Connecting with people can be hard when you’re a sociopath. Sociopaths, after all, aren’t known for their list of friendly attributes. And most people would just as soon not have a friend who is low on empathy, emotion, and overall sensitivity to feeling. Go figure.

That leaves me with two options where most people are concerned: pretend to be someone I’m not or go it alone.

Fortunately for me, I don’t mind being alone – in fact I love it. I am the quintessential loner, preferring solitude to society almost every time. But there is a huge difference between the loner and the lonely. Loneliness isn’t a choice, it’s a prison destitute of sympathetic or friendly companionship. And no one is immune to loneliness – not even me. So when I find myself getting lonely, I turn to my book club.

Books provide the one thing I’ve always wanted: invisibility. They give me complete access into the minds of all sorts of personalities. I can come and go as I please and no one notices. I never have to reveal myself because it’s a one-sided relationship. And you can learn so much about a person based on the books they like.

Take Melissa, for instance. Despite the fact we’ve never met, I started watching Melissa years ago online after she started dating a friend of mine. Turns out Melissa is a voracious reader with a penchant for the macabre. I’ve read nearly a dozen of her suggestions, mentioned here and there throughout social media over the years.

Melissa wears short skirts and takes lots of pictures in cemeteries. She likes to think she’s a real bad ass. But the books tell a different story. She loves baking and is a nurturer to a fault. She wants someone to take care of her. She has a fondness for helping others and she’s desperate to be a mother.

Twelve years later I still keep tabs on Melissa. She’s engaged now to a successful comedian I happen to know. It makes me happy because he’s a nice guy. I like knowing that she’s ok. Melissa’s books and her reactions to them have taught me a great deal about empathy and sensitivity. We’re in a book club, Melissa and I. I like to think she’d like it if she knew.

Another member of my book club is an ex-boyfriend named Jeremy. We haven’t interacted in more than two decades, but I am always on the lookout for his books. He isn’t forthcoming about his choices. Sometimes I have to dig deep in the comments to see what’s on his shelves, but I always find it.

Jeremy suffers from depression; he struggles every day. Our relationship was volatile and heartbreaking but I’m fiercely protective of him. I keep my distance, but I read his books. And though I am only a witness, I’m inspired by how hard he fights to stay afloat. His books are a map that I’m honored to follow. I’m an invisible lover. It’s the perfect relationship.

All told there are 37 members of my one-sided-book-club, each with their own collection of books stacked carefully on my shelves. Each tells a chapter of the individual responsible, and each is a testament to the relationship we have.

Some are strangers, some are neighbors, some are people I’ll never see again. But every member is a vital curator to the single most important collection of my life. I wouldn’t be who I am without them. And they’ll never ever know.