You’ve probably heard plenty about why friendships are so important, particularly if you don’t have many friends yourself.
Maybe well-meaning loved ones regularly encourage you to break out of your shell and meet new people. Their concern might lead you to wonder whether you’re missing out or prompt some self-consciousness about not having friends.
Or maybe you worry others judge you or assume you can’t make friends.
Yet just as every story has two sides, there’s more than one way to look at a solitary life. It really comes down to what you want.
Sure, healthy friendships are good for your physical and mental health. People need at least a little human contact in order to thrive, and true isolation can take a toll on your overall well-being.
If you’re not totally isolated, though, and your lack of friends doesn’t trouble you, it can be perfectly fine to be satisfied with your own company. Being alone doesn’t automatically translate to feelings of loneliness, and it isn’t necessarily a problem in need of fixing.
The next time you start to feel bad about not being a social butterfly, keep the following in mind.
According to research from 2017, people who spend time alone due to unsociability tend to report higher levels of creativity. Unsociability isn’t a negative thing — it just means that you don’t particularly care whether you interact with others.
You might already recognize that alone time boosts your imagination and allows creativity to flourish. Talking and interacting with others can distract you from attempts to brainstorm or contemplate possibilities.
That’s not to say the words of others don’t have value — time with friends can be enjoyable. All the same, there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to greater self-awareness.
If you write, draw, make music, or engage in other creative activities, you probably need plenty of time to sort through ideas and pursue sources of inspiration in order to develop your work.
Solitude allows you to tune out chatter and other background noise and heighten your awareness of your own thoughts.
You might notice spending time with other people sometimes brings out different personality traits. Even if you aren’t entirely conscious of these changes, your words, actions, or mood might subtly shift to reflect the behavior of those around you.
With a loud, outgoing friend you might find yourself similarly energized. After a day with your sister, you might come home to find you’ve picked up her habit of dropping sarcastic remarks.
Mirroring isn’t a bad thing. It’s a prosocial behavior that helps people bond. Yet simply being in the presence of others can somewhat alter your experiences, even your self-awareness.
Instead of focusing on your own perspective, you might consider what they’re thinking or feeling or perhaps adjust your own behavior to make them more comfortable.
These concerns can disconnect you from what you think and feel, making it harder to stay fully present in a given moment.
Being alone grants you the freedom to stay fully present with your true self and experience things as you truly see them. Having fewer friends, in turn, may sometimes allow you to be more in tune with yourself.
Feeling pressured to make friends with people who don’t have much interest in your needs won’t do you any good.
Forced casual friendships can provide some social contact in the form of an occasional lunch or coffee break, but they don’t offer much else. And often, they can just leave you feeling drained and slightly annoyed.
Here’s an example:
At work, you talk with co-workers occasionally, but feel no need to make friends. You spend your lunch break reading or listening to music. One day, your boss calls you in and says, “I hate to see you always sitting alone. Why don’t you try talking to people during lunch? Everyone will think you don’t like them.”
You don’t actively dislike anyone, but you don’t enjoy small talk and prefer to avoid sharing personal details at work. But your boss seems to be insisting, so you make an effort to be more social.
The result? You start feeling anxious as lunchtime approaches and dread the break instead of looking forward to an hour of peace.
Losing that time to recharge makes you feel more stressed at work and irritable at home. Before long, you start to resent your boss and co-workers and dislike a job you previously felt very satisfied with.
Whether you realize it or not, your identity is partially shaped by the people in your life. You might see this impact in minor ways: the TV shows you watch, activities you participate in, or the types of exercise you choose.
Sometimes, though, the impact is more significant. Maintaining relationships with others and paying attention to their needs can occasionally detract from your ability to take care of yourself and achieve positive self-growth.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with caring about loved ones and supporting their emotional needs. But concern for others can sometimes affect you negatively when it prevents you from supporting yourself. Many people discover this when trying to divide their time between too many friends.
Spending more time alone — not out of anxiety but because you enjoy solitude — can lead to greater self-compassion and a stronger motivation to meet your own needs. Maybe you’ve already noticed it’s easier to stick to positive habits when you focus on nurturing yourself.
You can always choose to spend time with other people, but you can’t really get away from yourself. It makes sense, then, to prioritize your relationship with yourself. This relationship is perhaps the most important one you’ll ever have — and when it’s strong, it can strengthen your other relationships in turn.
What do you look forward to most at the end of a long day?
Some people want nothing more than to gather a circle of friends and enjoy their company. Perhaps your ideal evening involves a favorite hobby or craft, cooking a fancy meal for yourself, or a long workout.
Messages from loved ones or society in general might make you feel as if you should spend your free time engaging in social activities.
These subtle (or not-so-subtle) hints to “be a little more friendly” can make you feel guilty when you’d rather have a quiet night at home cleaning or watching a movie with nothing but popcorn and your pet to keep you company.
Pushing yourself to socialize when you’d rather spend your time on other pursuits can leave you frustrated and resentful, especially when socializing doesn’t relax you or fulfill other needs.
People who don’t get enough time to recharge often end up dealing with more stress and even burnout. Spending time alone not only gives you more time to focus on what you really want to do, it also helps protect you from stress.
While some people need a lot of social time, others don’t.
If you’re more introverted, you probably feel most comfortable with a few close friends. Too much socializing likely drains your energy and leaves you in urgent need of solitude.
Introversion is simply one part of your personality, not a flaw you need to address or anything to feel bad about. Introverted people often have few friends simply because they thrive best without constant companionship.
If you already interact with people at work or school, you may not want to dedicate more time to social pursuits once your workday ends.
The benefits of friendship can’t be denied, but those benefits don’t necessarily outweigh your personal needs.
If you’d much rather take a long walk alone than spend a morning at brunch, treat yourself with respect and honor that. You know your needs better than anyone else, and by prioritizing them, you’re doing yourself a big favor.
The best friend ideal is pretty common: A rock-solid relationship with a trusted companion you’ve known for years, who understands everything about you and never lets you down.
Some people do have this type of relationship, but it’s not quite as typical as you might assume. Realistically speaking, it’s pretty unlikely for one person to meet all of your friendship needs, just as it’s not possible for romantic partners to meet each other’s needs all the time.
Consistently turning to just one person for friendship and emotional support can put you both at a disadvantage when you struggle to fulfill that role.
If you do desire more emotional support and companionship, a better goal is to find a few close friends to share your time with.
You might turn to one friend when you have something difficult on your mind, another when you want to do something adventurous, and a third for movie nights when you want to enjoy some company without necessarily having to interact.
When you truly care about spending time with someone, that’s a relationship to cultivate.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how many friends you have. If you don’t feel the need to make more friends, trust your instincts without letting the opinions of others sway you.
That said, loneliness can contribute to mental health symptoms, including anxiety and depression. Getting to know new people isn’t always easy, and struggling to make new friends can leave you feeling isolated.
Therapy can offer a safe space to cope with feelings of loneliness and get compassionate guidance on strategies for building meaningful connections with others.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.