Loners. Either you’ll see them in a romanticised, Hollywood way as the lone wolf; a troubled but darkly attractive individual with a tough front belying his sensitive and poetic nature; a silent hero wandering the streets, contemplating the dark truths of life, perhaps brooding over a deep love once lost yet ready to snap into action to protect a stranger from a gang of criminals a la Batman.
Or you’ll see them as the newspapers tend to portray loners – disturbed sociopaths on the verge of wandering into a primary school with an AK-47 and taking out their frustrations on innocent children; suspicious individuals with little empathy, who don’t understand human emotion and are unable to connect meaningfully with others; or simply, as sad, friendless failures at the game of life. Just search for 'Loner' in Google images and you are presented with hundreds of pictures of very sad looking men, sitting on benches with their heads in their hands.
People who revel their own company are all around us and we often judge them mercilessly. We’ll notice them in a cinema and think “Gosh. Friendless weirdo. Imagine enjoying an activity which requires silence and complete external focus, by yourself.” Or see someone reclining at the beach with a cold drink and a book and think, “What’s he reading, Mein Kampf? Where are his mates?” Or clock one in a restaurant, forlornly picking at their food whilst presumably toying with the idea of ramming the fork into their own eye.
I’m one of those people happy to be chilling out by myself in a public place, rather than the other camp of life-critics eyeing me up and deciding I’m best avoided. I guess I’d describe myself as a bit of a loner, and the reason for this is mostly because I enjoy my own company. I need lots of time alone to recharge, to put my thoughts in order and regulate my emotions. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy being with other people. Of course I do, we all do, socialising is a necessary function for humans, we are a social species. I like people, I just don’t want to interact with them 24/7.
So when you see me in a cinema, or a restaurant, or at the beach, or on occasion a night-club, I’m not miserable. Far from it. I’m enjoying the movie, or the food, or the sun, and absorbing the experience in my own time without having to worry whether a companion is enjoying it as much. I’m content. Being a loner is different to being lonely. For many it is a life choice, not a symptom of some kind of social disease or inability to relate to other people.
Of course, not all loners are that way for the same reasons as me. For some, social isolation is not a choice but rather forced upon them by circumstances beyond their control. Some have crippling social anxiety caused by traumatic life experiences, and lack the confidence to reveal themselves to others. Others have conditions like agoraphobia, which makes them afraid to be in open spaces, major depression leaving them unable and unwilling to connect with others, or possibly forms of Asperger’s or Autism, which gives them greater difficulty understanding and forming personal relationships. And rather than trying to engage and help these people, society tends to give them a wide berth, suspicious of someone not toeing the perceived societal line.
Either way, it seems clear that many people who live with a degree of social isolation do so not because they see others as inferior and unworthy of their time, nor that they are plotting to commit brutal psychopathic atrocities in crowded places, and (sadly) nor that they are some Harrison Ford-style anti-hero protecting the innocent populace from vicious goons armed with nothing more than a quick wit and a black belt in karate.
More likely, the loner is just a normal person who prefers to hang out by themselves, either because they really enjoy it or they’re not just ready for social interaction just yet. Therefore, it’s important we practise tolerance and understanding towards them, and not treat them as some kind of dangerous alien or social pariah. See them as just another shade of colour which makes up the diverse rainbow of human nature. It’d be boring if we were all the same, wouldn’t it?