I oversimplify and say I don’t like people, when what I actually dislike are the surface-level interactions of most social gatherings.
I like to make jokes about how much I hate people. As an introvert, it’s easy to do. The stereotype of the misanthropic introvert is backed by countless Facebook memes and pop culture references. Think of the animated character Daria with her oversized glasses and a book in her hand, or that catchy quote from Charles Bukowski, “I don’t hate people, I just feel better when they aren’t around.”
These memes and quotes exist for a reason. They’re funny and relatable, and I’ve enjoyed sharing them just as much as anyone else. But there’s a darker side to them. They can also serve as a coping mechanism for those who need an excuse to hide behind. Let me explain.
It’s the whole “I’m too school for cool” persona. It’s easy for me to say I spent the majority of the party playing with the host’s cat because the people there weren’t half as interesting as the books I have at home. It’s harder for me to admit that getting past the barrier of small talk ranges from somewhat daunting to downright terrifying. So I oversimplify and say I don’t like people, when what I actually dislike are the surface-level interactions of most social gatherings.
We’ve all been to those parties where the sole purpose of the event is for everyone to break into small groups where they talk about sports, the weather, or where the host’s second cousin got her hair done. It’s moments like these where it suddenly becomes very important to find out if there’s a pet you can play with, or when all else fails, perhaps a large potted plant to hide behind. If there’s a drink to be fetched or a bowl of chips to be refilled, this task will instantly become the sole purpose of my existence, because literally anything is better than small talk.
However, despite appearances, I don’t hate people. I just hate shallow socializing.
And therein lies the problem that has kept thousands of introverts awake until all hours of the night. Because being an introvert doesn’t mean you want to be alone all the time. But unfortunately, in order to meet people to share your inner world with, it’s necessary to go out and socialize. In order to get to those coveted discussions about life goals, creative passions, and the existence of the universe, you sometimes have to start with some small talk — no matter how painful it might be.
Sometimes You Have to Go Out to Appreciate Staying In
As an introvert, I view socializing much like I view other aspects of my life that I know are good for me in the long run, but really aren’t very enjoyable in the moment. Do I really want to go to the gym when I could just go home and watch Netflix? No. Do I really want a salad for lunch when I could have a hamburger? No. Do I really want to go to a party when I could curl up in bed with a book and a cup of tea? It’s a no-brainer.
However, to reap the rewards, you have to put in the work.
It’s all about balance. Just like I might treat myself to a piece of chocolate cake as a reward for all those days at the gym last week, I’ll spend a quiet Saturday night at home because I know I already put in a night of socializing and interacting with people outside of my comfort zone on Friday.
The reward of staying in is so much sweeter when it’s saved as its own unique event to look forward to — whereas staying home with a book feels a whole lot less special when you’re doing it for the tenth night in a row. Sometimes you have to go out to fully appreciate staying in, and vice versa.
I never would’ve met some of my closest friends if I chose to stay home and read all the time. Those relationships I have now were worth the anxiety and apprehension I felt upon venturing out of my comfort zone to establish them.
Unfortunately, finding those kinds of relationships is rare, because socializing doesn’t always have tangible rewards. Sometimes I leave an event feeling drained and wishing I’d never left the house. Other times, I might feel that it went okay, but I know the surface-level conversations I held all evening probably won’t lead to any life-altering friendships. But that’s okay, because not every conversation or evening out has to be life-altering.
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For the Introvert, Socializing Isn’t Just a Way to Pass the Time
As an introvert, it’s my natural tendency to always want every interaction to be about establishing a life-long deep connection, but I’ve learned that can put too much pressure on the average casual conversation. Sometimes it’s just about staying in practice with my (albeit limited) people skills until the day when someone suddenly wants to talk about their dreams and goals and all the things that makes them tick. It’s impossible to know where a conversation will lead unless you try.
I’m aware of just how ridiculous my socializing philosophy will sound to extroverts. To them, socializing itself is the end goal. My extroverted friends are always looking for something to do on the weekend, during the holidays, and even on work nights. They pursue socializing for the in-the-moment excitement that it brings. For me, attempting to socialize is a long-term goal, one that I carefully craft and balance so I don’t get mentally or emotionally overwhelmed.
“Going out” is rarely exciting for me in the moment. But I always have hope when attending a party or trying a new networking event that I’ll make a friend who is also dying for a quiet cup of coffee while chatting about life, or who wants to take a trip to the beach just so we can lay side by side and read in complete silence.
When I socialize, I’m not looking for a way just to pass the time. I already have a full list of hobbies and interests and not enough hours in the day to enjoy them all. But I’m always looking for a new person with whom I can share my passions and my world. Sometimes meeting that one new person can be worth the agony of socializing. I like to think I’m the kind of person worth socializing for, and I know I’m not the only one of my kind.
So, my fellow introverts, please occasionally put down your books, go out, and search for the people who make socializing worth it — because I’m out there looking for you.