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.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My grandmother gets on my case all the time because I don’t clean the bathroom every day. She grew up in the ’50s and was a stay-at-home mom to three girls. However, I am a graduate student with a part-time job. I spend hours studying, and when I get some free time, I use it to do things I actually want to do.
My grandmother insists that everyone she knows cleans their house every day, and when she talks about cleaning the bathroom, she doesn’t mean just picking things up; she means spraying down all surfaces and thoroughly cleaning everything. I don’t think she understands that no one I know cleans their house that way every single day, and that because I’m busy most days and often tired, I don’t want to come home and clean the whole house.
Am I lazy, or am I right in telling her that I will not deep-clean my bathroom or apartment every day? The free time I have is precious. How often is appropriate? -- Deep-Cleaning Granny Issues, Milwaukee
DEAR DEEP-CLEANING GRANNY ISSUES: If you at least wipe up the bathroom daily, it will stay presentable and hygienic. Perhaps the compromise can be a daily wipe and a weekly deep clean?
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)