As I edit the journals that I’ve kept all my life, in case someone wants to read them once I’m gone, occasionally I come upon one that stands out like a shooting star.
Like my entry for Sept 12, 1969.
That evening after work I had gone into an upscale bar frequented by the insurance industry, where I’d met a friend of mine, Matthew, the young underwriter who I described in The Shyness Guide. Although shy and a good candidate for HSP (Highly sensitive person), he had a remarkable ability for connecting with women. He seemed to instinctualy understand them.
During the next couple of hours, he and I joined a group of people we both knew, who had added a new member, a beautiful young Afro-Caribbean woman.
When we left, she was with us. She was going to walk several blocks north to a busy street where she planned to hail a taxi and go home. Matthew and I were going somewhere else, but in the same direction, so we offered to accompany her. It was about a 20 minute walk, during which the three of us continued to talk.
When we had seen her off in the cab, Mathew turned to me:
“You know, I really admire you,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“The way you talked to her. If that was me,” he said, “I would have changed into a different mode – talked to her in a way designed to work on her . But you talked to her the same way you talk to me, or anyone else.”
Reading this over fifty years later, I remember that a professor at York University, one who gave me the confidence in my writing that would allow me to ignore decades of editor rejection, once reportedly told someone – “Alan will always be Alan, no matter where he goes or who he’s with.”
Besides that, a number of people have told me that I was the most independent person they had ever met.
But, to me, there was nothing to admire. For I never did this by choice. I remained myself because I was unable to do anything else. I’ve never been able to pretend. I don’t mean that I can’t lie – after 40 + years of investigation work, confronting accomplished liars ever day, I became pretty good at that myself. But any kind of sustained play-acting has always been beyond me. The mental programming that social people seem to have for that is absent in me. And the independent solitary nature is in my genes. There is no escape from it.
When I first learned about autism, I started to think of these traits as part of being on the spectrum.
But here is the question – why do social people, whose whole world seems to be built around play-acting with each other, admire someone who can’t do that?
In her book about loners, Party of One, Anneli Rufus comments on the paradox of social people disapproving of the loners in their midst, while they adore the loners in literature and film (what I call the Clint Eastwood syndrome). To explain this, she says:
In each nonloner lurks a tiny loner struggling to get out. ………. Many nonloners possess, deep down in them, a secret touch of lonerism. An impulse, a yearning – it lies dormant nearly all the time, knowing that the outside world would hardly make it feel welcome. It knows, this loner within, that it is safer hidden. Yet now and then it is confronted with a rare welcome in the form of some song or comic book, and it springs out: clumsily, a bit insecurely, but hungrily.
If you want to know more about Party of One, read my post about that impressive and delightful book.
But, you might ask, why would should there be a trace of a loner in a social man or woman? How could such a contrary self evolve in collective people? How does that make sense?
Well, it makes sense if humanity has not always been so social. In my book The Shyness Guide, I put forward the idea that during the million years or so that humans (at first as hominids) spent as hunter-gatherers the basic mind set was probably much less social. There is no evidence of tribalism before approximately 50,000 years ago.
The majority of mammals are solitary. Those that have evolved herd behavior are usually more recent and this is true of humans too.
When we encounter solitary men and women among us, I say it’s reasonable to assume that they are a remnant from the past when humanity was less social. But it didn’t occur to me that there might be such remnants in social people too.
So this idea of Anneli Rufus could explain this strange admiration that I’m talking about.
Do they secretly long for a past when people were simpler, more honest and straightforward with each other than people are today?
All I can says is – if you’re like me, if you’re a loner but you can remain relaxed when you are among other people – confident enough in yourself not to have to pretend to be someone else – you may find some people admiring you.
This can have good results. The young woman who got in that taxi apparently admired me enough that she and I were soon in love. We would remain together for 52 years too, until she died last year.
Click here if you want to read my obituary post for her.