If we say we want to spend the night at home, please don’t make comments like, “That’s so sad!”
I didn’t actually realize I was an introvert until I went to college. That may seem kind of late in life to realize the basis of who I was, but growing up in a small country community never gave me a reason to have to choose between outgoing and shy.
I went to a small high school where I knew everyone and everyone knew me. I had the same friends my senior year of high school as I did in the third grade. It wasn’t a big deal to be involved in multiple sports and clubs because I didn’t feel like I had to prove myself to anybody — everyone already knew everything about me. It was very comfortable, and I loved it.
Going from a high school of fewer than 400 students to a university of 30,000 was definitely a change. Suddenly I found myself more alone than I had ever been. I had a new apartment and a new job in a new city, and I was surrounded by new people who I knew nothing about. It was terrifying.
The worst part was I had to (shudder) make friends. I honestly didn’t know how to do that. Did you just walk up and say hi? Did you play hard to get? Did you offer them a treat and scratch them behind the ears?
Through some miracle (and some very kind people), I was able to make a few friends that first week of school. Pretty soon I was invited to parties and 1 a.m. capture-the-flag tournaments put on by what seemed like the entire freshman class. I found myself missing my old friends at these events, but I was also excited to get to know the new people who were so generously trying to include me. So I went.
Every party, every game night, every late study session, I was there. I had to have the “college experience” everyone talked about. All these other freshmen really seemed to be enjoying themselves.
So why wasn’t I?
Why Did I Hate Parties?
It took me a long time to finally realize I wasn’t having fun. As the year went on, I found myself skipping more and more parties (I was the queen of, “I just got this, sorry!” texts) and wanting to hang with people less and less.
Don’t get me wrong, my new friends were great. And if it was just a small group of them, I had no problem socializing. It was the crowded, loud get-togethers I despised so much. But even after I understood I didn’t like big parties, I still didn’t know why.
The summer after my freshman year was when I really learned what it meant to be an introvert. I had heard the term before but never thought it applied to me. When I looked into it more thoroughly, it was a mind-blowing epiphany.
I. Was. An. Introvert.
How did I not see it before? I started reading everything I could about introverts, and the more I read, the more it all made sense to me.
(Not sure if you’re an introvert? Here are 21 signs that you are.)
It’s Okay to Be an Introvert
My greatest discovery was that it was okay to be an introvert. It’s sort of a “duh” discovery, but during my entire freshman year, I genuinely thought something was wrong with me because I didn’t like doing all the things “typical” college students did.
I don’t in any way want to imply that my college friends treated me poorly. They have been an incredible support system for me, and I am still friends with many of them. But I thought I’d write an open letter of sorts from an introvert to all the extroverts out there.
An Open Letter to Extroverts
First of all, you’re great. Although I can’t speak for every introvert, sometimes I’m pretty jealous of your personality. You’re social, you’re funny, you can meet a dozen new people at a party without even taking a breath — mere dreams for an introvert like me. But ultimately, I love my “quiet” self and have become very used to my personality and who I am.
The biggest reaction I get from extroverts when I explain what it’s like to be an introvert is “Wow, I never thought of it like that.” So here are a few things you should know if you’re friends with an introvert:
We need lots of alone time.
The biggest difference between introverts and extroverts is how they regain their energy. In general, extroverts are energized by socializing, and introverts are energized by being alone. So when we say we’re tired from the party last night, it’s true. Socializing physically and mentally exhausts us.
If we say we don’t want to hang out, it doesn’t mean we don’t like you. Okay, I mean it could, but most of the time it has nothing to do with you as a person.
Also, if we say we want to spend the night at home, please don’t make comments like, “That’s so sad!” People who don’t know me well seem to genuinely feel bad that I’m going to be by myself on a Friday night — because it sounds like a terrible thing to them. I don’t really care anymore, but these kinds of comments used to make me feel uncomfortable and bad about myself.
Seriously though, we are old enough to realize what we like and what we don’t like. If we wanted to go out, we would.
For us, less is more.
Introverts like hanging out with people. We actually do, despite some of the memes that get passed around social media.
But a good rule of thumb is the more people there are, the more closed off we get. It usually just isn’t worth the effort to fight our way into a conversation when there are so many different people around. If you really want to get to know us, keep it one-on-one or just a couple of people at a time.
We like to listen.
We love to talk, but we also really like to listen. Introverts tend to be more aware of their surroundings, and we notice things like facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. We enjoy taking in these details.
Oh, and when we’re just listening, please don’t make a comment about how quiet we are. It’s so awkward. What are we supposed to do? Apologize? Suddenly turn into a loud, crazy, outgoing person? I understand that it usually isn’t meant to be rude, but it makes us feel extremely self-conscious.
A better way to include introverts in a conversation is to ask us a question relevant to what everyone is talking about. Questions help draw us out, and show us you are interested in what we have to say.
But honestly, don’t worry about us. We hate the idea that people think we can’t take care of ourselves just because we’re quiet.
When we do talk, we can be pretty intense.
Even though we can be quiet at parties, when we’re in a situation where we feel comfortable, many of us jump right into things. Small talk is the worst. We’d rather talk about politics, our deepest fears, or go in-depth about symbolism in a book we love. Just be prepared to not hear too much about the weather, unless the topic is a hurricane or record-breaking snowstorm.
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We hate unexpected phone calls.
Sometimes I do like talking on the phone, like when we’ve planned a “phone date” in advance, or if it’s urgent or super important. Otherwise, please don’t call us. Even if we recognize the number, we’ll probably just stare at the screen until it goes to voicemail. I always listen to my voicemail, but unless it’s from a boss or has some other professional relevance, I will just text that person my response instead of calling back.
We’re not going to show up without knowing someone.
Even though it’s not our favorite thing, sometimes we will go to parties and big social events. We need human interaction, too, and we likely have a few extroverted friends who we really enjoy hanging out with.
That being said, we are not going to show up anywhere unless we’re sure we’re going to know someone there. If a friend invites us to a party and then says they’re going to show up late, we will probably find an excuse to be late as well. Or not even show up. The thought of arriving at a party full of strangers is pretty terrible — even if there’s food.
Your friendship means more than you may know.
Introverts can be hard for extroverts to understand. But we really do need your friendship. You get us out of our comfort zones from time to time, which is good for us even if we don’t like to admit it.
And the relationships we have mean a lot to us, because we don’t click with just anybody. When we do connect with someone, we want to keep that connection forever. Knowing there is someone out there who genuinely cares about us and loves us is incredibly important, and we don’t take it for granted.