The loneliness of the long-distance photographer


Today I have a question: how does an introvert make friends in a new place? You’ve guessed, of course – I am that introvert. Before I go any further, I feel the need to clear up a few possible misunderstandings. I’m not shy, and I’m not anti-social. I don’t need help with my socialising skills (as some articles on this topic rather condescendingly assume) and I’ve even been told that I’m fun to be with. I’ve worked with people all my life and have had lots of feedback saying I’m very easy to get on with.  You’d like me – honest.  You might think I’m coming over a tad defensive here, but you see I have to get this out of the way because introversion has such a bad press. People think we’re gloomy hermits at best and serial killers at worst (well, he was always very quiet, wasn’t he? – a loner, you know).

None of which is true. However, we are very definitely not at our best in large groups of people and that’s a problem. Another problem, which might be unique to me, is that – can I be honest here? – I find most group activities and conversation very boring and I so hate being bored.  I can do small talk and even enjoy it at times, but what I really love is those conversations with just one other person that flow effortlessly from trivia to something deep to something personal to trivia, and back again, and leave me feeling alive and happy and mentally stimulated.  These kind of conversations are not easy to find, and are (in my experience) less likely to be found in group settings than anywhere else – I’ve often thought that in a group the conversation tends to settle at the level of the lowest common denominator (and that can be very low indeed).  So it takes a huge amount of energy for me to project myself in a large social group, and I mostly get very little return for the effort; it doesn’t make me feel a whole lot like trying, especially as the kind of people I’m most likely to get on with probably wouldn’t go to these things anyway. I end up slinking home feeling as if there’s something deeply wrong and flawed about me because I don’t enjoy what passes for fun in the eyes of the majority.  It’s not a good feeling.

So what to do?  I know it’s up to me and people are not going to be beating a path to my door anytime soon. I’m happy and willing to make the effort, but where do I direct it?  I’ve considered loads of things.  Groups that are primarily for socialising really aren’t my cup of tea at all (see above) and I much prefer something where I’m doing something interesting anyway, so that if I make a friend or two in the process then that’s a bonus.  In the past I’ve always made my friends through work or study – usually the latter.  Unfortunately I don’t have any work here yet; I’ve thought about getting a part-time job, and that might be a good idea on a number of counts, but the kind of job I’m likely to end up with isn’t likely to produce much in the way of potential friends.  There’s also the small problem that there’s very little work available locally.

I’d like to study something, but what? Photography, yes, but I can’t afford to do a college course and other courses are technically based for the most part and not what I want.  I’d love to learn bookbinding, but can’t find anywhere that does it.  At the moment I can’t think of anything else I want to learn about enough to go to a class. I do go to things like yoga classes, but they’ve never proved very conducive to making friends; people tend to come in twos and are anyway so zonked out by the meditation at the end that they get changed, eyes glazed like zombies, and quietly drift away.

A couple of people have suggested volunteering. I may well do this yet, but my history of volunteering is a sad and sorry tale.  The first twice I tried it – at a unit for people with head injuries, and a centre for people with emotional problems – it turned out I was expected to sit around and make conversation with people.  No, no, no…….I need something to do, and then I can happily chat to people while I’m doing it.  Another time I volunteered to give IT help to a centre for disabled people.  It took them four months to process my application, by which time I’d mostly lost interest, and when I did finally get there no-one seemed to need me and there was nothing to do except – you’ve guessed – sit and chat to people.  Yet another time I phoned an arts centre to offer myself as a volunteer.  ‘What sort of thing do you want to do?’ said the person on the other end of the phone.  ‘I’m not sure, can you tell me a bit more about what you need?’ I replied.  ‘I’ll send you a leaflet’, she said.  She did – the same leaflet I already had that said to phone them for details.  I didn’t persevere.

The one bit of voluntary work I really enjoyed was some tree planting, but even that didn’t work out. I’d moved to Scotland at the time, and like now, was in need of new friends and company.  I went along to the local conservation volunteer day, to find I was the only person that had turned up.  After being shown how to plant trees the right way, there I was, no-one in sight, alone in the middle of a large and empty expanse of moorland, busily (but admittedly quite happily) planting saplings.  It could only happen to me.

I’m sure it will all work out eventually, and probably in ways I can’t anticipate right now.  In the meantime, to those of you who just might be in the Liverpool/Wirral/Chester/North Wales area – coffee, anyone?