DEAR HARRIETTE: I’m an only child, raised by parents who were approaching 50 when I was born. Growing up, I was the only child on my street. I attended a small religious school that was several miles away from where we lived. I grew up very alone, and I learned to like being alone. I’ve come to realize that is my problem: I like being alone, yet everyone around me assumes that I am lonely, because I’ve never been married and have no children or other social ties.
I like people only in very small doses. I can enjoy being “interested” in a new person for 45 minutes, but then I have no desire to keep in touch. It takes a lot of effort to pretend to be interested in my co-workers’ lives for 10 minutes at a time, but really all I want is to do my job and then leave so I can go do the things that make me happy.
My idea of a perfect day is to go to a museum alone, and then eat solo at an ethnic restaurant that serves some type of food I’ve never tried before while socializing with the usually foreign staff, and then attending a lecture at a nearby university or go home and read. I have done many activities with other people, but I find their company exhausting.
I find it aggravating to lie and pretend that I have family obligations or some other made-up reason why I don’t have time to be someone’s friend. So what do I do? Telling the truth that I’m not interested in being social, let alone being someone’s best friend, ends up hurting people’s feelings. And telling polite lies leads people to try harder to persuade me to socialize. How do I cope with a world that is focused on social connection when I don't want that? -- Alone but Not Lonely, Boston
DEAR ALONE BUT NOT LONELY: Tell the truth: You are a loner. Ask people not to take it personally. Occasionally hang out with co-workers in an effort to be cordial.