with my course mates and people I’m in societies with.

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What doesn’t show up is the difference between alone and lonely. Being around people frequently doesn’t tell you anything about the quality of those connections. Relationships with children, colleagues, acquaintances can only get you so far.

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Dec 11, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

I've heard a lot of people in our circle mention that Covid also allowed for some distinctions to be made about the people we chose to hang out with. There was a calculus examining how our approaches to Covid aligned (which often bled into political alignment) adjusted by a desire to continue hanging out. Groups shrunk. WFH meant that the face-to-face interactions and the muscle of small-talk changed significantly. Our groups shrunk even more.

As an introvert there's a ton of upside. It's easy to be alone - but I think I need a little friction in my life. Growth has always been preceded by a bit of discomfort in my life. I worry that I've given myself over to algorithms that program my music, movies and media and staying in that comfort zone can calcify the person I've become and make me less likely to be actively engaged with my larger community. I worry I'm throwing up fences and getting too comfortable being alone and becoming that fist shaking old man outraged by anything that doesn't align with my carefully curated day-to-day.

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I think the first act in the conversation is very much "there's nothing wrong with being alone, lots of people love being alone" and then the second is "what is gained by sometimes doing things that you don't love"?? Community is never just always doing the things that feel 100% great; sometimes, as you said, you need some friction. (Not antagonistic friction, per se, but things that aren't immediately comfortable)

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I find this second act to be very much the case in my life, and also I have a (biological? emotional? what do we call this?) NEED to be solitary (and, often, silent) for most of a given unit of time, in order to be able to approach those community frictions that do, indeed, precipitate both personal and communal growth. So I'm interested in our third-act side-plot about how those non-opposites interact. Especially in light of what other folks have brought up about overscheduling burnout, transportation, protective parenting, etc.

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Dec 11, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

this is something that I feel like I'm still figuring out from the lockdown phases of the pandemic, which is that our household was able to cope with those restrictions with resilience and happiness, findings lots of joy and happiness in our lovely routine together, and yet for those friends or family who were agitated by the isolation, there is still this vibe that we couldn't POSSIBLY have been content, and there must be something wrong, or like we have to fake some sort of "I knooooow, it's awwwwwful, we're losing it in isolation" to commiserate, when hey... we're positive people

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Ye! Or, beyond being positive/optimistic, just that it’s so nice to be given official “permission” to spend all your time with your favorite people and not be forced to make tedious small talk with coworkers, acquaintances, or strangers. For example, is anyone thrilled that the holiday company party is back? Does anyone really have “fun” at these things? I hate being forced to socialize with coworkers - if we wanted to hang out outside of work we would - and I loved it when we were off the hook for that kind of thing.

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Dec 11, 2022·edited Dec 11, 2022

So much this, Linda. These are not parties. These are mandatory work hours where your co-workers overindulge in alcohol and make fools of themselves. I still remember the young woman in our admin office who got drunk, had a physical fight with her boyfriend which required security to intervene, and the uncomfortable return to the office. She quit right after the holidays.

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Absolutely agreeing with this as I navigate the final week of the semester full of staff/student parties. Last year I had to spend Christmas alone because of COVID exposure from a superspreader party I did not even attend. (I had a lengthy convo with an attendee a few days later.) I generally like being alone, but I want to spend my precious little free time with the people I love, not my co-workers.

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Does being with your children count has being alone? I’d argue that for a lot of people it sometimes feels even more lonely when you’re caring for your young kids, alone.

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According to the American Time Use Survey: very much not. You can parse the data according to time spend with other *outside of one's household* — and that paints a different story, too.

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Dec 11, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

Yes, I have this question! Since March 2020 I have been with my child nearly 24/7. I feel both that I am never, ever alone (the constant stimulus and inputs drive this introvert mad); but also that I am very, very alone so much of the time.

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Underlining that alone is not the same as lonely, and with people is also not the same as NOT lonely.

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This! I would call most of my time at home alone time, even though my seven year old is often around. For example, sometimes I’ll ask her a question, and she just ignores me. I’m talking into the void.

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Dec 11, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

When my children were young, I felt so alone so often. I think it was mostly feeling disconnected from the larger world that made me feel alone? Even though I always worked, I mostly worked from home during their young childhoods. I'm still parsing through it, but I really really feel what you're saying.

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Aww I’ve been where you are now (we had 3 kids in 4 years because we are crazy, lol). I remember that after a day of being more or less alone with them, I would feel so “touched out” and on edge by early evening that it would give me this itchy feeling, like I wanted to jump out of my skin. I know it doesn’t feel likely now but I promise you, it gets soooo much better. I haven’t felt that itchy feeling in a long time. In fact, it’s the opposite now in that it’s usually me who is trying to start conversations with them and looking for activities that we can do together, lol. Luckily, they still want to. The great thing about kids is that they generally turn into people whose company you truly enjoy because you were the one who raised them. Spending time with my kids now is the next best thing to being alone because I feel utterly comfortable and at home with them.

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Dec 11, 2022·edited Dec 11, 2022

I came here to ask the same question. With three kids, I rarely get alone time and I crave it. I like to blame being an only child and a latchkey kid who spent a lot of time alone in childhood, but I do find alone time necessary for my mental health. That said, I do also enjoy being around people and I am often the one who gets our friends together. This has gotten harder and people seem “busier” than ever.

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Mom of three kids who works full time and volunteers, has friend time etc. But sometime I just like to be in my house by myself! It's a luxury.

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My husband works from home and doesn't understand why sometimes I just want to be alone in my house. I work outside of the home in a public-facing job and interact with people and consider others' needs all day long. I want to just be in the silence or listen to music that annoys the rest of my family or watch something nobody else wants to watch. "But I'm in my office, I leave you alone!" but you don't, dear heart. You debrief each meeting to me, you work out your interoffice issues to me, you ask me what I'm doing. I used to ask for a hotel room for the weekend thinking it might be what I needed to feel better, but what I need is to be alone in my house.

I was thinking about it and the longest I've gone without being spoken to (outside of sleep) in the past year is maybe 90-120 minutes, and that's in the car on my commute.

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I slept in a hotel three separate times last year, and it was ALSO good. I am not great at rest at home, so the hotel gave me more permission for that!

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I feel this and agree. I feel like in these conversations there can be a vibe of “why isn’t it enough for you to be happy with your family?” Or “how can you say you’re lonely when you have kids and a spouse?” I love my kids and spouse, and I think I love and appreciate my time with them even more when I can get some time on my own with friends, too. It’s hard to admit because my life would be much easier if I could feel 100% fulfilled in my relationships by only spending time with my immediate nuclear family, but, the older I get the more I realize that simply is not the case, for me. And I don’t think that is anything to be ashamed of.

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I feel this as well. Parenting can be an isolating. It feels like you’re never alone and the kids won’t stop bugging you when you just need a moment alone. But then they’re gone for school and I want them back!

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Setting aside time spent with those in my household, I am almost always alone. I choose to remain alone in order to protect myself from COVID-19 as much as possible. I do not trust other people to keep me or themselves safe, although that's not entirely the fault of individuals; our government and media obfuscate a lot of danger in order to keep the economy running at pre-pandemic norms. I think that conversations about the decline of time spent with others highly privilege in-person and synchronous interaction over virtual and/or asynchronous interaction, which I think points to the able-ism that permeates our society plus the prevalence of very conservative/uninventive notions about which relationships, which interactions, count as authentic and valuable. Over the past few years, I realize that I sometimes feel more connected to people online who I haven't seen in-person for years or never at all, and conversely I realized that I tolerated a lot of toxicity from people I used to see only in-person.

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Yes, me too! And nobody is talking about it because the pandemic is “over” to the tune of 300-400 deaths/day, thousands more hospitalizations, and a 20%(ish) chance of long Covid. If you are or live with or are close to immunocompromised/vulnerable individuals then you are simply screwed. My mother is a dialysis patient. She cannot go back to 2019 and resume gatherings, indoor dining, and a mask-free existence. If I do not visit her, she will have no other social interactions, so I need to take the same precautions to keep her protected. SMH at people who don’t seem to understand that.

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Yeah, it's very wild that so many people in power choose to ignore the disability, death, and misery inflicted by their abdication of duty. Also, wild that so many folks choose to go along with it. I am sorry to hear about the situation with your mother. I hope you both can continue to stay safe as she gets the care that she needs. If you're looking for additional online communities of like-minded folks, you might want to check out the following:

Jessica Wildfire's Substack, aka OK Doomer: https://jessicawildfire.substack.com/

The Death Panel Podcast's Discord Server: https://discord.gg/P6pchrCK

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I feel this so much. I just got over having Covid for the first time and I probably got it from a Thanksgiving gathering with family I never talk to outside of such "required" social events. I would have much rather been with friends who are still taking Covid seriously or chatting with online friends I've never actually met in-person. I work from home so I am physically alone most days while my husband is at work, but I never feel truly alone because I'm often texting friends throughout the day too. If anything, I'd say I need to spend more time completely alone, without any digital distractions.

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I'm sorry to hear about your experience. I hope your recovery goes well and you continue to feel well. I can definitely relate to wanting some time completely alone, without any digital distractions. If you are in search of additional online communities, here are a few that I think might interest you.

The Body Politic COVID-19 Support Group: https://www.wearebodypolitic.com/covid-19

Jessica Wildfire's Substack, aka OK Doomer: https://jessicawildfire.substack.com/

The Death Panel Podcast's Discord Server: https://discord.gg/P6pchrCK

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My husband & I are pretty covid-cautious, much more so than most people we know, and so far (knocking wood!), we remain covid-free. We don't mask when we're at his brother's house, but we do mask out in public, and for the most part, we've stayed pretty close to home. Every time we've lowered our guard recently -- e.g., we went to a family party with 40-50 other people last month (our first big social gathering in 3 years), and had lunch in a restaurant last week with a few people for the first time since March 2020 -- someone else who has been present subsequently came down with covid within a week later. So far, we seem to have dodged that bullet, but it's highly unnerving...

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Yes! I am MUCH more alone now, but not precisely by choice. We had gorgeous community before March 2020: drop-in friends, scrappy hospitality, potlucks, all of it. We moved in August 2020, and I became immunosuppressed last year. So few of our friends are taking the pandemic seriously now, even though it is still a serious ongoing reality. And it’s hard to establish NEW community when we’re all so over-busy working and parenting, PLUS living with the fatigue of chronic illness, PLUS needing to ask people to live more careful lives in general in order to hang out in a robust way. Like, if folks would wear masks in crowded public indoor settings where social stakes are fairly low (stores, etc.), and if schools and workplaces were really investing in air purification and empowering sick people to stay home, robust small-scale community—shared life and visiting and all of it—would be more accessible for immunocompromised folks. This has to be a piece of the conversation, I think. Our aloneness is exacerbated by a toxic ableism/individualism/cruel optimism instead of truthfulness about risks and realities.

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Dec 11, 2022Liked by Anne Helen Petersen

I straight up think it’s a matter of poverty and burnout. In other words, I Blame Late -Stage Capitalism.

Adults are working multiple jobs, or working ridiculous hours, or commuting for a big chunk of the day, or any combination of those. We simply haven’t the energy or means to also have a thriving social or creative life. I had the great fortune of working with lovely people, and having close ties with neighbours in a pop-in community. When my household moved from our close-knit downtown big city home to our medium city home in 2021, I realized how much I’d been socially dependent on my environment. I’d had that densely populated, interdependent community, without having to build it independently of work and home.

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I’m so glad you said this. It’s very easy to tell people to go see their families for Thanksgiving, but you can’t ignore the fact that many people can’t travel home for the holidays because the capitalist wheel keeps spinning and they have to go to work.

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So many thoughts come to mind. First, I'm just slightly more introverted than extroverted, meaning that I need time alone just slightly more than I need time with people. When I spend too much time alone, my depression increases. When I'm encountering new social situations, I feel more anxious, which is a catch 22 because the only way to make new friends is to encounter that initial anxiety. For the last decade, I've generally wanted to have more friends and feel more connected, while also struggling to know what to do about that.

Then, a few years ago, I left my (liberal) church. I grew up in church and church controlled how I organized my free time and my social life. As an adult, I sought out church independently, looking especially for community and connection. In the last church I was part of, I was very active - I volunteered and led youth groups and knew the leadership - and still felt like almost no one there truly knew me. That broke my heart, and felt confusing because I had put myself out there. But once I left, I was forced to figure out that community piece without church. (I know I'm not alone in this, but I think it may speak to a larger pattern of people leaving institutions and then not being sure how to build community without that infrastructure.)

The leaving was very hard, and very good. And my therapist helped a lot. As covid restrictions were easing, she encouraged me to make the communities that I wanted to be part of happen. To invite people over, to be the first to initiate. I had friends through work, and book club, and I realized that I was good at bringing people together. I also joined a local roller derby team, and was shocked at quickly and authentically friendships formed when we were all sweating together for the same purpose. Quite frankly, it was what I had always hoped church would be - actually inclusive and authentic.

But then, my husband and I moved from Indiana, where I had worked hard to build all these connections, to Massachusetts. We have family here, and the move makes sense for a whole lot of reasons. But I knew that losing the communities I had worked so hard to build would be the biggest loss for me about this move. So now, I'm starting over again (in terms of local friendships). And it's hard and lonely. I know from past experience that putting myself out there is the only way I'll find those connections again, but it takes a lot of vulnerability and courage and energy to do that. It can be hard to find that energy when I'm busy trying to get settled in a new job / new house etc. I don't have a nice bowtie of an energy here, because this is just where I am right now. Thanks for the prompt, AHP.

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Diana, I feel you on so many levels. Cheering you on as you figure out what community looks like in your new home! Thanks for comment, I’m going to be chewing on this for a while.

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Thanks so much for sharing this! I'm glad something resonated. 💙

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Your first paragraph is me to a T.

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Welcome to Massachusetts, Diana!

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I hope this addition to the conversation will be useful and not annoying. I’m in a very happy marriage, so that of course keeps me from being alone, but I also actively seek out people to interact with. I play a daily Quordle game with 3 friends (we chat about it constantly via message), I go out for walks or a beer with a kaleidoscope of friends at least once a week, I regularly correspond with friends in writing (one form or another), and I have adult children who I see on average once every two weeks. What weaves it all together is my desire for interaction--I share articles, ideas, solicit interaction, etc. I ask! (And get asked too, I swear--I’m not that weird guy.) My loner wife thinks I’m nuts sometimes, but I just really love the interaction. I wouldn’t know how to frame that into “advice” for anyone else, so I’ll put it out there like that.

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I’m extroverted with an introvert partner. I can come back from the airport with the life story of a stranger and I love it!

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Side note to this: I'm really fascinated lately by the introvert/extrovert model.

I assume that I'm a massive introvert (if you asked me to describe myself, I'd say the words silence and solitude within literally seconds, and I do indeed happily spend a great deal of traveling, walking, and being-home time alone), but I definitely, DEFINITELY, get a lot of energy from interacting with other folks. (Life story of an interesting stranger at an airport? I'm here for it.) And that latter is at least one definition of extroverted.

So now I'm curious what we all mean when we say introvert or extrovert, and I wonder if this is another dimension to the aloneness question...

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I'm the introvert with an extrovert partner! Yesterday I sent him to a friend's to play board games all afternoon while I baked and half-watched a National Geographic documentary (Welcome to Earth, highly recommend it). He has a weekly online game night, a bi-weekly online D&D night, virtual happy hours with coworkers, and makes time every morning to take our youngest to the bus stop and have a chat with the neighbor dads while drinking coffee.

While I'm introverted, it's not that I don't like people, it's that I get easily peopled out, and I work in a public-facing job (librarian) which gets a LOT of talking and life stories from people. I love to make time to hang out with friends, but like, when we canceled our Saturday night plans to go to his company party to instead get pierogi and watch Andor, I was so happy to not have to Be! On! As! A! Manager's! Wife!

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Curious if your wife is different (more introverted maybe?) and how that all functions with your marriage? Do you do most of those things above on your own and your wife has her own things (which might be more alone-focused)? I always love to see/hear how other marriages function with an extrovert/introvert dynamic. Thanks!

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She's much more introverted (she jokes that she's one step from being a hermit)! It tooks us a while, but we learned to give me my space for interaction and to respect her introversion. What helps us is that we love who we are together, and we can see that each of us is different with others--and we're okay with that ... now. It took a lot of work. I do most of the friend stuff on my own, but we also share a few friends that we do things with together. Just not bloody much! How about you? How do you do it?

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As an introvert, my favorite thing is to be “alone together” with my family, lol. In the winter, we inevitably gather around the fireplace after dinner. My daughter and I are reading our books, my husband is doing a little work on his laptop or playing games on his phone, my high school son is studying, my middle school son is doing homework. The dog is stretched out in front of the fireplace luxuriating in the heat. Someone takes a break to pet him. Occasionally we’re chatting and laughing but there are periods of concentration and quiet too. It’s just the best. It feels like utter bliss to me. It’s so comfortable and relaxing. We’re together but still doing our own thing.

Aside from this, my next favorite thing is playing board games together, preferably Scrabble or some version of Trivial Pursuit. The kids prefer noisy games like Exploding Kittens or Cards Against Humanity (the kid friendly version. Those games are fun but often give me a headache or leave me feeling depleted.

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My mom has commented on how much she enjoys being alone together. My dad and brother both have a difficult time being in the same room as her and not having a conversation of some sort. When my mom and I are together (I live in a different country so see her once or twice a year), we do the alone together thing all the time. It’s great. I love it.

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