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The Black Hole of Uncertainty

“We’re all going to have to stay in our homes for a little while,” said our national leaders. “It’s for the common social good. A few weeks, maybe a few months, of missed plans and isolation, and we will put all of the bad stuff behind us.”

“Oh no!” replied the introverts of the world, reaching for a blanket and burrowing deeper into the couch. “How ever will we cope?”

Sounds like me, right?

It’s been a little over a month since my state issued its stay-at-home order. It was, at first, a little scary: would we run out of food? toilet paper? what does this mean for my future?

These being the extent of my concerns, though – most of them intangible – shows how lucky I am: I can’t get laid off from the U.S. Navy (and boy do I try). No matter what, I’ll be able to pay my rent and have healthcare and a job. But this is not true for an alarming number of people who are now relying on a safety net not designed for a crisis like this, and wouldn’t be sufficient to support people in need, to this extent, even if it was. And now that I’m hurtling down My Bullshit Lane, if we could pull our heads out of our asses for, like, a single second, we might realize that some of our previous assumptions about the way things have to be simply aren’t true, and we can’t go back to the way things were, pre-pandemic. Too many of us are just a single misfortune away losing everything.

I say all of this as a disclaimer, knowing full well that there’s some measure of guilt in what I’m going to talk about here: being able to move through pure anxiety to find moments of joy during a crisis where others find only the misery of need and uncertainty. If you’re in a tough place, please don’t take any of this as a minimization of your hardship, or some inane encouragement to look on the bright side. Sometimes reflexive cheerfulness is the wrong reaction. It feels strange to be positive now, sometimes, occasionally. Now and then, it does sneak up on me, but it took a while to get there.

You're Interacting With Dark Matter Right Now - The Atlantic
Illustration by Paul Fleet
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personal

WHY I STAY IN

I titled this post deliberately. It’s not “Why I Don’t Go Out,” because I do go out occasionally. It can be really fun. That’s why everyone does it. But, given the choice between staying in and going out, nine times out of ten I’m going to choose to stay in, even on Friday and Saturday nights. Here is why.

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Either my circle of friends is aging or it’s becoming more socially acceptable to stay in on a Friday night and watch Netflix. When I was younger, that would have mortified me: “People are going to think I have no life!” Getting out of the house felt like a moral imperative. You spent a long time getting ready – clothes, shoes, hair, makeup, probably changing clothes again. You pregamed. At least once or twice a week, you went out. Then you came back (or didn’t) and slept in the next day.

For a while, it was great. In college. Again, in Pensacola. Again, when I came to Japan. I especially loved the opportunity to meet new people. But, months later, I realized I was forcing myself to go out. I wasn’t enjoying it like I used to. My nice jacket started smelling like cigarettes. I wondered how many unnecessary calories I was putting into my body via alcohol. Most of all, I was tired and bored. It was the same bars, the same people, the same songs. It was starting to get dull and predictable. So I stopped going out every weekend. Then I stopped going out more or less all together.

There are still folks who are kind enough to invite me out with them (thank you!), and I always feel hugely guilty when I say no. But the truth is that there are so many things I’d rather be doing instead of partying. When I’m looking forward to getting off of work, for example, what I’m actually anticipating is having time to do something like:

  • Working out
  • Exploring
  • Talking to friends and family back home
  • Doing something creative (writing, making videos)
  • Internet
  • Reading
  • Playing (video) games
  • Sleeping

I don’t see “getting drunk” or “partying” in there. It’s not because I think they’re bad and I abhor them; it’s because I recognize that my free time is precious and limited and I want to spend it in ways that make me happy. And, lately, going out does not make me happy.

I’m an introvert. I love and care deeply for other people, but interacting with them drains me, perhaps precisely because I’m so emotionally invested in them. I’m happiest when I’m totally alone. In solitude is when I feel most at ease, and doing things by myself is how I unwind after work and obligations. If this seems weird to you, think of it this way: the feeling you get when you go out with your friends is the same feeling I get when I’m in bed with a book. We have different methods but the result is identical.

So let’s not judge the “losers” who don’t go out every weekend. Not everyone derives joy from the same source, but we’re all pursuing the same thing: relaxing and having fun. Some get it from TV, some get it from partying, some get it from spending time with their families. If you like going out, maybe I’ll see you out there sometime. In the meantime, you know where to find me.