A few months back I visited a friend of mine in Prague. He’s an amazing guy, bursting with positivity – I have more time for him than a solar-powered Rolex left in the Sahara. I guess you could say that if my friendships were wrist-watches, he’d be a Rolex. Let’s call him Rolex, which is ironic because like a lot of things in life this is quite the paradox: he’s the kind of guy that couldn’t care less about owning a Rolex. I think this is why I like this description.
I’d rented an AirBnB room in Prague. A very simple studio thing, one bedroom and a bathroom. Prior to this, I’d been travelling for a month with another friend of mine, and had been staying mainly in hostels – shared accommodations with snoring humans that make you question whether you’re sleeping next to a human or an idling motorbike. After staying in such close proximity to some pretty heavy engines, I desperately needed some quiet time; some time to decompress.
Rolex and I went for dinner my first night in Prague: burritos! Mmm…actually I got nachos… still mmm tho! After dinner, we went back to my one bedroom place and made… a cup of tea (fuck me, how old am I getting!?).
Rolex and I sat drinking our tea and, as two friends who haven’t seen each other for a while tend to do, we conversed about the experiences we’d both had since we last saw each other – in particular, the new knowledge these experiences had afforded us. We discussed the meaning of life and the tastiness of the burrito and nachos we’d just eaten for dinner… wait, isn’t that the same thing?
Old friends are an oddity: I hadn’t seen Rolex for maybe three years, yet it was as if we’d never been apart. I was thoroughly enjoying catching up with him. However, Rolex decided to leave my studio-room earlier than I would’ve liked. I didn’t ask him why he wanted to leave, but I respected the decision. I chalked it up to Rolex perhaps being tired after a day of work, or wanting to be home with his girlfriend, or something of the sort… however, as I said, I didn’t ask.
Fast-forward two months. Rolex is still living in Prague. And I’m in New Zealand.
Rolex just finished a trip with some mates to Amsterdam. We jumped into a facebook chat about the standard stuff: how Amsterdam was, whether he’d come any closer to discovering the meaning of life yet, or had tried the nachos from that joint we ate at together… wait, that’s the same thing, right?
One thing led to another and we got to talking, as is usual between us, about some heavy burrito-and-nacho type shit. He sent me this message:
We were all hanging in my hotel room [in Amsterdam] and talking about how some people’s rooms are always more inviting than others, we’d often hang in our rooms in flats during parties for example.
Then discussed how you wouldn’t hang out in Mark’s room much and how you like your space, which got me to thinking about how people try and read the situation themselves rather than be told and how I left your place that night in Prague assuming you wanted your space. Not sure why I’m sharing this but thought it was interesting and curious as to why you emit that energy sometimes and if it’s accurately perceived by the rest of us.
Here’s my response:
Interesting point – I’d say I definitely emit that energy and do like my space / have learnt I need more solitude than most (this became a real issue while living with my ex).
Prague – your read was a little off, but not much really… I wasn’t emitting that energy at that particular time and in fact was quite enjoying hanging out and was a little disappointed you left, but chalked it up to something on your side (I probably should’ve said something!). However, your detection of that energy in the room makes sense – it’s possible the energy was lingering around the room itself as I was desiring solitude in a general sense after spending a lot of time with [my other friend] travelling in shared accommodation (hostels etc).
The reason I need it… honestly, that’s difficult to say. I get quite overwhelmed in group situations, and struggle to relate a lot of the time to the conversations had… I’m typically one to only say something if I’ve got something to say, whereas many others aren’t this way – this can be tiring for me – and possibly why I enjoy hanging out by myself a lot lol… that’s the best guess I’ve got really.
Here are some of the things I experience:
- Difficulty participating in, and relating to, conversations on what I’d call surface-level topics, such as sport, politics, favourite colours, the Kardashians. I prefer to talk about burritos and nachos.
- I struggle mightily with small talk.
- I can feel trapped if I find myself in a situation where I’m unable to independently leave (i.e. if I don’t have my own vehicle with me for example).
- If given the option between attending a networking party, or a quiet dinner with a friend, I’ll take dinner with a friend every single time.
These things lend themselves to needing quite a lot of time alone. The exact reasons why I experience the above are difficult to pin point. A theory, which was recently brought to my attention by an ex-colleague of mine, is that it’s because I’m a sensitive soul.
What does being a ‘sensitive soul’ mean exactly?
Well, the best I can explain it, is to use someone else’s (who has much more experience) explanation… I guess that’s not me explaining it at all, but I digress.
Dr Judith Orloff, a physician who specialises in treating highly sensitive people, wrote a book called the “The Empath’s Survival Guide”, which includes this nugget:
“Though there is a spectrum of sensitivity that exists in human beings, empaths are emotional sponges who absorb both the stress and joy of the world. We feel everything, often to an extreme and have little guard up between others and ourselves. As a result, we are often overwhelmed by excessive stimulation and are prone to exhaustion and sensory overload”
Empaths are the most sensitive among us. They’re able to pick up others’ energies with alarming accuracy, and will even absorb these as their own. Rolex, at a guess, is an empath.
I don’t know where I fit on the sensitivity spectrum exactly, but I’m for sure extremely sensitive. I feel the stress and joy of others as if it were my own, and often experience sensory overload because of this. Being around people for too long is only one way in which this overload can occur (I’m not even going to get started on how difficult it can be to be a sensitive male in a culture which tells me to suppress my sensitivity in favour of beating my chest like a gorilla…).
In the past, I’ve self-medicated my sensitivities – I’ve turned to drugs and alcohol to numb myself into more active participation at parties, group situations, and chest beating. This obviously is not a healthy long-term solution.
And so, the question is, how do I better service my sensitivities in respect of social interactions?
It’s a tough one because I enjoy other people’s company, just in smaller doses than most it would seem…
Being a cave-troll is not a healthy long-term solution either.
Rolex pointing out that he was able to pick up on the solitudinal (not a word, but use your imagination) energy I emit, made me think: if others are able to pick up on this energy anyways, why don’t I just tell them I’d like some alone time?
Unfortunately, easier said than done…
Well, for starters, Rolex is an incredibly perceptive human being. He is able to read the energies of others with alarming accuracy. He is an empath in my books. This is a gift, not shared by many. The fact he can read my energy is not indicative of the ability of others to read my energy with similar astuteness.
Another reason is this: other people have feelings too!
The desire for solitude is difficult to communicate to someone without offending them. For example, how would you take it if we were hanging out one day, and then I turned to you and said:
“I’m going to go hang out in my room by myself now. It’s got nothing to do with you, I just need some time alone. It’s me, not you.”
Ahh, the old it’s not you, it’s me trick. That’s a difficult one for someone to reconcile when, (a) I’m currently hanging out with them; and (b) I decide to go to my room and hang out alone… the inference from this is obvious: “he’d rather hang out by himself than with me”.
It’s hard for the person I’m with not to take my decision to hang out by myself as a personal insult.
I totally understand this, and if in their shoes, I’d likely feel the same way. And the truth is, on some level, it is about them. BUT, and this is a Kim-Kardashian-butt (in the sense that it’s massive), it’s not a personal insult… the fact I become exhausted if I spend too much time with people or in group situations is about me – it doesn’t matter who the fuck you are, or what the fuck we’re talking about/doing, I (that’s ME, MYSELF) am still going to need to be alone at some point to decompress. That’s nothing personal.
It’s FAR more about me and my needs.
It does beg the question: I wonder what it is I can do to better handle my need for solitude? How can I communicate this without it being taken as a personal insult?
That’s one doozy of a pickle of a nacho-burrito. I think the tools provided in Dr Judith Orloff’s book may be a great place to start.