I was an only child. This might sound like heaven to folks who have visions of only children being waited on hand and foot by doting parents. Let me assure you that never happened. If fact, my mother, when asked why she didn’t have more children, will always unashamedly admit it was because she didn’t really like children all that much. So we skipped the doting part and pretty much went right to “look kid you need to be able to fend for yourself!”
This tiny family was especially hard for me because I was born an extrovert! All I ever wanted as a child was a house full of siblings! I loved nothing more than holidays when our house was full of people! I longed to part of the Brady Bunch; the one, odd, brunette sister!
So what did I do when I left home, I went on to have four kids in eight years. I created my own big group! As time went by, I took in a few more! Growing up, my children’s home was always full of people, friends, family and folks just needing a place to stay. It was loud, it was crowded, and the food bills were outrageous. There was never a day when I wasn’t cooking huge meals or doing multiple loads of laundry, and I loved every minute of it.
Then life happened. Kids grow up, husbands turn out to be great disappointments, and you have to adjust! These days find me in a tiny apartment in the middle of the city all alone! Now don’t get me wrong. This is actually the first time in my life I’ve lived alone and I love it. I really do! I love only cooking when I feel like it and only having to clean and do laundry once a week, if that! I love answering to no one about where I’m going or what I’m doing! I love the freedom that comes from this empty nest!
And then it’s quiet.
I went from years of living in a house surrounded by children, teenagers, a spouse, and a constant flow of house guests, to living completely alone. As much as I enjoy it, there are challenges. Extroverts invented the term “cabin fever” and I don’t think you can truly understand that phenomenon unless you are one!
One challenge is the “end of the day debrief.” Extroverts like to chat at the end of the day and go over all that went on! If we don’t get a chance to blow off that steam, we get antsy, restless. I’ve had to find ways to cope with this need. If my significant person is not available, I have to phone a friend or visit my mother, who is always willing to hear a good end of the day story (and likes me much better as an adult!). Either way, I’ve got to get it all out if there is any chance of a good night’s sleep.
As exciting as it looks, being an extrovert is not all fun and games! Introverts sometimes view us as “needy!” I guess that may be true, in that we simply need more contact with other people than they do. But usually it comes from a healthy place, a place of love rather than a place of dysfunction. Human contact is as much a part of being healthy for us as eating right and getting plenty of exercise. We draw our energy from being with other people, from social situations. We simply need it to function at optimum capacity.
Sometimes though, it can also have adverse effects. Extroverts are often serial monogamists. We sometimes move directly from one relationship to another because we crave human connection. It is hard for us to be single. So we have to be extra careful not to replace one unhealthy relationship with another one just to avoid that loneliness. We may also hang onto unhealthy friendships, or dysfunctional clubs and groups, just for the chance to be out and about!
So what does an empty nest extrovert do to avoid that loneliness, to avoid being an extra burden are our more introverted friends and family members, or to avoid clinging to unhealthy relationships just for the sake of not being alone? What does someone who is incredibly social do, when there is nothing social to do? Here’s a few coping skills.
Live in an awesome community
I could never, ever again, live out in the country like I did when my kids were babies. Just the thought of living at the end of long driveway makes me panic. Live in an awesome community, whether it’s a retirement community, a condo complex, or like I do, right smack dab in the middle of my little city. All I have to do is walk out the door and I’ve got friends and activities right at my fingertips, any day of the week!
Join lots of groups
Sign UP! Volunteer, join a committee or club, or take a class just for fun. Make sure you’ve got lots of things to fill your schedule after work. If you are like me, you accomplish the most when you are busy!
Find your people
There are lots of other empty nesters out there! Most of the people in my apartment building live alone. Nurture those friendships. Find a good friend and agree to be each other’s go-to person. They will understand when you need to phone at an odd time of day just to process (read, talk for twenty minutes non-stop about something just to get it out).
Keep a couple of projects going for down times
Yes, extroverts need down times just like everyone else. However, for me, my down time rarely involves lying on the couch watching TV. I enjoy my alone time so much more if I can accomplish a project. Tearing apart a bookcase, cleaning out a closet or redecorating a room, can be just the thing when I am home alone and feeling antsy!
Most of all, don’t feel bad about being an extrovert. We are not needy! We are awesome! We are excellent citizens. We invented villages and cities, not for economic development but because the social life in farming communities left a lot to be desired! We try very hard to get along with everyone because we just want to belong, so we are most often polite and considerate. We start community groups, and political movements and we volunteer our asses off. Oh it’s not all altruistic, we sometimes just want an excuse to go out but boy we get stuff done!
Most of us are law-abiding citizens, because we know if you are in jail, you can never go out! You’ll never find us involved in armed standoffs with police, locking ourselves in a desolate location screaming to be alone. We’d much rather invite them in for coffee!
If you are an extrovert suddenly living in an empty nest, take heart, there are ways to cope and thrive with your newfound freedom! Take this as an opportunity to fill your life not with things you are obligated to do, but with all those things you’ve always wanted to do! Before you know it, your life will again be more full than you could have ever imagined! You may be fending for yourself now, but you are never alone!