My senior year in college was the most extroverted year of my life. If someone called me to go out on a school night as I was climbing into bed, I’d scramble out of my pajamas, throw on some jeans, and run out the door to meet my friends at a crappy bar. I had the perpetual fear of missing out on something amazing. Though I had an incredibly fun year, nothing amazing ever did happen.
Now as I creep towards 30, I won’t even consider answering the phone if I’m in my pajamas. Just the thought of it makes me sleepy. That kind of frenzied and youthful enthusiasm my senior year ran out really fast. I wasn’t really who I truly was.
Though I enjoy the company of others, like any normal human, I need a lot of time to myself. When I was a kid, I would read, write, and draw by myself for hours on end. But old-school Mexicans don’t believe in privacy, so my mother would open my bedroom door (she didn’t believe in knocking) and ask me what the hell was I doing and what the hell was wrong with me. Well, plenty was wrong with me, but at that moment, I just wanted to read and be alone with my thoughts. Sometimes she would passive-aggressively leave the door open and it would infuriate me. (Looking back on it now, I suppose solitude would be bizarre to a woman who grew up in a one-room shack with seven siblings.) But I wasn’t doing drugs, I was reading! I was writing weird poetry! I was thinking!
My introversion reached its peak during my teenage years. I particularly hated going to family parties. I usually begged to stay home, but my parents always refused. When I was 16, I was in my cousin’s quinceañera, and spent almost the entire reception rereading The Catcher in the Rye in my hideous purple satin mermaid dress. I tried to be inconspicuous and keep the book hidden under the table, but everyone was on to me. I guess I was both an introvert and an asshole.
In college I remember once reading about certain African tribes sending their menstruating women to huts for the entire duration of their periods, and I thought, “Hey! That sounds great.” Minus the misogyny, I would be thrilled to be a recluse for three to five days a month. Imagine all the work I could get done!
See, introverts aren’t necessarily sad and lonely. We’re not all pining for someone to talk to. In fact, I wish I had to speak less. I genuinely enjoy being alone and become overwhelmed when my solitude is challenged. When I lived in Spain after college, I ate at restaurants by myself, I went to the movies by myself, I traveled by myself, I visited museums by myself, I even made myself laugh a couple of times (those people on the Metro probably assumed I was a mentally deranged foreigner). It was, without a doubt, one of the most magical years of my life. Sure, I occasionally got lonely, but most of the time I loved that there was no one telling me what to do. I had the luxury to reflect, write, explore. It was thrilling.
Our culture glorifies extroverts and sometimes it’s hard to explain my need for solitude to others. There have been times that my friends or coworkers have invited me out for a drink and though I found them to be very lovely people, there was nothing I wanted less at that moment than to talk to them over beers. Usually it goes like this– Nice, well-intentioned people: Hey, Erika, wanna grab a beer with us? Me shifting uncomfortably and avoiding eye contact: Um, well, actually… I have a deadline. Um.. Yeah, I’m working on this article about such and such… Otherwise, I totally would. Nice, well-intentioned people: You’re lying. Me: Yes.
I’m introvert and a bad liar.
Sometimes on a way to a party, I feel a twinge of anxiety. It doesn’t matter who is attending, where it is, or who it’s for, there is always an underlying panic. But the worst situations for me are networking events where I always end up standing in a corner drinking a cocktail by myself. After feeling thoroughly awkward, I slip out with all my business cards intact and grumble to myself all the way home.
I can function just fine in society, and in the right setting and right mood, I can be sassy and I can be bold. I can even schmooze if I have to. I don’t think anyone who has met me would call me meek or shy. I have even thrown some outrageous parties in my life (parties that have made the neighbors call the police!). But when I have to be social during my more extreme bouts of introversion, I can usually pull it off. Boy, does it hurt, though. If I attend a conference, for instance, I have to sequester myself in my apartment for a few days to recover.
Solitude is a blessing to me. I love having an inner life. Please know that we introverts aren’t all sad souls pining for human interaction. Sometimes we’re simply living in our heads trying to make sense of life. I know I’m often thinking about my writing (or a sandwich). According to the research of psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist, most creative people in many fields are usually introverts. And you wanna know who was an introvert? Picasso! Einstein! Gandhi! Rosa Parks! Abe Lincoln! Even some animals are introverts!
So don’t take it personally if your introverted friend doesn’t want to go out for a drink. Maybe she just needs to read a book or watch four consecutive episodes of Chopped on the Food Network before she can function again in polite society.