The Inner Voice

Rethinking Introversion and How We See the World from the Inside

We [Don’t] Like to Party!

Why you’re not getting what you need out of your social life.

It’s 8:00PM on a Friday night. Your friends invited you to a club. You have already deconstructed the experience: there will be music. You like music. You will dance. You like to dance. Your friends will be there. You like your friends (right?). Hey, you might even meet some interesting (or attractive!) people. So why do you not want to go?

 

Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that you do want to go, but your feet seem a little slow to the door, or you have to just check your email one more time before leaving. You dare not wonder what you would do if you stayed home instead, lest that idea tempt you and make you even later for your plans (or cause you to commit a massive social faux pas and cancel them).

 

Why are you actually going?

 

It is a simple question, but I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer from an introvert. “I feel like I should” is the most common response. ("Should" can refer to your self-expectations, or to those you believe others have of you.) In truth, the world of introversion is a confusing and self-condemning one. With so many self-help books on the topic, we are inclined to think that we need to change—that, at least implicitly, there is something wrong with us that needs to be changed, worked around, or "accepted" like a chronic malady. I blame our fixation on what “should” be based on our understanding of societal ideals. If you were to consider an interesting, engaging person, the person you “should” be, the one you think people would love, the happy and successful one, what would s/he look like? Charming, lots of friends who all love you, many others who wish for your time and attention, exciting activities, nights out, weekends full, social demand. Indeed, social plans are something of a mark of our social success, aren’t they? They are a ready proxy for love and acceptance, because they are evidence that people want to spend time with you, so you have your "assurance" that you will never actually be alone in this world.

 

If you are an introvert, though, maybe you don’t want to spend time with them. There are a number of descriptors that you might assign to the person who feels this way: self-absorbed, narcissistic, boring, unexciting, selfish, “above it all,” and the list continues. Note that those are all negative. Maybe some people around you feel rejected if you don’t want to go out; they take it personally, and then to preserve their own self-worth, they point out that you are arrogant to not make time for other people. But do you really want to hang out with people who don’t understand you?

 

In real life, a lot of people who actually are introverted act extroverted. They go to parties because they feel like they should, and then they wonder what's wrong with them such that it is not fun and exciting like it is for “everyone else.” (No one seems to wonder how many other people at that party feel the same way!) They enjoy seeing their friends, but question why they want to leave after a few hours when everyone else wants the night to continue. They don't understand their aversion to clubs, disinterest in parties, or overstimulation when riding the subway at rush hour. Their efforts to be “normal" make them do these things anyway. When they do so (and sometimes it's not as bad as they were anticipating, or it is at least more pleasurable than sitting home and wondering why they're aberrant), then they actually feel relief for acting like extroverts--while repressing the dissonance between who they are and who they pretend they are. They're happy that they overcame their introversion (except that it keeps challnging them)! This is a no-win situation: Do you stay home and wonder why you don't like what everyone else does or if you are missing something? Can you convince yourself to believe you actually like these things (some people are so far in denial of their introversion that they can)? Do you make yourself go out, though you prefer not to do so? Will you alienate everyone if you succumb to your introverted preferences and find yourself actually alone? Are you uncool, deviant, a self-made or self-proven outcast?

 

Introverts don’t want to be completely alone, but they need people differently. The threat of the complete removal of others causes them to conform to the perceived preferences of others just so their own desire for time alone, time with few others, a quiet activity, or whatever pleases them does not leave them without the option for social contact. It feels like an ever-present threat, so the introvert compromises to attain social validation and security in their relationships with others: basically, to acquire a proxy for the assurance that their company will always be desirable and that they will never be left truly alone. The deprivation of one's own needs via this self-compromising strategy leads to depression (for a great body of work on this, see Dana Jack's "Silencing the Self," which explores this self-compromising theme in the context of women in relationships). However, if introverts do go out per extroverted expectations, they feel loved and accepted, they feel “normal,” and they are temporarily reassured in their not-aloneness, so that quiet disdain for being stimulated improperly remains only that. Yet the fact that introverts need people differently also means that they require different contexts and different structures to their social networks to really achieve what they need (not what they think they should need!).

 

Instead of recapitulating the message of the piles of articles I’ve seen on the topic favoring extroversion as a superior social style, I’d encourage you instead to think of who you really are, and what your social needs are, and then to structure activities and friendships around you--and to choose like-minded people to include. Do you really want to be accepted for someone you’re not, while your true self is implicitly rejected by both your circle and you? You are, after all, denying who you are in this case. The best option is to admit to yourself that you're an introvert, and to figure out what you need from your social contact. Structure your friendships and your relationships based on that, and select your company accordingly (or let them self-select accordingly). Be honest. You’ll be surprised how many people feel the same way you do, and like you better for who you actually are. Give them a chance to know the real you by acting like the real you. The ones who don’t understand you may leave, but in so doing, they’ll deprive you of the social reinforcement that says you’re wrong to be the way you are.

 

Individual differences are great, but you have to celebrate yours! Whatever makes you you is good, and it should be accepted and celebrated. If that means you don't party, then don't! Leave that to people who do love it, and know it's okay that you don't.

 

Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jennifer Grimes is a research assistant at Wellesley College.

more...

Subscribe to The Inner Voice

Current Issue

Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?