As an introverted teenager, you’ll wonder how it’s possible that you desperately want friends yet desperately want to be left alone at the same time.
Hey there, you. It’s me (well, you) from the future. I have some things I want to tell you, and if you still exist anywhere in the space-time continuum, I hope you can hear me. (After all, introverts are very good listeners.)
It’s 2004 and you’re 14…
LOTR: The Return of the King has been out for a year and you’ve seen it about a dozen times now. You are very proud of your AIM screen name: “hobbitsareawesom”. The Killers, meanwhile, are telling you to “smile like you mean it” in their current hit song. You’ve just purchased your first pair of Vans and you wear your studded belt with everything. Everyone has a cell phone except you (or at least that’s how it feels). And it doesn’t help that you’re starting high school and you’re nervous. You see, you spent your elementary school years being homeschooled and your middle school years in a tiny charter school of less than 100 students…
…and, all of a sudden, you find yourself in a place where you know almost no one and no one seems to care if they know you or not. Everyone around you seems to be making friends with almost no effort. Everyone has found a buddy — or a group of buddies — or a boyfriend or a girlfriend… everyone except for you. You just don’t seem to have the magnetism or the charm that everybody else has. You begin to wonder if something is wrong with you. I mean, how is it possible that you desperately want friends and desperately want to be left alone at the same time?
But, then, a few kids start to notice you. They’re nothing like the friends you have in your youth group or the friends you had in middle school. They brag about stealing things from convenience stores and use language that makes your young ears turn red. But they’re people. People to walk the halls with, people to have lunch with, people to sit behind in class. You don’t have much in common with any of them, but that’s fine with you. You aren’t looking for lifelong friendships. You mostly just want people around you for practical use, like accessories to carry around with you so you don’t look weird and friendless.
You come home every day at 2:30 p.m. and are exhausted from being around such a mass of humanity, so you take a nap. You wonder why you can’t seem to function like a normal high schooler, and why you have no interest in extracurricular activities or football games or going to homecoming.
By December, you’ve had enough. The pressure to be someone you’re not is too much and it’s making you sick to your stomach. You beg your parents to let you be homeschooled again, and they agree. You never see anyone from your high school again. You feel a huge sigh of relief escape your lungs, a sigh that’s been building up for four months.
You blink, and it’s 2006…
You’re now 16. The Killers have released a second album and you listen to it obsessively. You’ve traded your studded belts and Vans for American Eagle jeans and polo shirts. You’ve found your first boyfriend — congrats! He’s a friend from church who had a crush on you forever. You aren’t completely sure about him. You hesitate when he asks you out before eventually saying “yes” when your friends all tell you to “just go for it.” He’s very quiet, so you carry the burden of being the social one and you assume that makes you an extrovert.
You’re part of a big youth group and everybody knows you because you’re the pastor’s kid. Your friends all love you. Your Myspace page is flooded with their comments and messages. Your hair is highlighted, your makeup routine is figured out, and for the first time in your life, you can actually fit into size 2 jeans. Boys notice you. Boys like you. Life is good for “sweet 16” you!
But something feels… off. You don’t want to be the person that everybody knows. You don’t want to be the person that has to befriend all the new kids and make them feel welcome in the group. You don’t love your boyfriend, and deep down, you think you’d be happier alone. But you’re too worried about what other people would think of you to make that leap. So you stay with him. You stay with everyone. And you don’t understand yourself or your needs well enough yet to take the time away from people that you so desperately need to stay mentally healthy. You are miserable, and you take your misery out on your boyfriend. (You’ll come to regret that later when you’re older and wiser.)
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Out of nowhere, it’s 2009…
You are 19, that strange age where you are legally an adult and yet still mathematically a teenager. Your boyfriend is long gone and you no longer speak. The Killers are telling you to “parade around without game plans, obligation, or alarm.” You really love The Killers. You always have. But you worry that they’re too mainstream and not nearly as edgy as the screamo-metal stuff that your friends are all into now, so you keep them to yourself.
Your family has changed churches and you find yourself with a brand new friend group. These friendships feel deeper and realer than anything you’ve had before — you “get” each other. You don’t feel like you have to pretend to be a different person when you’re with them. You start to wonder if every relationship in your past was shallow and superficial. You become a part of the “young adult” group at your new church led by a well-intentioned (but overly zealous) guy in his late 20s. Pretty soon, the weekly Bible studies turn into something bigger and you suddenly find yourself standing on street corners or in parking lots every Saturday, passing out pamphlets and asking complete strangers, “If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?”
You absolutely loathe this. You don’t want to talk to strangers on street corners. You want to crawl under a blanket in the safety of your own home and stay there. You begin to feel guilty for being ashamed of your faith. You wonder why everyone else can “share the Good News” so effortlessly and easily, completely unaffected by the uncomfortable stares and outright rejection of others. Deep down, you feel the way you always have: You are different. And different is bad.
You’re a freak. You’re awkward. You’re too sensitive. You’re not devout enough. You’re a bad friend. You’re a bad person.
Except you’re not.
You’re none of these things.
Life is going to get so, so much better. You’re going to spend your 20s figuring out who you are and unraveling all the untruths you’ve always believed about yourself.
You’ll crave connection with other people, and at the same time, you’ll crave solitude. This will confuse and baffle you, but eventually you’ll figure out that these two traits can coexist. You are going to forge deep, meaningful relationships with people who love and accept you just as you are, people like your husband, your kids, and your best friends that stay close across state lines, and even different countries.
You’ll never feel completely at ease in most social situations, but you will find ways to cope with the anxiety. (Hint: Remember to breathe slowly and take your medication on time!) You’ll learn to actually accept your anxiety instead of denying that it exists, and then you’ll learn that, much to your surprise, most of the people you know are doing the exact same thing.
You’ll learn that you are a good listener, and in a world that is too loud and can’t seem to stop talking, your friends need you to listen when they need to get the weight of the world off their chests. But as an empath, stewing in everyone else’s problems can take its toll on you, so you’ll learn how to set boundaries and how to say “no” (both of which can be a challenge for introverts).
You’ll learn that no matter how thoroughly or often you clean your house, it will never be clean enough to meet your impossibly high standards, and you’ll learn how to live with that. (You’re one of those introverts who appreciates a clutter-free environment.) You’ll also (finally) learn to make room in your life for the alone time that you desperately need. And, much to your delight, it isn’t actually that difficult to do: a closed door, noise-cancelling headphones, and straight-up honesty with your family members are all it really takes. And you’ll learn to live with all of your perceived shortcomings. But, most importantly, you’ll learn that you are enough, just as you are, in any given moment. You now understand and embrace your introvert traits in all their glory, from the way you think (and think) about things to appreciating those in your inner circle, your close-knit group of friends and loved ones.
But do you know what the best part will be?
The best part will be that, in 2021, when you’re 31 years old, you’ll still remember all the lyrics to “Mr. Brightside” and you won’t care if you look silly belting out “it’s just the priiiiiiice I pay, destiny is caaaaaalling me!” at the top of your lungs as you drive around town. You have a great singing voice, by the way. (You should show it off more, but I know you’d rather save it for the car, and that is totally OK!)
Take care of yourself.
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