isolation and living alone

There are only so many times a living-alone-Single-extrovert can hear the words ‘isolation’, ‘social distance’ and ‘cancelled’ before the weight becomes a little too much to carry and it has to leak out of my eyes! Yesterday I had a significant ‘moment’ (think tears, snot, a few little hiccup-y gulps and one or two audible groans!).

Last month I shared a post how long ‘til the realise I’m dead? and it seemed to resonate. Single people commented repeatedly “This is exactly how I feel!” and married responses repeated the sentiment “I’ve never even thought about this before.”

The same people who worry about not being discovered to have died are bound to be experiencing an additional layer of anxiety in the face of these shut downs and measures of separation to responsibly manage the movement of COVID19 and it’s impact on our health care system and to protect our most vulnerable.


Social media is being flooded with posts from Introverts saying this is their idea of heaven. From what I understand, the cancellation of social events and being ‘forced’ to stay at home are the stuff their dreams are made of! 🙂 HOWEVER, even the most introverted of introverts could acknowledge that, as much as they love being alone and are personally energised by that time to recharge, there’s also the reality that without the interruption of exchange with others there can be an un-health that shapes their thought life. As much as they can do without social interactions, the circuit breaker of other people’s engagement in their thought processes and internal dialogue is a healthy and necessary thing.


As organisations (like mine!) move to working from home (can we just pause for a praise break that we live in such technologically advanced times – so many opportunities to stay working and connected through online platforms!) while this is a fantastic provision – it’s also a socially isolating move. Many living-alone-Singles rely on the accountability and regular interactions of work life and will struggle without it. As churches move to streaming their services, be reminded that it’s not just the sermon or worship our congregations will be missing (in fact, these things have been out-source-able for a long time now) it’s the connection to one another, a sense of engagement in something bigger than themselves, the opportunity to keep regular relational accounts with one another – to give and receive prayer and encouragement.  (My church has set up an online/phone prayer service to facilitate this – what a great initiative!)


For those of us living alone who have the love language of physical touch – this experience has another layer of impact. The social distancing protocols don’t apply within your households. You might sleep closer than 1.5m to your spouse. Go ahead and TRY convincing young children not to invade your (or each other’s) personal space – that’s not happening! So, even in a time of physical disconnection you’re experiencing some connection. In my regular life I can go days without physical touch and now, it’s mandated! In my little ‘moment’ yesterday, this was part of my processing … how long do I have to go without any physical connection?


I messaged my friends – the ‘her is ours now’ family referenced in this blog being family to those without family – and shared about my little meltdown and said “I decided you could adopt me, then if we need to isolate I’ll isolate with my ‘family’”. The response was, essentially, an affirmation that they thought I already WAS adopted, and that if we get shut in as family-units then my place of shut in is with them! “If ‘Her is ours now’ then ‘her corona is our corona now’ too!”

Of course, we’re prayerful that the measures our country are employing now might avoid a complete lock-down. Things are changing daily as we continue to track the spread and learn what we can from other countries (another praise break – how grateful are we for all the fabulously smart and compassionate people in our medical system?!) and there’s no real point in leaping ahead to worst case scenarios. Being sensible and caring in this moment is our best next step. If I came to know I was infected I would never intentionally expose them to the virus.

But, I can’t tell you the relief that came to me in my emotionally charged episode, to have my friends make it clear that I won’t have to be alone. It was such a circuit breaker for my fear, loneliness, overwhelm and distress. There’s a plan, an option.


If only to give them a safe place to process the emotions they might be feeling. Each of us will travel an experience like this differently as it’s shaped by our lifestage, personality, health status and other factors. Let’s do what we can to grow in our understanding and empathy for one another.

your single friends need you (probably more than you need them)

A few years ago I was sitting with my housemate and we both got a text message from a married friend. She was letting us know that she’d had some medical issues arise. There’d been some preliminary testing that was either worrisome or inconclusive enough to warrant further investigations. So she was going to have more tests done and was asking for us to be prayerful.

My friend and I both thought to respond in the same way and I sent a message back including “I hope you have some friends journeying this with you”. We later discovered that this was considered to be a strange kind of response. There she was informing us as her friends and inviting us to be part of the process – why were we questioning whether she was including her friends? Ultimately as a married person the need to contact friends was triggered far later in the process than it might have been for a Single person. A Single person who is experiencing negative health symptoms would probably contact a friend straight away. A Single person would seek the opinion of a friend or family member to know if they should go and get that checked out. A Single person might let a friend know that they’re going to a doctors appointment and perhaps even invite them to come along. So by the time further testing was required a Single person may have included their friend/s a lot more in the process. The reality is that for the married friend she had been processing all that with her husband up until that point.

Single people can have different expectations and requirements of friendship.

For a Single person, their friends are the entirety of their network of advice giving, problem-solving and listening. For those who are married and in a family environment a friend serves a different purpose. If circles of trust were to be drawn a spouse might find themselves at the very core and then friends at varying stages of distance in the widening concentric circles. For a Single person without a spouse at that core, often friends are drawn into a place of higher trust, of higher reliance; of higher connectedness.

What this creates is a potential power and need imbalance in friendships. Where the Single person requires more of you than you require of them. Where your name would be listed closer to their inner circle than their name would to yours. A friend of mine recently recounted a revelation she’d had of this when her Single friend asked her to come around to look at her new flooring. She thought it was an odd request until she connected with the fact that she would have had numerous interactions with her husband over new flooring and not felt the need to tell others – whereas her Single friend might not have had any engagement about her floors with anyone else. Perhaps a trivial example, but a helpful illustration of the different experiences.

This plays itself out in many ways, including socially. Where a planned social gathering might be additional to your weekly social calendars and fuller household, it can be the entirety of a Single person’s social connectedness. Where a cancelled dinner or a lack of invitation might result in you having a more quiet night at home, for a Single that could equate to being completely alone.

My friend Nancy and I talked about this recently as we sat across from one another at dinner. I made the observation that I needed that interaction more than she did. She’s married and is also a mum and as we talked some more she reflected, “I don’t think I had ever really considered how much my relational tank is filled incidentally and how that shapes how many friends I need, what I need from them, and the time and space I have to give them.”

What that means is that a Single person needs to maintain a lot of relationships to ensure their input and output are sufficient to experience the human connection we are built for. Even for me, as a highly extroverted and socially and relationally competent person, that can be EXHAUSTING! There’s a lot to balance to ensure that there are enough of those once a week, once every fortnight, monthly catch up types of relationships to spread across the day to day of life in order to keep the relational tank at a healthy level. That need makes us vulnerable. There’s great risk attached to this reality that we probably need you more than you need us.

Singles, identify and own this reality. You need others. It’s risky. It’s exhausting. It takes intentionality and purpose but you can create the kinds of relationships that will allow you to give and receive the love, belonging, serving, fulfilment, purpose and joy that you need.

And for you non-Singles, maybe you could do a self-audit like my champion friend Nancy, to recognise the level of relational filling you operate out of before leaving your house or making any extra effort. It might increase your sensitivity to the needs of the Singles in your world and grow your understanding of the neediness they experience and the risk they take to stay relationally engaged.

nobody likes small talk (it’s not just the introverts)

“Introverts don’t like small talk.”

Introverts (those who gain or recharge energy by being alone – as opposed to extroverts who draw energy from others) are often assumed to be shy, socially awkward or even rude because of the way they engage or don’t in social environments. However, those attributes are more to do with personality or emotional intelligence than the number one marker of introverts – they find people-heavy environments physically and emotionally exhausting. 

Introverts often express a deep dissatisfaction and even frustration with “small talk”. But I have an increasingly strong belief that NO ONE likes small talk. Not even extroverts. 

Extrovert readers, please feel free to correct me if you disagree, but no one likes small talk. It’s repetitive, it’s shallow and it’s only really a means to the end – a more rich and stimulating conversation or connection. 

The difference is that extroverts have the social stamina to endure more of it. Because they gain energy from being with people, they are not as drained by the small talk and don’t fear an exhaustion of their social energy before getting to a deeper conversation. They are also happy just to be talking – to people! – and so will more readily settle for surface level chit chat. 

For introverts, there is a very real chance that all of their social energy will be spent before they get to a point in conversations where they find meaningful connection or intellectual enrichment. 

Nobody likes small talk. Some are better at it. Some can participate in more of it before fatiguing their social energy. But no one actually likes it. No one comes away from a party and says “that was so good I spoke to a whole lot of people about absolutely nothing”. People of all temperaments are stimulated and satisfied by intellectually or emotionally meaningful connections with others.  People want to laugh heartily, be challenged mentally or connect personally – regardless of temperament. 

My hot tip for an introvert to thrive in social gatherings is this – find yourself an extrovert! Stand near them and ride the wave of their small talk into an actual conversation. Save your energy for the good stuff! 

Further reading 

six truths about extroverts
extroverts and quiet times

six truths about extroverts 

I’ve been an extrovert for many years now! Whilst not necessarily an expert, I do feel like I’ve been refining my extroversion skills over time. I think I can extrovert as well as anyone! 

Conversations about introverts and extroverts can tend to be quite polemic. In an attempt to be understood and validated we can often make sweeping generalisations about either temperament that are actually contrary to the goal of understanding. 

Here are a few thoughts that I think represent common misconceptions about extroverts and the nuances of how they tick. 

They aren’t all outgoing. One of the most outgoing people I know (Hey Paulie!!!) is an introvert. Introverts can be socially competent and dynamic. Conversely, not all extroverts are outgoing. While they may crave social interaction they may not be the ones to generate it. It can just be enough for them to be present in a socially vibrant space rather than the ones hosting or leading such interactions. 

They aren’t all good at meeting new people. Because of their need for social interaction at a high level many extroverts develop social skilfulness- but not all. Extroverts aren’t all naturally self-confident and often face the same fears as many others face when meeting new people or stepping into potentially awkward social environments. 

They need good people, not just any people. This may be more a function of age and maturity – but I find that not all people fulfill my extroverted need for social fueling. It’s not always enough to just be present in a large or loud social gathering – there needs to be social stimulation and satisfying personal interactions for energising to occur. While they may be good at small talk they can also crave deeper forms of communication and social exchange to feel more fulfilled. 

This isn’t an “extrovert’s world”. As much as introverts might feel ‘the world’ is innately geared toward the extrovert – extroverts could make a similar case. The very concept of people needing their own bedroom, a private office, or silence for effective work in exams or libraries – the general social norm of being in large public places but not talking to each other (waiting rooms, shopping centres, trains etc) – prayer meetings, lectures, and movie theatres where information is received without interaction – these are all potentially more satisfying for an introvert even though they would be perhaps deemed as “social” environments. 

They need physical rest in non-social places even if they don’t crave it. The energy they gain from being with others is physically finite. It doesn’t replace their need for sleep or to pause for physical renewal. In moments when they are emotionally deenergised by being alone, their bodies are still rejuvenating and necessary biological processes are taking place. 

Their need for others makes them vulnerable.
An introvert is completely self-sufficient in regards to reenergising. In different lifestages that alone time may be harder to find but ultimately a few moments behind a locked toilet door or in the car on the way to the next social gathering can top up their tank. An extrovert cannot replicate the social energy found in the company of others and is therefore reliant on others to re-fuel. Whilst all humans need other humans for a myriad of reasons, this aspect of the extrovert makes them needy of other people which puts them at the mercy of others. 

[Read more about Extroverts & Quiet Times]

extroverts & “quiet time” // a double discipline

I’ve been wrestling with this topic for years. 

My thoughts are based on the following foundational truths. 

1. I am an extrovert. A raging extrovert! I know a few 3 year olds who are as extroverted as me, but other than that I am almost in a league of my own. 

Extroversion is NOT about personality type – it’s about energy management. Extroverts are energised by being with people. Social and relational engagement not only fills their love-tank but actually fuels them

Time alone is therefore de-energising. For me, if I had an instrument that showed my energy levels you would see it start to plummet the minute I said goodbye and hopped in my car. Extended time alone sees me resembling those ballerinas in jewellery boxes who just get slower and slower and the music gets painfully strained until it all … just … stops. 

I have learned to not make any important decisions during those times – regret would be inevitable. To reflect on any sense of my general health, life satisfaction or optimism for my future in the middle of extended alone time would not actually be indicative of how I really feel, think or am. 

[** see here for more info on Introverts & Extroverts]

2. Devotional time with God is important. Infinitely so. Jesus modelled for us a rhythm of life that includes withdrawing for intentional time for reconnection with Father God. Disciplines that draw us to meditation on God’s word, listening for His voice and realigning our heart and will with His, are necessary for our spiritual and emotional flourishing. 

You may already be ahead of me on this – but those two truths can actually be in conflict. The idea of “quiet time” or alone time with God being energising or life-giving is contrary to the natural experience of an extroverted person. 

An introverted person doesn’t need to be encouraged to spend time alone or in quiet. They crave it naturally because they need it for their own re-energising and even coping. The discipline of devotions or quiet times is more about being intentional – consecrating that alone time for the purposes of deepening and energising their walk with God. 

But for the extrovert it actually becomes a double discipline. The discipline to seek time alone and the discipline to seek intimacy with God in that place. 

My greatest sense of God’s presence, my most intense moments of growth and nurture, my deepest experiences of God’s transforming power, and my most clear sense of His leading and revealing, have all happened in non-alone times. I am also an external processor (not all extroverts are) which means my ability to see and interpret the things God is saying or doing is exponentially enhanced by sharing the moment or experience with another person; out loud. 

I do my daily Bible reading with the use of an audio app. Hearing the words spoken aloud is far more useful for my receiving and understanding than silent reading. When something is powerful or convicting or confusing – I repeat it out loud in order to confirm its meaning. Even my quiet times aren’t quiet!

When I do a prayer walk, extended retreat time by the beach or an intentional time of seeking God on something – any revelations or illuminations have to be shared with a third party before they really take root in my heart. It’s as though they are not really real until they’ve been confirmed by communicating them with another person and having some sense of affirmation or shared understanding of their significance. Any time we are “sent off” to spend alone time with God I use a fair portion of it preparing to share what God had laid on my heart with other people. I need to hear it outside my head and have the collaboration and engagement of others to confirm its life and meaning to my circumstances. That’s not a function of insecurity or lack of trust in God’s word to me or even any doubt that it’s God’s voice I’m hearing or His direction I’m sensing. It’s a function of personality and temperament – knowing who I am and how I operate. 

Someone once said that books on quiet times are written by introverts who don’t need them and read by extroverts who feel guilty they can’t follow them! I don’t have the research on that but I can definitely appreciate the point. 

Understanding Others #2

As is often the way, since posting my thoughts about the power of understanding in my last blog I have seen the truth of that play out in a myriad of situations. I’ve seen it in the consequence of theabsence of understanding – the hurt, damage and frustration that comes from assumption and misunderstanding. And I’ve also seen its power to connect, heal and empower as the extra effort to understand another is rewarded with positive interactions and relational growth.

Maybe you’ve seen that at play in your own circumstances too?

That Solomon guy knew what he was talking about! (Prov 4:7)

When we start unpacking the differences of personality (and there are many) one is the distinction between being an INTROVERT or an EXTROVERT.

This is the description of how different people are energised. In short, an introvert gets energy from within (themselves) and an extrovert gets energy from without (others).

How do you know which you are? Here’s a test …

A day by yourself (no company, no talking, no crowds) sounds like
a) Bliss!
b) Punishment!

Ok, so that’s definitely the extremes of the scale – but you get the idea.

An introvert – gets energy from solitude. Being in larger social groups uses lots of energy – even if they find those environments enjoyable. That may be because of a lack of social confidence/capacity (so it takes a bit more energy to ‘keep up’) but that is not always the case. They work most productively and creatively in quiet environments, they are more likely to have hobbies or interests that they can do by themselves.

An extrovert – gets energy from others. In fact, not only do they get energy from being with others – they can be depleted of energy when they are alone. They work better in teams, they tend to be external/verbal processors, they are most productive and creative in collaborative situations and they are motivated by high energy social spaces.

Knowing which you are (and others around you) can provide some key understandings – and understanding, as we have established, can make all the difference.

Some things to consider …

  • The introvert is often misunderstood to be a loner or anti-social (they may be – but they may not!)
  • The extrovert can be misunderstood to be attention seeking or hyperactive (they also may be – but they may not!)
  • Given that the introvert’s gift to an extrovert is their presence and the extrovert’s gift to an introvert is their absence – it presents itself as a tension that needs to be managed. There will always be compromise required in friendship groups, marriages, families and work places to see that each gets what they need.
  • A person’s level of “outgoing-ness” is not automatically connected to whether they are an introvert or extrovert. A person can be very outgoing and confident in social settings but still require solitude to recharge. Likewise, a person could be quite shy and not necessarily a notable contributor to social situations but still draw energy from those environments. (And vice versa.)

Take a moment to consider the people around you – your family, your work colleagues, ministry team members, your spouse and your kids. Being aware of where they get their energy and what situations deplete it could help to understand them (and even yourself) more fully.

More in this series
Understanding Others #1
Understanding Others #3
Understanding Others #4