Hello Faithful Readers, and welcome to another spine-tingling edition of Gothic Charm School. This month, the Lady of the Manners is going to talk about a subject that’s been on her mind frequently of late, something that has been rattling around in her head for the past few months:
Becoming a hermit, and doing it gracefully.
You see, dear readers, everyone (and the Lady of the Manners means everyone) hits a point where they just want to retreat from the world and become a homebody for a while, for all sorts of reasons. Work, school, projects that need attention, exhaustion, or just the need to “slow down” — all of these are perfectly valid causes to make a person drop out of the social whirlpool.
But! Even with those compelling reasons, vanishing (mostly) from public life is something that still has a few pitfalls to avoid; after all, you don’t want your social circle to think you’ve died and nobody told them, do you? No, the Lady of the Manners didn’t think so.
When a friend contacts you to see how you’re doing, be sure to respond to them. Even if its just to say, “I haven’t been going out much because of blah.” If they try to lure you out for socializing, DO think about it, and reply as promptly as you possibly can. If you don’t feel like it, or are too busy/tired/depressed, then tell them. Don’t ignore the attempts at communication, because eventually you WILL want to socialize again. Sure, right now you feel like all you want to do is sleep and surf the web, but later on you’ll be happy you didn’t ignore people.
If you are the person trying to lure out the recluse, don’t nag at them to go out; if they said “No”, they (in almost all cases) meant it, and will only feel even MORE harried if they’re hounded about it. Trying to make your friend feel guilty or boring for not feeling like going out and socializing is unkind, and a sure way to make them even more determined not to leave the house. Saying things like “You can’t be THAT busy,” “You can sleep when you’re dead,” or “Don’t you WANT to see me?” are not enticing or helpful.
For those who have a recurring habit of becoming hermits, take a good look at why and when you decide to retreat from public life. Do you suddenly drop off the face of the earth when you start a new romance, and only re-appear when it lies in ashes around you? You might want to keep in mind that your friends will still want to see you even IF you have a new love-of-your-life. Are sightings of you scarce when work deadlines become stricter? While staying employed is generally more useful than a busy social life, try to eke out time to meet friends for coffee or watching movies at someone’s house. Is it just general depression that causes you to retreat? Sometimes the best thing to do in those cases is to interact with others — while languishing in a dark room bemoaning your ennui-laden existence is terribly gothic, it isn’t exactly good for you in the long run. As parent-like as this bit of advice seems, getting out would do you a world of good. Yes, it doesn’t sound at all like what you want to do right now, but trust the Lady of the Manners on this, because she has indeed been there and done that, and has come to realize that moping about doesn’t make anyone feel better.
Another thing to watch out for when one becomes a hermit is that one’s social skills, topics of conversation, and even grasp of language stand in danger of becoming rusty. If you spend a few months doing nothing but working, talking to your pets, and sleeping, you may discover that when you finally do get out and about again, you’re reduced to looking blankly at people and mumbling. Occasional contact with others, even during horrible deadlines, will help with that.
So fine, you’ve realized you want to liven up your hermit-like life with a spot of socializing, but you really DON’T have the time or money to go out and do something. Now what?
Now you contact your nearest and dearest friends, the ones you have the strongest bonds with, and say “I’m swamped. I’d really like to see you, but I don’t have a lot of free time. Would you like to come over to my place and hang out while I — ” finish your homework, work on this project you HAVE to get done, stare blankly at the walls — you get the picture. Your friends are swamped with projects too? Perhaps you all should meet up at one person’s domicile, bringing your projects along, and have a work party. Pleasant company, emotional support and helpful suggestions if something doesn’t work the way you expected, and distraction from just how tedious some of the things are which you might be working on, can make the most life-swallowing of projects and deadlines seem less horrible and overwhelming.
One of the benefits of periodically retreating from a hectic (or even not so hectic) social life is that it helps to put things in perspective. Once you’re not in the middle of everything, you can (usually) decide what is important to you, and who are the people you really want to spend time with. After even just a small amount of time away from “the scene,” you might realize that the on-going huge! emotional! drama! of the week (day, month, year, take your pick) is . . . kind of silly. You might realize that some of the people you spent a lot of time with (because they were the people you always saw out at social events and the clubs) aren’t really people you want to hang around with. While that might sound unkind, it isn’t meant to be. You can’t be friends with everyone, and nor should you want to. Sometimes it take’s a little time away and some “self-absorbed navel-gazing” (to quote a friend of the Lady of the Manners) to come to a conclusion as to whether or not you actually-factually get along with some people, or if you just have a “club friendship” with them.
There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you keep in mind that when you DO start interacting with the rest of the universe again, you still need to be polite to those people, even if you’ve realized you don’t like them. (The Lady of the Manners covered being polite to people you don’t like in a previous column—email her if you need a refresher course.) If one of those people keeps pressing you to “get together and do something”, the easiest (and politest!) route is to just keep saying “I’m sorry, I just don’t have time”. There isn’t really a polite or kind way to say “I’ve decided that I don’t want to spend time with you anymore, please stop asking”, no matter how tempting doing that sounds.
Of course, the people you’ve decided to stop spending time with will (probably) be upset, and will quite possibly label you stuck up or accuse you of thinking you’re too good for them. Just ignore that. Yes, ignoring people saying mean and snippy things about you is hard, and nobody likes knowing that other people are mad at them. Again, you can’t be friends with everyone. This is one of those times when you can take solace in the fact that you’re behaving well—being polite to them, not making snarky comments about or to them, and generally just trying to politely ignore them. (You WILL be behaving like that, yes? The Lady of the Manners just mentioned it, it couldn’t have slipped your mind that quickly . . . . ) This would be part of “The Moral High Ground” that the Lady of the Manners is so fond of; isn’t the view lovely?
That, snarklings, is all the Lady of the Manners really has to say on that subject. In fact, the Lady of the Manners is going to be paying attention to her own advice, as she is trying to leave her own recent reclusive habits of late behind her. As always, send any questions, comments, or fan mail to email@example.com.