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I am the kind of person that goes to a party and hides in the bathroom. The kind of person that takes a walk by myself in the lunch break. I am not shy, and I have no social phobias. I am introverted, I recharge on my own. And this is OK.
I know it was meant in the nicest way possible when my friend advised me that you can get a higher student grant when you have a social anxiety disorder. But it was not very flattering. Nor was it relevant. Being introverted is not the same thing as having a social anxiety disorder. It is not a diagnosis, it is a personality trait which should be acknowledged and embraced.
I might as well admit it. I am the kind of person who goes to a party and hides in the bathroom. The kind of person who goes to bed early on the university’s intro party. But I am also the kind of person who loves to drink lots of wine with my friends and go on a trip with my boyfriend even if it means sharing an only ten square meters hotel room for a week. I am not anti-social and I am not shy. I am introverted.
And I am not alone.
The numbers differ depending on who you ask and how you define it. But allegedly somewhere between one third and one half of us are introverted. In spite of that I often feel that introversion is overlooked as ‘shyness’ or even unwillingness to be a part of the crowd. A ‘no thanks!’ to an invitation to the bar on Friday night is often met with a: ‘Why? What are you doing?’ answer to which nobody expects that you say ‘nothing.’
It challenges our social conventions. Human interaction is better than no interaction, right?
So how do I explain that it is nothing personal? It’s not you, it’s me. I really want to be a part of the crowd. Just in my own way.
If you’re an introvert, you’ve probably thrown in the occasional white lie to avoid invitations. Maybe, like me, you’ve been called boring. It’s easier to lie and say that you have to get up early the next day, that you have a family birthday to attend, that you have a school assignment to write, that you need to pick up your boyfriend at the airport, that you are visiting your grandmother – there really is no end to the possible excuses which are more socially acceptable than: ‘I just don’t feel like it today’.
While it’s great that institutions emphasize the social aspects of study, student culture caters to a large extent to extroverts. This makes it hard for introverts to socialize with the group. I would love to have a student community that also caters to those of us who prefer long conversations and cold beers, rather than dancing on tables after some shots at the bar.
In Denmark, where I study, first year students go on an orientation camp or trip, which establishes friendships for the rest of your degree. This can make starting university an anxiety-inducing process for introverted students.
At my orientation camp, I practically had to be pushed out of the door with my bags over my shoulder, and once I arrived, I packed up again to go home. It was not an unwillingness to be a part of the crowd. It was about energy. Introverts are characterized by getting energy by being alone or in small groups, while extroverts are stimulated by other people and impressions.
This doesn’t mean that an introvert does not like company and extroverts do not like to be alone. I simply knew that four days of constant company, small talk and party games would eat up my energy before I could recharge.
But I did not go home. I have been working with coaching and self-development too long to give up on such a big deal. And it is a big deal. That I have been told. It is actually such a big deal that I have been told that you need to get through it if you want a social life at university.
But why? It’s paradoxical that the place where I feel the most uncomfortable is the place where I have to make the most important friendships.
Some people think that introversion and extroversion are concepts born in magazines. But they stretch back to 1921, when the psychiatrist Carl Jung presented a speech on the two archetypes.
Introverts are more reluctant, thoughtful and appreciate time for absorption. Extroverts likes action and variety. Extroverts are better at thinking on their feet, outreaching and good with teamwork. Introverts are good at focusing and observing. Of course, some people are more one than the other and some people fall kind of in between. Extroverts can enjoy the quiet and introverts can party all night long.
Now it’s time for the annual Christmas lunch. In my first year, I’ve found a nice study group and sweet friends and I was feeling okay about the lunch, until I realized seating would be assigned. And I’m faced with a choice: I either have to go even though I no longer want to, or I have to stay home and risk not becoming a part of the crowd. Almost half of the Danish population are introverts and we do not like this kind of seating.
And it is not just me. I see it in the eyes of other introverts. I hear them whisper about it. Sometimes I even get one to admit that they hate it as much as I do.
The problem is that we give too many excuses and do too little about it. We make little whites lies instead of standing by who we are. We avoid the party and introduction planning groups, which means we later have to avoid the parties and introduction trips planned by extroverts who do not have the same needs.
If almost half the people are introverts – then where do you hide? Stop excusing yourselves and sneaking out the back door. You are not alone and you are not wrong. Let us drink a glass of wine together, read in silence together and make a different kind of social life together that meets our needs. Let us be brave and join the party planners together and start making events that we too, can enjoy. Let us go first and create the community with space for the ones who like to go to bed early on the introduction trip. Because we are not anti-social and we are not shy. We are introverts and it is perfectly okay.