College is a hub for meeting new people, socializing, and just being around people. Yet even though we’re surrounded by people our age all the time… I have often felt a sense of loneliness that comes from not knowing how to balance wanting to be alone and making meaningful connections with others.
As I’m nearing the end of my college career, I’m often reflecting about the way I have spent my college days as an introvert. Naturally, I chose to spend a lot of my time alone and away from people, but I also challenged myself in ways that rewarded me with valuable experiences:
- Making my room a sanctuary. After sharing a dorm room with two other girls my freshman year, I moved off-campus and rented a shared apartment where I had my own room. It is clean and minimal-looking, a sanctuary for when I want to hide away from humans after a day of classes. It’s the only place where I can truly let myself be, i.e. the bearer of my many naps and meltdowns.
- Staying at home all day and then craving meaningful social interaction yet being too angsty to make them. It’s really easy to get FOMO in college when everyone else around you seems to be doing something more social, more interesting than what you are doing in your room. When I was younger, I was convinced something was wrong with me for being so inside my own world. Though I occasionally get this irrational fear that I’m missing out on amazing experiences, I am more selective about when and who I hang out with, and not as easily influenced by what others are doing. I take this as a sign that I am growing more confident in my own self – which feels quite empowering, to be honest.
- Removing all sound notifications and muting all group chats. I only get lockscreen notifications from my parents and direct messages from selected apps. All other notifications, such as social media notifications or group chats, are muted. This allows me to see these less-important messages when I want to, and it also reduces my need to check my phone all the time (the more messages we get = the more we feel the need to check our phones).
- No phone calls, please. I have my phone on silent mode at all times, and only turn it off when I know I’ll be expecting calls. Thankfully, my parents know this and allow me to call them on my own time. Otherwise, I cannot stand getting phone calls from people who could have otherwise texted or left a voice message for me. I don’t mind the occasional planned calls or video calls, especially if it’s with loved ones, but again – they are the exception.
- Watching webcasts instead of attending classes. The perks of attending a huge university is that some classes offer recorded webcasts for students to watch in their own time. This saves me from having to hike up a hill, arrive to class all sweaty and be in the same room as hundreds of other students. But to be honest, I make myself go to class whenever I can, as virtual learning can never truly replace in-person learning.
- Hating running into people I know and making small talk. Don’t get me wrong – I’m always happy to run into friends or friendly acquaintances. I usually wave at them excitedly and greet them happily, leaving me feeling warm on the inside. This fear is more about the thought of running into people whom I’m not really friends with, and not being sure what to say or how much to say.
- Fearing going out by myself. Again, this is not so much as going out by myself (which I love to do) as the thought of doing so and feeling like others are judging me. But I then remind myself that I am a self-absorbed narcissistic human being and that while I may believe that I am the protagonist of my story – nobody else pays attention to me (or even sees me). I guess this is why I love moving to a new place so much – I feel more invisible about going out alone because no one knows me, which actually comforts me.
- Having imaginary conversations in my head. These really just happen, most frequently when I’m taking a walk or on my way to class. I just replay a scene that happened recently with friends, or rehearse a social situation in my head. They have too often gotten so vivid that, before I know it, I catch myself moving my lips without knowing it. It’s embarrassing, but let’s be honest – no one could care less.
- Dreading team projects. Having to collaborate and count on others is incredibly stressful for me personally, mostly because I can’t always count on others. However, I force myself into these situations because they also make me aware of my faulty tendencies – interrupting others, being too forceful with my ideas, or focusing too much on the negatives rather than producing constructive feedback. The feedback that I get from working with others is incredibly helpful, because it makes me more aware of how I express myself to others and allows me to work on my personal development.
- Challenging myself by going out of my comfort zone. Joining clubs without knowing anyone beforehand, taking up leadership roles that I’m totally passionate about, and initiating conversations with new members. These situations have made me so uncomfortable in the past that have made my body react in detrimental ways (yes, I’m that dramatic), such as having back pain from all the tension built up in me. But as much of a fool as I can be in these situations, I never regret them. They allow me to learn and grow in ways that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do by myself. It’s a reminder that I am not the sole protagonist of my story.
- Being happy socializing every once in a while. I love dressing up (a little) and jumping into a friend’s car and doing something different for a change, even if it’s going on a spontaneous trip to Denny’s and talking about everything and nothing in particular.
- But also being relieved when plans are cancelled. I love when I have Friday nights to myself. They can be dangerous, as I too often end up vegging out in front of my laptop and wasting the hours away in my room, but other times I’m hit with creative juices that just get me working away on some random passion project.
- Doing everything in my room. I literally work, eat, sleep, and mull over existential crises in my room. I have spent consecutive days in my room, alone, only going out to use the bathroom or kitchen. Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes it just happens. I particularly love it when it’s raining outside, because there is no better excuse to stay at home when it’s raining outside. It’s also soothing to know that I have a roof under me while it’s pouring outside.
When I was younger, I felt judged for my introvert tendencies and often felt like something was wrong with me. I felt bad for not getting invited to parties, even though I knew I wouldn’t have wanted to go. I felt FOMO way too often, even though I would have chosen to be alone in my room.
A lot of this stigma became self-imposed, but a lot of it is undoubtedly rooted in the common belief that being with others is cool, while being alone is lame. Obviously this belief is far from the truth, yet it baffles me how a simple concept can be so stigmatized and emotionally complex within ourselves.
I also want to mention that, while I like to identify myself as an introvert, we all know that it is not one or the other. People are not ‘only’ introverts or extroverts. With that being said, I encourage you to nurture the introvert in you, and to not let the social influences dictate your way.