Loners get a bad rap. They are smeared as criminals, crazy people, haters, and people no one would ever want to befriend. All that is wrong.
If you want to understand why, there is no better source than the book by Anneli Rufus, Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto. Loners, Rufus explains, are people who prefer to be alone. Not all the time, but a lot of the time. The preference for being alone is what distinguishes true loners from pseudo-loners, those people who may look like loners but really aren’t.
There are lots of reasons why people might spend a lot of time alone even though they don’t want to. Maybe they are outcasts, who would love to be included but have instead been rejected. Maybe they have serious problems. Maybe they have something to hide. Those people are not true loners.
Party of One is a brilliant exploration of loners in relation to popular culture, advertising, technology, art, literature, religion, community, friendship, love, sex, and eccentricity. It is about the places loners love to go and to live. It is about their clothes, their childhoods, and their sanity.
It is not a new book, but it is a book I keep coming back to. Here I want to share with you some quotes from Anneli Rufus on key themes.
The true meaning of ‘loner’
A loner is “someone who prefers to be alone.”
With a nod to Twelfth Night, Rufus notes that loners “are at our best when least in company.”
“We do not require company. The opposite: in varying degrees, it bores us, drains us, makes our eyes glaze over.”
“We need our space.”
“Loner” is not a synonym for ‘misanthrope.” Nor is it one for ‘hermit,’ ‘celibate,’ or ‘outcast.’ It is just that we are very selective. Verrry selective.”
The special strengths of loners
“We are the ones who know how to entertain ourselves. How to learn without taking a class. How to contemplate and how to create.”
Loners “have an innate advantage when it comes to being brave [and] when faced with the unknown. An advantage when it comes to being mindful…Innate advantages when it comes to imagination, concentration, inner discipline…A talent for seldom being bored.”
What ‘alone’ means to a loner
“The word alone should not, for us, ring cold and hollow, but hot. Pulsing with potentiality. Alone as in distinct. Alone as in, Alone in his field. As in, Stand alone. As in, like it or not, Leave me alone.”
“…for loners, the idea of solitude is not some stark departure from our normal state. We do not need writers to tell us how lovely apartness is, how sacred it was to the sages, what it did for Thoreau, that we must demand it.”
Loners and their friends
“Of course loners have friends. Fewer than most nonloners have, maybe. But loners, with our extra capacity for concentration, focus, our fewer distractions, make excellent friends.”
“For some loners, a paucity of friends is a matter of time. There is simply too much to do alone, no time to spare…And time shared, even with true friends, often requires loners to put in extra time alone, overtime, to recharge.”
As for nonloners: “Sometimes it seems they would rather have anyone around than no one.”
Loners as romantic partners
“Loners have nothing against love, but are more careful about it.”
“Loners, if you can catch them, are well worth the trouble.” They are “curious, vigilant, full of surprises. They do not cling.”
Loners and shyness
“…there is significant overlap between shy people and loners.” But “not all shy people are loners nor are all loners shy.”
Loners, mental health, and mental health professionals
“I am not crazy now, but forced to act like a nonloner for an extended period, I might go crazy.”
About mental health professionals: “If they ask whether we are alone by choice, they are doing their job. If they do not try to dissuade us, fine. If they move on from there to praise our self-awareness, our skill at choosing and living as we choose, they are doing their job. If they show us how to handle the slander, ensure, jokes, and misapprehension…then they are doing their job.”
Loners and criminals – don’t confuse the two
“He was a loner is a crime-story cliché…But learning the true stories of criminals who are called loners in the press reveals, with striking frequency, that these are not genuine loners…They do not wish to be alone. Their dislike of being alone is what drives them to violence.”
“…it takes a social man to become so possessive, so enmeshed with others, that his rage and jealousy over a breakup make him want to kill.”
“Some kids…like to play alone. Others…are outcasts.”
Loners and the purported death of civilization
“…we no longer all need to be social animals in order to survive as a species. Mandatory social interaction is an evolutionary remnant which those who wish to may discard.”