“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” – Blaise Pascal
I was contemplating the complexities of being an introvert or what feels like introvertedness when I thought about the times I had tuned out.
On my 21st birthday I was dragged out of my comfort zone to sit in a bar in Omaha Nebraska with a bunch of strangers. The reason I was in Omaha was my friend Sara asked me if I wanted to accompany her to go visit her boyfriend, and since I had never been to Nebraska, I said, yes, why not?
During the drive I learned that Nebraska is one flat state. Of course, we were coming from Colorado so the comparison seems terribly unfair.
I sat at the end of a long table with my friend’s friends awkwardly while they tried to rouse me into going bar hopping, drinking and revelry. They were nice, but I hadn’t wanted to go out and I wasn’t in the mood. I suppose I missed an opportunity to make new friends and have an adventure when I asked Sara to return me to the house. Under the covers of a super soft bed, I opened up my latest stash of X-Men comic books and got lost in reading.
Another opportunity I missed was when I was 16 and visiting family in Thailand. My mom woke us up early and said that this was a special day; someone was getting married in the village. I didn’t want to go. We fought. It was a fine moment in stubbornness, and in the end, I won. I stayed in the hotel room, read, and then got bored waiting for my mom and brother to return. I regretted not going, but looking back I probably needed time to be alone after constantly being with them.
According to Bustle, a website for women by women:
Though many people confuse “introversion” with being shy and “extroversion” with being friendly or popular, the terms actually refer to your relationship with social interaction. Extroverts find social interaction emotionally nourishing and “recharging,” while introverts find it taxing and often have to “recharge” after hanging out with friends or going to parties.
Apparently there are four types of introversion: social, thinking, anxious, and restrained.
A successful day for me is if I don’t leave the house. That might sound crazy, but I’m pretty low-maintenance. I love a full fridge, working electricity + Internet, and hours to read and write (and spending time with my BF and buffalo, of course).
However, I don’t think that being an introvert is some great thing necessarily. Sometimes I feel like it’s a curse: needing space, being touchy and hyper-sensitive. Other times, I simply drink in the silence and solitude, and luxuriate in living my own universe.
I can’t say that I have that ‘fear of missing out’, but I do admire extroverted personalities and their endless seemingly inexhaustible energy. They are out there raising their glasses of wine celebrating life, dancing into the early light. I knew an extrovert who gave so much until her life was taken by cancer. She was incredibly positive, too.
And while I know that I have this ‘hide in my cave’ tendency, I’m also aware of how much I enjoy making people laugh. I love teasing my friends, and listening to stories. I was in high school and college theatre. I’ve thrown a surprise party for my bestie and a dress up party at my house. (Both were pretty kickin’ if I may say so.) I used to participate in Chiang Mai’s Irish Pub’s quiz night even though I had nothing to offer my team, but snarky remarks. I can dance, as in, scare you with my chipmunk impersonation and I’m fearless about walking up to strangers and talking to them. I’m a complicated woman.
Nevertheless, this conversation plays out regularly in our apt:
“Ugh. I don’t want to go out!”
“You always complain about having to go out with your friends and then you have a great time!”
“I know, but that’s not the point!”
The Atlantic put out an article on how post-Millennials are experiencing consequences of always being on their smart phones, for example, depression, lack of social skills, and what appears to be introversion. I think before introversion became hip, it was seen as something negative and to be avoided, so I feel like when we talk about being introverted we should mention what kind. The good or the bad? Because I think the kind The Atlantic was discussing is the latter.
For me, part of being introverted is making space to self-reflect (the good kind).
When I’m alone, I realize the thought-patterns I create. I recognize that I’m thinking of work when I’m getting up in the morning. Or that I’m reflecting on the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Or that I’m having a conversation with an imaginary foe or friend about politics.
When I’m at work, I don’t know if I’m aware of my thoughts as clearly. There’s too much going on around me. When I’m teaching, I’m much more likely to be in the moment, and that simply comes from years of training. You really can’t daydream too much in the classroom. It’s important to be a facilitator and available to your students.
It’s important that I have time to get back into orbit, to center myself. When I’ve been traveling too much or pushing myself with too many social obligations, I start to feel like life is out of control. I want to scream. My skin feels itchy and my tolerance is ready to burst in a very messy and regrettable way.
Hannah Arendt reminds us, if we lose our capacity for solitude, our ability to be alone with ourselves, then we lose our very ability to think. We risk getting caught up in the crowd. We risk being “swept away by what everybody else does and believes in” — no longer able to distinguish “right from wrong, beautiful from ugly.”
I’ve always felt like it was necessary to be alone after a long-term relationship breakup, to not rebound, but to remain in the company of you in order to contemplate what happened and, well, like yourself again, even if you were the one who ended the relationship. It seems healthier despite the discomfort we might feel from the separation.
It’s natural that we want things to be easy. We like easy answers. We’ve certainly gotten used to quick answers. But it’s like we move faster than ourselves in order to escape being alone with our thoughts. We plug in, but I wonder how much we’re aware of what’s going on internally when we auto-share, like, scroll, blink and scan.
However we do it, whether we pray, meditate or walk quietly through the neighborhood, I feel we have to take the time to stop downloading what the world wants us to hear, and learn to listen to our heart beat instead…because that’s when the sanity enters, and the magic begins.
What about you? Do you like to be alone? How do you find the time? What to you usually do?