Sunday, December 23, 2007

Leave me alone but not lonely

The funny thing about introverts is that we can feel lonely despite our frequent need for solitude. Imagine that! Sometimes we can't stand to be around other people; other times, we are miserable because we have no one to talk to. Introverts still have a deep, human need for connection despite our personality orientation. However, we have another powerful need: to be understood and accepted for who and what we are.

My university years helped me to understand some of the challenges of being an introvert. University was the best of times and the worst of times for me. University was a wonderful time for exploration, learning, and becoming more independent. The experience of living (somewhat) on my own for the first time was a crucial event in my life.

University was very difficult, on the other hand, because I found it hard to make meaningful friendships like I had when I was in high school and middle school. At the time I knew I was a shy and private person, but I really didn't understand what introversion was. As many of you may know, privacy quickly evaporates when you have a roommate at university, as well as dozens or hundreds of other young adults within walking distance. That was definitely a huge change for this young introvert.

University lifestyle had another element which was really hard for me to adjust to: the near-constant socializing and expectation to be out there partying and having fun with other people. University residences, especially the one that I lived in, cater to social activities. Unfortunately, it could be a very challenging environment for people who need quiet, alone time to recharge. Quite often I found myself thinking that I needed to be out with "the guys" doing things that did really seem to be that fun until you'd had a few beers. Or more than a few. However, most of these friendships had less depth than a wading pool.

I'd be lying if I said that I didn't enjoy some of the times that I spent with my university neighbors (I'd be lying if I said that many of them became true friends, too) but overall I felt disconnected, insecure, and lonely a lot of the time because my introversion and my interests seemed to diverge so much from my fellow university residents. I felt very ungrounded and somewhat lost during those years. My need for "alone time" conflicted with the social dynamics of residence life.

I sometimes wonder if my university experience would have been easier if the Internet and the Web had been out there in its current form. E-mail was available in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but it wasn't always easy to access, so I wound up relying more on handwritten letters in those days (I didn't get my first PC until after I graduated from university) or the very rare phone call. I wonder if I would have stayed in better contact with high school or university acquaintances if sites like Facebook and instant messaging were around in those days. It certainly would have been easier to keep in touch.

The other thing that Web 2.0 technologies have done is to help develop interest groups on every topic under the sun. Usenet newsgroups and computer BBSs (bulletin board system) were the main sources of mass communication in those days. Web 2.0 and its wired precursors have been instrumental in developing communities that did not and could not exist without those technologies. People who have hard times connecting face-to-face can today take part in different communities based on common thoughts and interests.

The point of this post isn't to whine about the problems that introversion introduced into my life. My life, even in its worst moments, is a very good life. I have learned to take pride in qualities that I used to believe were weaknesses. I am older and wiser and I learn more every day. However, if I had been eighteen years old today, I'd send myself a link to this blog and this post in particular. I'd share my social bookmarks and other assorted links that I've found on the topic of introversion. Most importantly, I'd use this knowledge and technology to help me understand myself better and to try to communicate with other introverts. I couldn't use this to create and maintain a permanent social life, but I could use it as a stepping stone to other things.

In summary, I think it's a better time to be an introvert than it ever has. The knowledge and tools are at your disposal to become better educated, learn more about others, and, most importantly, learn about yourself. That's the greatest gift of all.

My recurring theme in this blog is to talk about ways to become a mighty introvert. However, I think the best thing that I could ever help anyone to do is to become a self-aware, knowledgeable introvert who is comfortable with himself or herself. I think that would make them pretty darn mighty, too.


Anonymous said...

Wow, reading this felt like reading about my own university experience!

When friends would try to pressure me into going out, I would usually end up going because I would feel left out otherwise, but in the end I wouldn't have fun because it was so forced, and I would almost always get a feeling of 'people saturation' and just need to get out of there and go home alone...

Anonymous said...

This post just restored a little bit of my self confidence.

I've just started university, and find the constant social pressures to do X, Y and Z night after night to be difficult to deal with.

When everyone around you appears to enjoy doing all this, it is nice to know that there actually are others who are introverted too and would find this sort of thing incredibly tiring.

Sniggerly Pig said...

indeed...ditto! Thanks for writing this!

Anonymous said...

Same as everyone else.. I've been struggling to figure out why I feel like I do at my large university.. all of the other students spend their free time going out to bars in groups, partying, etc. I have a great time doing that with close friends now and again, but the pressure to do it all. the. time. is just so overwhelming.

Thanks for the post. It made me feel a little bit better.

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Anonymous said...

I'm in 3rd year university and I really haven't met that many people... I don't really like going out... I get tired and uncomfortable and I hate small talk. I also just find it so hard to relate to people, because they seem too different than me. I like to be private and controlled, not exactly the typical partying uni student. I'm sure this is a combination of low self-esteem and introversion. Outside of my old high school friends I've only met one person in university that I hang out with outside of school and she thinks I'm weird and "not normal" for wanting to be alone.

I'm so lonely... I wish I had someone who would be there for me. Not always feel the need to be out.partying.socializing. etc. or at the very least understand that I won't tag along all the time. I feel depressed. This article helps though as I know I'm not the only one who is like this.

Anonymous said...

I'm an introvert and I'm pretty flexible as far as that kind of stuff, but I'm sick of being harassed about someone's stupid assumptions. For some reason when people see that you're an introvert they seem to feel they can't leave you alone.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that "Leave me alone but not lonely" really strikes a chord with me. When I'm with people who consider me a friend I feel smothered, I drift into a dream world, I don't pay them my full attention and they get pissed off while I get bored.

When I'm on my own I feel lonely and isolated.

The great thing about school was that it provided numerous transient relationships. People who didn't really like me, but would pretend to be my friend just to make the day go quicker. I liked that. Someone who would blow smoke up my ass during the school day, then leave me the fuck alone and not invite me anywhere at night. I don't even care if they were insulting me behind my back. It was a good balance for me.

I want someone to talk to on a regular basis, but I don't want that person to become an intimate part of my life. I don't want them to think that they can show up randomly at my home, or that I would want to show up regularly at their home (I find visits to other people's homes to be an irredeemable waste of time). Of course regular contact with someone inextricably leads to an intimate relationship and that is a problem for me.

Now that I'm 21 and working I have only 1 friend that I meet maybe twice a year. It's safe to say that I get pretty lonely sometimes. I know that there are numerous ways to meet people. I could connect with people all over the world from the comfort of my chair.

The centre of town is not 15 minutes walk away. I could go over there and start talking to people within the hour if I wanted to. But even though I'm lonely, I don't want to. The thought of meeting people doesn't excite or interest me in the slightest. I see it as a chore. I can't imagine anything I would want to say to someone even if I did meet them. Even though I have a huge amount to say.

I fulfil a more passive role in relationships. You come to me and tell me what you're passionate about, and if it happens to interest me then many good times can be had together. I on the other hand, although interested in many things, am not passionate enough about anything in particular to actual see it through to any meaningful end. I need other people for that. And I seem to expect that these other people just turn up in my life with no effort on my part at all.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about this sort of thing a lot recently, and you've summed it up perfectly: 90% of the time I'm happy to be alone, but the other 10% of the time, when I do need people, there aren't many there.

I'm planning to head off to university in two years time, and I just can't imagine myself going out to parties -- at all. I worry that I'm going to finally lose all those friends I have nothing in common with, and be left with about one or two people who are as bad at getting out and keeping in touch as I am.

But like I said, the majority of the time I am perfectly happy to be by myself, so hopefully things will turn out okay.

Anonymous said...

im 20 and definetly introverted. i can spend days without talking to people, and yet i'm very happy. i frequently smile or laugh for no reason other than appreciating the beauty of nature on my way to shool. i feel wise beyond my years, and people come to me for advice.

the problem im having in university is that i dont know what to do with my life. i am not sure of my intelligence yet, although i have excellent marks in math, stats, chem, bio i struggle more with the social and liberal art classes. I'm not sure if its from lack of intelligence, or lack of effort because im just not as interested in those courses. at times it feels trivial to learn psychological theories that will no doubt be disproven in the coming years, or to learn to identify a predicate in the age of spellcheck.

as an individual with average intelligence i feel it would be pointless to devote my life to scientific advancement, because i would just be contributed a small amount to the vast library of science. therein lies my problem. if i am only of average intelligence then pursuing a carreer in knowledge is fruitless. on the other hand, if i am highly intelligent that i feel i have to power to make a difference in the world.

what courses are good for an introvert? im taking a psyc 101 course right now, and although it is very interesting, im having trouble accepting the ambiguity. i've also noticed that alot of psychology is spent on proving axioms, which is entirely trivial.

>guidance from someone who knows what im talking about?

Anonymous said...

I'm a very mighty, mighty introvert. An extreme introvert with no fear, this is what makes me a true monster. What I wonder now is: do regular people even think at all?

I like your blog btw...nice work.


Anonymous said...

How very annoying, finding an article that almost completely describes my current situation, yet has no recent comments :P Oh well. I'd be grateful if any creative introverts have come up with a solution to the "leave me alone but not lonely" conundrum. I don't go in for most of the big nights out that a lot of college students do. I find them taxing and superficial- most of the time I just stand around asking myself how anyone could squeeze the tiniest drop of enjoyment out of this. Clubs, to me, seem to only have value to those who really like the music/dancing, and those who view them as a meat-market. Clubs and societies seem cliquey, exclusive, and geared towards those who spend every spare minute down at HQ with other members. I need my solitude, and the result seems to be that in the times when I am lonely, I don't really have anyone to call up to meet up for coffee and a chat. Any ideas? (I've had the address since I was about 14, don't judge too harshly).

Anonymous said...

Wow- I hadn't really realized this about myself before. Thank-you so much for writing this. I know that I have genuine anxiety problems with some things that aren't normal but I've always been reluctant to ever think of being 'fully cured' i.e. a fully fledged extrovert... I just don't feel like that's who I am. Before I read your article I've been trying to WANT that... and now I realise that I don't need to. What is so wrong with enjoying the 'simple' things in life by yourself. I think my biggest problem is that I'm a first year at Uni but I live with my boyfriend who is in the same uni- first year and I'm not all that far away from my family and I keep in regular contact with my very closest friends from school who do get me and I love chatting to etc. So I haven't been lonely... I've just felt guilty for 'ruining' my own Uni experience... but screw it- I love learning, I don't avoid people but I don't force anything because I haven't met anyone worth it- no-one that I can chat to about the big things in my life or in theirs... I realise now that you often want what is best/ right for you. I need to trust myself and not fall for what I 'should' want or be. I'm a mighty introvert. Wowza- thank-you for making me realize that. You've changed my life... I'm sorry you couldn't have told yourself this when you were my age but ... thank-you for helping me, SO MUCH.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your article - it is EXTREMELY helpful for introverts just learning that they are not 'freaks'!
I've always been a kid who liked to spend time alone & I'd always make excuses to school/uni friends to get that time alone because people can be quite pushy about what else you are doing which means you aren't free to spend time with them. & saying 'I'm just going to do my own thing, how about we meet up Xday?' - either gets you strange looks, or people think you are depressed! And making up excuses then used to give me a guilt complex - anyone else have the same?!
I started to really understand myself around the end of high school & now that I've finished university I can say that my experiences there were very similar to your own.
To all the other introverts, you are not a freak, we are not freaks. You will learn about yourself more and more and how to explain to other people your needs and ignore those who don't want to listen. Unfortunately our society puts a lot of pressure on us to be extroverted/extraverted (sp?) & the majority still do not really understand introverts - it is up to us to educate the people around us. If they are true friends, or people who truly care, they will treat you well. You can only be yourself and not stress about everyone else's reactions to that. It doesn't matter if anyone else thinks you are 'weird', 'depressed', 'a loner' if you know you are comfortable in your own skin.
Best wishes to you all for a wonderful life! :)