Some years ago I discovered that there was no website devoted to solitary people. So I created one and called it Loner’s Highway – my previous blog that concentrated on the nature and life-experience of loners.
But most loners are shy, and I began to regret leaving other shy people out, so I returned to a blog/website that is for all shy people. Nevertheless, being a life-long loner, I still can’t abandon this subject.
One problem is that we all know what we mean by ‘loner’, but we don’t all mean the same thing.
According to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), a loner is simply “A person who avoids company and prefers to be alone.” That fits my understanding, but not everyone’s.
Several dictionaries describe ‘loner’ as synonymous with introvert. That’s misleading, especially when the latest books about introverts (like psychologist Marti Laney’s Introvert Advantage and Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World that Can’t Stop Talking) argue that introverts are not asocial. They like being with other people, and want to be with them. They just they need some time alone to recharge.
Well, people like that aren’t loners. A loner is someone who prefers being alone most of the time. Some of us do enjoy the company of other people, sometimes, but we don’t seek it, and, what especially seems to offend many people, we don’t need it.
The term loner is has been around for a while. The OED says the first published use of the word was in a 1947 edition of New Republic – the example they give: “Big John has decided to become a ‘loner’ for keeps.” That suggests that the word had already been in use for some time.
In fact, the OED also refers to a state of aloneness called ‘lonedom’, which it defines as ‘solitariness’ and gives an example for that from the year 1612.
But modern psychologists and psychiatrists don’t use ‘loner’ at all. I suppose they don’t like terms that aren’t created by psychologists.
However, they did come up with ‘autism’, beginning in 1947 with Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner. The core trait of autism, at least at first, was a sense of aloneness. Autism has attracted more and more attention, until now it is diagnosed in 1 of 68 people (the latest figure I’ve seen). Once I became fully aware of it, I noticed how well the concept fits loners. Christopher Stone says in my novel The Birdcatcher:
The term autism seemed to explain something that ‘introvert’ missed. To be introverted implied a turning inward, a withdrawal not only from people but from the world as well. Autism, derived from the same Latin word as autonomous, didn’t refer to withdrawal at all, only to the fact that these people stood alone. ….. I was interested in this grudging recognition that people existed whose fundamental nature was solitary, for it offered something I’d sought all my life – a better understanding of myself.
In the modern world – to make a living or just to survive without becoming a ward of the state – loners are obliged to be part of social groups. It’s a fact of life for us. The Birdcatcher is about the struggle to cope in the world this way.
Sure loners want some of the same things that other people want. We aren’t inhuman. We still want love, and/or sex, with someone else, sometimes, but we don’t want anyone else coming along for the ride. We want it to be a twosome only.
Most solitary people – who I think are autistic people – don’t believe they are sick. We didn’t get this way from bad parenting either. Every one of us knows that the desire to be alone – not just to be walking alone on a beach, or reading a book, but to operate alone in society, to think for ourselves while working in a large corporation, to solve problems ourselves, in our own way – is an instinct.
No one has ever expressed this innate independence better than the famous American author James Michener, who said in his autobiography, The World is My Home:
I am a loner to an extent that would frighten most men……..I chose not to become involved in the literary scene on a social level. It did not appeal to me; it did not seem rewarding; it was distracting rather than productive and, most important, because of my personality and attitudes I would not have been very good at being part of it. I have thus remained off by myself, and it may seem shocking that at age eighty-five I have known almost no other writers, American or foreign, even casually.”
That is a loner.