How To Be A Creative Introvert And Still Be Happy
I am an introvert. I don’t say that to be cute. I don’t say it to sound trendy. I say it because it’s a truth I’ve had to navigate through as a human being who craves connection just like anyone else. If I am not careful, days or even weeks can go by where I get so wrapped up in my writing and my work, that I have zero in-person interactions. I didn’t realize this was an issue until I started dating.
He was a typical “social guy”. He liked parties and “get-togethers” and was constantly exhausted in the effort it took for him to convince me go out and socialize. Up until that point, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I was socially secluded. I was happy with my isolation and small circle of friends. I didn’t know it was a “good thing” for me to meet new people. I just didn’t think about it.
Once I was aware that this was an issue, I gave it my attention. I mean, I am a business woman. I have goals and social ladder I want to climb just like everybody else. Even if I don’t go to all the fancy parties, I still want an invite. And so the games began. Now that I knew I had to socialize more, I would actually consider all the brunches, parties and events that I used to ignore by default. One day, he begged me to go to this “get-together” with him. His old co-workers were meeting up for beers at a bar in the East Village in about an hour or so.
Great. All I could think of was loud music, sticky floors and standing with a bunch of people I don’t know. I pictured myself nodding to things I didn’t care about and yelling “Whaaaaat?” over everyone else to actually hear all the dumb questions I’d have to answer. At first I said no. It was too soon. Is he crazy? You can’t invite me to something an hour before it’s going to happen! That’s insane! I need at least day of preparation which includes three hours of silence, a good cup of coffee and an extra hour of outfit planning. Please and thank you.
But I realized how crazy this sounded. Geez, I thought. Am I so uptight an socially inept that I can’t hang out and laugh with a couple of my at-the-time boyfriend’s old co-workers and beers? Yes. It turns out I was. I agreed to go. “Wow, look at me.” I thought. “Going out, on a whim! This extrovert thing might not be so bad!”. It was all fun and games until I heard my crippling anxiety begin to shout at me the second we walked out the door.
“Where the hell are you going? Do you know how late it is? You haven’t even finished reading this month’s Fast Company!” My at-the-time boyfriend grabbed my hand and smiled. I gulped. I could tell because of how fast all of this was happening it was going to be a painful experience for me but his smile warmed my heart. I knew I had to start getting more social but I didn’t know how to deal with the anxiety. I thought I could just ignore it, be social anyway. But after we got off the train, my anxiety was even worse. “ALEX. You didn’t even want to come to this! Why did you let him convince you of going out? You are NOT IN THE MOOD.” I just tried to ignore it and skip along.
A few steps into the bar and the smell of beer and people overwhelmed me. It was dark and loud. I never understood why people meet up to talk in dark, loud places. How can anything meaningful ever be said? Why allow so much barrier between the conversation? My logical, knit-picking brain was now fully activated and bitching away. I was officially annoyed and wanted to go home. I said my hellos and within a matter of seconds, my boyfriend was in a loud and energetic conversation. I slowly felt myself melt into the background. Into the darkness and into the noise. There were pockets of his ex-co workers talking, both male and female. I knew eventually one of them would try to spark a friendly conversation with me, that’s exactly why I shuffled over to the bar as soon as I could and I sat.
Ah, finally a place of safety. I’m here, but I’m not here. This is good.
“Hey baby.” He found me.
“Hey” I said.
“Why are you over here?”
“Oh, I just wanted to sit down.”
Quickly changing the subject, I asked with a smile
“Are you having funnnn?”
“Yeah! It’s been a minute since I’ve seen these guys.”
I kissed his nose and sent him on his way because you see, I wanted him to see we were here for him. This was about him having a good time, not me. I showed up only because he asked me to which I now realize was dumb. Which I now realize was me ignoring what I needed for myself. I remained on that bar seat the whole night. I looked at my phone. I looked at the people. I even wondered if it would be okay if I pulled out my book. I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was waiting. I was waiting for it to end.
For a long time I was doing this introvert thing wrong. At first, I didn’t even realize I was an "introvert". I saw the word strung across click-baity blogs and heard people use as an excuse for their anti-social behavior so I always dismissed it. I thought it was dumb. But then when I read that introverts can be distinguished as people who get “physically drained from being around groups of people”, it really resonated with me. I really do have to think through and prepare before I know I am going to be around people.
I grew up as an only child with lots of silence and alone time. My mom said there was one time she took me to the park and she walked away, hoping I’d go play with the other kids and I literally just stood there, for like thirty minutes. Once I embraced that this introvert shit was real. I thought the way to deal with it was to become an extrovert, or at least be more social. So I terrorized myself by saying yes to events I knew I would hate.
I went to spaces with loud music and overwhelming people. I tried to smile. I tried to dance. I tried to mingle. But I wound ending up digging a deeper hole for myself socially. What would usually happen is I’d give myself points for “showing up”, quickly give up on the idea that I should actually talk to people and then find the darkest corner of the room to whoop my phone out and wait for the party to end. This gave off a rude impression. People started talking. I felt even more outcasted and misunderstood than I did before.
After another night of unnecessary self-inflicted pressure to socialize, I got really sad. I was on the train home disappointed at yet another wasted night. I wondered how I’m going to make it in life if I don’t socialize? How will I meet new people or the next guy? How will I grow and flourish and get invited to all these fancy parties if I don’t even make an effort to go to the lame ones? Is this a sad truth that all introverts have to realize? That we are prone to loneliness and isolation forever because we have a hard time going to events and meeting people? Then I realized that I was doing it wrong again.
It’s not that I can’t go to events or socialize. It’s that I wasn't being picky or thoughtful enough about which events to go to and people to socialize with. I thought I had to say yes to every invite and show up to every party to qualify as “social”, but then I realized, there are all types of ways people gather.
I started to remember that I had an amazing time at a book signing I recently went to. Then I thought of a few speaking engagements I saw that were a lot of fun. There were people there. I socialized. It was a relief to know that my social life wasn’t doomed because I am an introvert. I can pick and choose what types of events I want to go to and there are ones that exist that actually feel fun. I started to draw out patterns about the events I enjoyed versus the events that felt like torture.
I concluded that I prefer events with guest speakers or themes to discuss. I like events where the volume is at a level where you can hear the people standing next to you. I like events held in the day time. I like events related to books, art or culture. I like events where I am learning something new, something particular. After that, I hit the internet and looked for future book singings. Even if they were of books I never knew of or authors I didn’t know, if they sounded interesting, I signed up because I can depend on myself to try a new book.
I can’t depend on myself to enjoy things I don’t enjoy. I think that as an introvert, it’s important to give yourself permission to be the self-kept, private person you are with compassion. Yes. It is healthy to socialize, and you should make an effort to go out there and find new and interesting people to build relationships with. Even though I know I hate loud parties, I will still try them out from time to time. I am willing to be wrong about the assumption that I won’t enjoy them. I am also willing to be right about my assumption that I won’t enjoy them. It’s just another opportunity to learn what I know about myself and what works for me. Good luck.