In the past few months, I think I’ve counted maybe thirteen different articles floating around the internet about how to treat introverts. Lists of reasons why introverts don’t want to hang out with me, and what it is that introverts need in their lives, and how staying in on a Friday night is actually an introvert’s paradise, have all made their way to my computer screen. Every time I open up Buzzfeed to kill some time and watch single people live like a married couple for a week, or whatever, I find a piece of journalism dedicated to catering to the needs of introverts. I get it, you need alone time to recharge your batteries, I know, I know, I know. But my question is this: why are the extroverts getting stiffed here? Where are the articles with tips on how to support your extroverted friends? Where does this leave me, whose needs are dependent on connecting with other humans? Am I just supposed to go sit by myself too?
Maybe I’m being insensitive, but I really think that the half of the population who got an ‘I’ on the Meyer’s Briggs test has it a little easier. I would love to crawl under the covers all day and actually enjoy it. But as someone who is extroverted to a fault, I can’t. Being by myself for hours at a time leaves me lonely, drained, and hungry for a face-to-face connection. Just like introverts need a few hours a day to recharge alone, my batteries die if I don’t get my daily dose of human interaction.
The worst part is, sometimes I can’t control if I am able to be social. Fulfilling my need for human contact is dependent on, well, other humans. If my friends are busy or my mom isn’t answering her phone or class gets cancelled, I’m out of luck. I rely on others to help support my extroversion, which is tricky, because it leaves me feeling like I can’t be self-sufficient.
This year I signed myself up to do something totally unnatural for an extrovert. For the next six months, I am living alone. This may sound like heaven to some: a life with nothing but peace and quiet when you come home from work or school, but for me, who has had roommates since age sixteen, from boarding school to freshman dorms to the sorority house, it’s intimidating to think that I will be the only resident in my living space (other than the dog, of course). As much as I would like to think of my apartment as a sanctuary, coming home to an empty one-bedroom is forcing me far outside of my comfort zone. It has been an adjustment, to say the least.
But, I’m getting better.
I recently read a book that lived up to its name: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. I was apprehensive to read a book all about about cleaning, since I like to live by the mantra of ‘creative minds are never tidy’. I didn’t know if this book could offer much to me, but I was interested to see what all the hype was around this book was about, since it’s been a best-seller for months. Kondo gives some good tips, and, yes, my apartment is now immaculate, but she extends a philosophy about tidying up that I think can be applied to my extrovert-living-as-an-introvert situation.
Kondo tells her readers to reprogram the way they think about tidying. She wants you to retrain your brain and look at the time spent tidying up your things as a practice of meditation. It isn’t a chore, or a hassle, or one more thing to check off the to-do list. It is good for the soul. It is something to look forward to. It is something that will leave you feeling whole. Now, trust me, I hate cleaning about as much as I hate hanging out with myself, but if I’m going to make it through this year in my apartment alone, I’m going to have to shift my perspective.
Thinking this way is a challenge. Honestly, it feels more natural to slip back into the mindset I’ve always had about living alone. It’s easy to be bitter, it’s easy to assume that I know what I need to be mentally recharged, it’s easy to avoid coming home. But at the end of the day, when there’s no one there to feed my extroversion, and it’s just me in my apartment, I have to make a choice. I can see the solitude as a burden, or I can see it as a gift. When it comes down to it, I would rather this experience grow me than defeat me, so I’m stretching myself to look at it differently. And it’s a little painful, but maybe that’s why they call it ‘growing pains’.
Instead of sitting on the couch and scrolling through my phone contacts, calling anyone likely to answer, I am taking time to acknowledge my present company: myself. While these suggestions may seem futile in the moment, I promise if you commit to them, they do help ease the need for human interaction. Paint something. Bake something. Pick up a needle and thread and sew something. Get lost in your own thoughts doing it. Let your mind wander. If it goes to dark places, or slips into self-pity, that’s okay. Part of this experience is learning to accept all sides of your human emotions, both the happy and sad.
And when you can’t stand your own thoughts any longer, pick up a book. Good characters, immersive dialogue and a setting far away from your one-bedroom apartment is the best way to escape. Go spend some time with the people in novel. They’re always there for you, waiting just beyond the pages. You don’t have to hope they answer the phone.
They say that when a couple moves in together, the relationship changes drastically. You’re closer, you learn every little thing about each other, and you learn to accept those new discoveries, flaws and all. You are forced to reconcile your differences under one roof so that you can create a healthy environment. That’s how I’m looking at this stage of my life. I’ve moved in with me, and we’re about to get to know each other a whole lot better. I’m interested to see how my relationship with myself will evolve in the next year. And while I don’t think I’ll ever change at the core, and I’m always going to choose a crowded room over an empty one, I think it’s time I learn how to be content in that empty room, and maybe even appreciate the lessons to be found in there.