The Dangers of Loneliness, or How I Made Friends With My Hat

The topic of the week is socialization! Not as in socialist society (at least, I hope not, or I’m about to write the wrong article), but as in whether or not homeschoolers can handle themselves in social situations.

This is, I believe, kind of a touchy subject—at least in my family. As homeschoolers, we spend so much time defending ourselves to naysayers that we hesitate to admit that there are, in fact, downsides to homeschooling. It’s like a chink in the armor, a gap in the wall that would allow all the skeptics to pour in shouting, “See! See! I told you homeschooling didn’t work!”

So, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to be very, very frank: I had problems with socialization.

No, actually, I can be even more honest than that: I have problems with socialization. And I don’t just mean that I sometimes feel awkward in social situations—everybody sometimes feels awkward. I know as many or more awkward public schoolers as awkward homeschoolers. I struggle with a sort of chronic loneliness leftover from years of isolation. I expect to deal with this for the rest of my life, and I do blame homeschooling for causing it.

Now that that nastiness is out of the way, let me also say this: I don’t think this must be or is the case for every homeschooler. I’d be lying if I said that homeschooling was the only contributing factor. For instance, this was my living situation for the greater portion of my life:

“im a artist! my mommy hangs my pictures on the fridge!”

So obviously, I wasn’t making a lot of friends on my hill (though for a very long time, I was convinced I could talk to trees). To top that off, my family was not exactly rich, and when the recession hit, we didn’t get any richer. Gasoline became a precious resource to be conserved at all costs. As you can imagine, most of my childhood happened on top of that hill, and I spent very, very little time with my peers.

When I was sixteen, I was old enough to go to the local community college. “Huzzah!” thought I to myself. “I’ll make some friends at last! Maybe I’ll even find a—gasp!—boyfriend!”

These things did not happen for two reasons: one internal, one external.

The internal reason was this: I had no clue how to handle myself in public. I didn’t know how to express myself, what forms of teasing were appropriate or inappropriate, what to do with my face and hands, how to crack a joke without looking like a nutter. Heck, I didn’t even know how to hold a conversation: I looked it up on the internet not long after the semester began. These were all skills I’d never needed outside of family situations.

My lack of socialization made me shy and scared. Some part of me assumed that I still lacked friends because I just wasn’t interesting. I probably just irritated the people I tried to talk to. I should just leave them alone and let them get on with their business. I should go home and hole up in my room with my books and my writing and my music.

Another part of me looked the first part square in the face, put her hands on her hips, and said, “That’s bullcrackers. Get your butt out there and learn some basic human interaction.”

So I did.

How?

I made myself a hat.

With bells on it.

Also seven feet of chains and half a dozen thingabobs. It weighed slightly more than a baby elephant.

Here’s the deal with the hat: When you wear a monstrosity like that, people will hunt you down. Everywhere I went, strangers stopped me to tell me how much they loved my hat, how weird it was, why the heck would I put that thing on my head, did I make it myself, and so on and so forth. It forced me into the spotlight. Deprived of my ability to hide, I learned to socialize pretty quickly.

The external factor was harder to remedy. As a homeschooler, I was already kind of an outsider. I lacked the experiences most of my classmates had. I was also younger and smarter than many of them. To make matters worse, I soon got a job in the campus math lab, where I taught everything from algebra to early calculus to my fellow students—many of whom were as much as thirty years older than me. This resulted in my prompt and thorough ostracization. Eventually, I began to avoid telling people my age, or that I’d been homeschooled, or even which classes I was taking. I would inevitably be treated as some kind of prodigy (which I wasn’t), and thus excluded from social groups.

This continued until I reached the university I attend now. I’ve since made a tradeoff: I am not homeschooled. I am not taking extraordinarily advanced classes for my age. I am not significantly younger than my peers.

But my social life is great.

I don’t like the correlation here. Nor do I like the implications that come with it. But there they are.

I suppose this is what I want you to take away from this story: loneliness and social awkwardness are real threats to homeschoolers. They can be overcome, and they might not be problems in everyone’s family situation, but neither can we say that it’s just anti-homeschooling rhetoric.

Loneliness hurts, and this is the one thing—the only thing—that ever makes me wish I wasn’t homeschooled.


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One Response to The Dangers of Loneliness, or How I Made Friends With My Hat

  1. kerrychou says:

    Wow! This is one of the most powerful articles I’ve read about the topic of homeschool loneliness. Thanks you for sharing your experience. I love the creative and bold way that you went about learning socialization with your hat. I’m glad that it worked so well for you. This is a cautionary tale for me as a homeschooling mom with kids approaching high school.

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