It may seem that introverts want alone time, but the truth is, they need it to function.
A holiday weekend, when it comes around, means something different to an introvert. While the more socially inclined might see it as time for cookouts or a day with friends on the beach, an introvert might envision catching up on reading, cleaning the house, or napping. While extroverts might struggle with not leaving the house, even for one day, an introvert might not consider that their planned activities do not involve stepping outside even once. After all, we love our alone time.
That was the case for me this past Labor Day. The holiday was something of a lifeline for me after the busyness of summer. An extra day to recharge felt like just what I needed. I was having a great time at home, catching up on laundry, video games, and reading for the school week ahead. Then some friends called my husband — an extrovert — and asked if they could drop by shortly before dinnertime. My husband relayed the question to me, knowing how I am.
That sense of panic — of knowing that a refusal could be taken badly, yet intensely not wanting to socialize — is known by all introverts as spontaneous requests to hang out. While these last-minute “plans” don’t bother my husband, I’m sure my fellow introverts understand my pain. I’m not “ready” to socialize. I just want to be alone…
Wanting Alone Time Isn’t Personal
It’s not that I don’t enjoy hanging out with our friends, and I hope they never think that. Visits, when planned for days or weeks in advance, can be daunting for me. When I had only half an hour to mentally prepare for people in the house — during a time that I had thought was for recharging my battery, no less — it took a great deal of fortitude to not retreat into the bedroom and stay there for the rest of the day. It was only the thought that it would be awkward — and that we could risk upsetting our friends — that brought me out of the bedroom to socialize.
However, I felt angry with myself for not being able to express my boundaries. I worry about coming off as rude or alienating people (even though my husband and I have explained my introversion to others a few times now).
I feel conflicted blaming them for their lack of understanding. Despite the number of articles and books about it, introversion remains largely misunderstood. Those close to me have read up on it if they aren’t introverts themselves, but not everyone would think to do so.
During the course of this impromptu visit, one of our visitors said to me, “You know, I like my alone time, too.” My husband had told her about my introversion after I made him aware, since she invited us to a lot of functions and always asked about me if I didn’t show up. Over the course of this year alone, she has had four “big” functions, in addition to the small ones she hosts every couple of weeks, that were related to life events, and I have made it to half of the “big” events.
There were a number of ways I could have responded to her comment, but since all of them were summoned in my annoyed state of mind, I decided it was better to hold my tongue.
Alone Time Is Not Just Wanted, but Essential
While my friend’s intention with their alone time comment was to relate to me, I felt frustrated, considering the circumstances. Everyone can enjoy alone time, and everyone should be granted this time to themselves — whether it is used to dance around the kitchen to ‘80s music or quietly reflect with a hot (or iced) beverage of choice. We all have different needs and capacities for socializing and alone time. Introverts typically do not express these needs, because we are used to people-pleasing or getting guilt-tripped if we say “no” to an invitation.
Extroverts can — and do — enjoy alone time; I do not disagree with that, nor do I discount the fact that people can be ambiverts, both an introvert and extrovert. But the difference between introverts and extroverts lies in how essential the alone time is for the person. Since our friend invited us over the following week (on a Sunday, no less), something tells me that, while she is capable of enjoying alone time, she doesn’t need it in order to function. Also, most introverts I know are hesitant to make plans, since we all know how bad we feel when the day of the hangout comes and we would rather spend the day with our Nintendo Switch rather than keep the plans.
Arnie Kozak, author of The Awakened Introvert, defines solitude as being able to go within and connect with oneself, regardless of whether one is alone or not. She explains that it is possible for the introvert to be with people that respect their need for quiet, and they can be included in solitude. She writes, “Your desire for solitude is natural, and while it may seem to be a luxury to have it, for introverts it is a necessity.”
Introverts need times when we can switch off. This is more than casually enjoying having the house to ourselves. We need times in which we can trust in the promise of not being interrupted or asked to do anything that would detract from our recharge time. We need breaks from our phones and texting. We need time to just be with ourselves. Many of us work in fields where we need to take on more extroverted personas — and yes, as Susan Cain explains in her book Quiet, introverts can do that. So then we need to revert to our coveted introvert alone time.
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‘Outgoing’ Is Not Our Default Setting
However, just because we can be outgoing when called for and seem fine at it, this does not mean it is our default setting. In fact, the need to switch personas for work — or to get along in society — means that our recharge time is even more vital for us to continue functioning at a high level.
So what is the frustrated, but well-meaning, introvert to do? We have to understand ourselves before anyone else can ever hope to. That means we must embrace our introversion and understand that our need for alone time is important. It does not arise from laziness or self-indulgence. We have nothing to feel guilty about if we would rather skip out on random or spontaneous get-togethers. People might not understand, and they might talk about us behind our backs, but it is up to us to decide how much weight to give that.
But the good news is, there will be people who understand. Kozak writes that others can nurture our need for solitude by “not being intrusive and not needing you to take care of [them].” In a similar vein, introverts make great friends, and because we are so good at picking up on others’ cues, we often know exactly what they need from us. We make ourselves available to our friends when they truly need us, such as while grieving a loved one. But if they want us over for a casual football Sunday (and we don’t even like football), that’s a different story.
Social Situations Are Exhausting for Us
Cain understands that extroverts might have a difficult time grasping what an introvert needs when they are not working. She says, “We all empathize with a sleep-deprived mate who comes home from work too tired to talk, but it’s harder to grasp that social stimulation can be just as exhausting.”
I work remotely, but my job is often full of surprises, never the same day-to-day, and filled with spontaneous calls with coworkers I don’t know well over Microsoft Teams. My gig as a college essay tutor is similar. I interact with students with varying needs. After the allotted number of hours of that per week, I simply don’t have the head or heart space for social interaction with anyone other than my husband, sisters, and cats.
Yet I do my best to show up when it really counts. However, as an introvert surrounded by extroverts, I find that I can only do what they might consider the bare minimum when it comes to social engagements.
The extrovert’s misunderstanding of why we introverts need alone time will probably go on forever. It is more than wanting the living room to myself so I can watch what I want on TV. It is more than wanting privacy to dance around the house to Depeche Mode. I am much better at writing about my reasoning than I am at defending it on the spot, which is thanks to my introversion, but processing this deeply has made me feel more confident in my ability to do so the next time it comes up.
As an introvert, the best thing you can do for yourself is know yourself. As an extrovert, the best way you can handle social situations is by respecting the introvert’s needs whether you understand them or not (and know that they are needs, not luxuries, even if all we’re doing is playing The Legend of Zelda on the couch).
And for the love of all that is holy, please don’t surprise us with spontaneous calls to visit, especially not on a holiday weekend. We’ve got laundry to catch up on and articles to write.
You might like:
- Why Do Introverts Love Being Alone? Here’s the Science
- 9 Signs You Need Some Alone Time as an Introvert
- Need Some Downtime? Here’s the Perfect Idea for Each Introverted Myers-Briggs Type
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