Tuesday, October 18, 2016

What to Know if You're Friends with an Introvert

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 really 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 with new people who I knew nothing about. It was terrifying. The worst part was that 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 being invited to parties and 1:00 a.m. capture-the-flag tournaments put on by what seemed like the entire freshman class. I found myself missing my old friends a lot 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. That was what I was supposed to do, right? I had to have the “college experience” everyone talked about, didn’t I? All these other freshmen really seemed to be enjoying themselves. 

So why wasn’t I? 

It took me a long time to finally realize I wasn’t having fun. As the year went on I found myself skipping out on 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 assumed it could be 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.  
My greatest discovery was that it was OK to be introverted. 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. Besides, college is sort of created for extroverts. A lot of your success at a university depends on how outgoing you are, how well you work with others, and how many people of importance you know. Those things aren’t impossible for introverts but they sure can be a lot harder. 

I don't in any way want to imply that my friends at college treated me poorly. They have been an incredible support system to me and I still am friends with many of them. But I thought I'd write an open letter of sorts from an introvert to any extroverts out there.

*On a quick side note, introversion and extroversion is a spectrum. Everyone has a little bit of both sides in them-- one side is just usually stronger than the other. These points aren't going to apply to every introvert out there. They apply to me personally and I consider myself pretty far up on the introvert scale, so I'm just assuming at least most of them apply to other introverts as well.

Dear Extroverts,

First of all, you're great. Like, we introverts are pretty jealous of your personalities sometimes. You are social, you're funny, you can meet a dozen new people at a party without even taking a breath-- dreams for us. But ultimately we love ourselves and have gotten very used to our personalities and the person they've made us.

The biggest reaction I get from an extrovert 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:

1. We need alone time. 

The biggest difference I've found between introverts and extroverts is how they regain their energy. Extroverts are energized by socializing, introverts are energized by being alone. So when we say we're tired from the party last night, it's absolutely true. Socializing makes us physically and mentally exhausted. If we say we don't want to hang out, it doesn't mean we don't like you. Well, I guess it could. But most of the time we promise it has nothing to do with you as a person. We decline spending time with our best friends because we just need an evening to ourselves.

Also, if we say we want to spend the night in don't make comments like "that's so sad". This has happened to me several times, and usually intentions are good. People who don't know me very well genuinely feel bad that I'm going to be by myself on a Friday night because that sounds like a terrible thing to them. I don't really care anymore. but it used to make me feel really 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.  

2. Less is more.

We like hanging out with people. But a good rule of thumb to follow is that the more people there are the more closed off we get. It just isn't worth it to have 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. 

3. We like to listen.

We love to talk (I mean, who doesn't?), but we also really like to listen to conversations. Introverts tend to be more aware of their surroundings- facial expressions, body language, location. And we enjoy that. And please don't make a comment about how quiet we are. It is seriously the most awkward thing ever. What are we supposed to do? Apologize? Suddenly turn into this loud, crazy, outgoing person? It probably isn't meant to be rude but all it does is make us feel extremely self-conscious about ourselves. A better way to include us in a conversation is to ask us a question relevant to what everyone is talking about. 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.

4. When we do talk we can be pretty intense.

Like I said, we like to talk. And when we're in a situation where we feel comfortable we jump right into things. Small talk is the worst. We'd rather talk about politics, the economy, or go in-depth about symbolism in a book we love. Just prepared to not hear too much about the weather, unless the topic is a hurricane or record-breaking snowstorm.

5. We hate the phone

Unless it's super important, don't call us. Even if we recognize the number we'll probably just stare at the screen until it goes to voicemail. And voicemail can be just as bad because it means we have to call that person back. 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. Phones calls are the worst.

6. We are not going to show up without knowing someone

Even though it's not our favorite thing, we will go to parties and social events sometimes. We like human interaction and most of the time we have extroverted friends who we want to hang out with. That being said, we are not going to show up anywhere unless we are 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 are going to find an excuse to be late as well. Or not even show up. The thought of arriving to a party full of strangers is pretty terrible. Even if there's food. 

7. Your friendship means more than you probably know.

We can be kind of hard to get used to if you're an extrovert. But we need your friendship. You get us out of our comfort zone from time to time which is good for us even if we don't like to admit it. And relationships really mean a lot to us. One of the reasons we don't like to socialize with people constantly is because we hate the idea of people acting like they really like us and then never seeing them again. When we connect with someone we want to keep that connection forever. Knowing that there is someone out there who genuinely cares about us and loves us is incredibly important to us.  

Love, Introverts

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