The notion that aloneness entails loneliness is particularly American, says Rachel Naomi Remen. "In many other cultures, silence and solitude are accepted and built into the days." Not only does imagination thrive but contemplation is easier when the mind is uninterrupted by the activity of others. Perhaps, Remen suggests, we should wonder about the person who can never be alone: "We all need time to hear ourselves."
That said, if you're cloistered in your home, day in and day out, or just too drained to see anyone, those could be signs that you may be depressed and should talk to a therapist. Sometimes just making yourself get out to meet a friend or attend an event can help your mood. For any introvert who decides to brave a party, Kramer says, "start small. Find one person to talk to." Introduce yourself. Ask innocuous questions about family and work. Ask follow-up questions. Even within the hubbub, you can remain focused and centered and enjoy the company of another.
• Your partner has grown emotionally distant. Or you've come to take each other for granted. There's no hostility, but not much intimacy either. How to draw closer?
Thankfully, emotional space is relative and any distance may have more to do with how the two of you define intimacy than the way you feel. "Some people believe that the closer you are, the more you can be together without talking," says Deborah Tannen, PhD, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and author of the groundbreaking 1990 work on male-female communication You Just Don't Understand. "Other people, often women, think that the closer you are, the more you talk." Both camps desire intimacy, but in a different fashion. "He may want to come home and not speak, since home is his refuge. She feels he's being withdrawn and uncommunicative," Tannen says. She asks questions. He feels pressed. She feels rebuffed. The schism grows.
"In therapy, we talk about relational currencies," says Kathleen Galvin, PhD, professor of communication studies at Northwestern University and a family therapist. "Those are the ways people have learned to express affection, whether by saying 'I love you' or giving gifts or going for a drive to spend time together." If, like bordering nations, two parties employ different currencies, transactions tangle, skirmishes erupt, cold wars set in. When one person says, "I love you," and the other responds, "Let's go for a drive," "neither person is likely to feel satisfied."
To close the distance, try becoming an in-home anthropologist. Note when you most long to talk. Is it in the evenings, when the children are finally in bed? Is that when he's most apt to be mute? Are the silences between you tense or contented? "If you need to have conversations with your partner to feel connected, tell him," Tannen says. But listen, too. Recognizing that he might have a separate approach to intimacy can be, in its way, intimate. Ask whether you could sit quietly together, maybe listening to music (a different communion than conversation, but also valid) for half an hour or so; then take the next half hour to just talk to each other.
We Hear You!