Needing solitude and intimate conversations

by Kat

Dagmar and loneliness“Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were at home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.” – Susan Cain, in Quiet [1]

I suspect that Dagmar, the psychologist from Lars in the Real Girl, is an introvert [2]. There is a quiet calm about her as shown in the scene in which she is talking with Gus and Karin (Lars’ brother and sister and law) about Lars’s mental illness and course of treatment [3]. She listens intently as Gus describes his frustrations with Lars, who has delusional disorder, and fears of ridicule from their small Midwestern town. Then she looks up from her paperwork and reminds Gus that although “everyone’s going to laugh at him, and you,” the couple needs to support Lars regardless.

I’m reminded of Cain’s passage from Quiet as I see Dagmar intervene with Lars and his family; Dagmar listens more than she talks and thinks more than she speaks. During one of his therapy session, Lars notices a picture in Dagmar’s office and asks her about it [4].

Lars: Is that your husband?

Dagmar: Yes, he died

Lars: Oh no, I am sorry. You have kids?

Dagmar: No.

Lars: You must feel lonely.

Dagmar: Sometimes I get so lonely I forget what day it is, and how to spell my name.

Dagmar apparently understands how Lars’s growing isolation led to his present disconnection from his emotions and other people. During their early sessions, Dagmar sits nearby Lars in her office as she reads New England Medical Journal and updates her patient charts, waiting for Lars to initiate conversation, seemingly sensing his discomfort with day-to-day social interactions. Her introverted nature allows her to be comfortable with the silence, even offering to find Lars something to read in the meantime. Then he asks her about the photograph and Dagmar’s self-disclosure provides an opportunity for them to begin to address Lars’s loneliness, if indirectly; when he sensitively responds to her grief.

Lars and the Real Girl explores how communities can support troubled people; its members find ways to help Lars gradually explore his social world. One of my favorite scenes in the film takes place at a church meeting in which the townspeople struggle to understand how they can interact with Lars in his present state [5]. Ms. Gruner, a church member, remarks, “Oh, for heaven’s sake; what’s the big deal! These things happen. Lars is a good boy. You can depend on me.”

I understand the loneliness present in Lars and the Real Girl and find comfort in the community’s actions because these scenes are painfully familiar to be me. My first year in grad school, I would bike to the neighborhood coffeehouse to study and somehow find myself telling my problems to the person sitting next to me. I’m definitely an introvert — at academic conferences, I need downtime and look for quiet, nearby cafes where I’ll retreat with a book later. But I’m also an external processor. My sea of thoughts calms slightly when I can share them with someone else. If I can speak my worries aloud, they feel real; then I can begin to make sense of them.

My introvert self recharges in solitude, but I long for intimate conversations. When I’ve expended my social energy, I want everyone in the near vicinity to leave me alone with my nonfiction books and television dramas until I feel ready to engage with the world. But when I return, I want people to ask how I’m doing, so I can answer honestly. I want to feel heard and understood — for someone to sit with me as I process through seemingly conflicting thoughts and feelings. I want to monologue about feminism and pop culture without feeling self-conscious.

When I “forget what day it is and how to spell my name,” I leave the apartment and message a close friend about how I’m doing, using feeling words such as sad and confused. This feels like progress somehow.

  1. Cain, S. Quiet (2012).  New York, NY: Crown.
  2. Roger Ebert’s review of Lars and the Real Girl
  3. Lars and the Real Girl – “Can We Help” —
  4. Lars and the Real Girl dialogue transcript (from Drew’s Script-O-Rama) —
  5. Lars and the Real Girl – “Church Meeting” —