Introducing The Social Introvert

Welcome to The Social Introvert, where we’ll talk about relationships of all kinds—love, friendship, family, and professional.

Some of you might know me from my books The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World and Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After. Or maybe you’ve read my blog, The Introvert’s Corner.  

I’ve been part of the introvert revolution since 2007, when I wrote my first essay about traveling as an introvert. Today, I’m excited to be part of this Quiet Revolution.

These days, the discussion of introversion has moved to what I think of as Introversion 2.0. Now that we’ve hashed out the basic traits of introverts (hate small talk, need alone time, anything but the telephone, etc.), we’re ready to delve into the subtleties of honoring our introversion as we make our way in the world.

It seems our current definition of introversion has mostly to do with relationships. If not for the way we interact (or don’t interact) with others, would we consider ourselves introverts? If an introvert fell in the forest and no one was there to ask if she’s okay, would she still be an introvert?

Introverts wonder how to find compatible friends in the party atmosphere of college, how to create boundaries with family, and how to make love connections when they would rather stay home.

Extroverts want to know how to approach introverts they want to date, what to do when their spouse’s introversion is starting to affect their marriage, and where the line between being caring and being overbearing is.

If you have such questions, send them to me, and I will answer them to the very best of my ability. I’m not a psychologist—I’m a writer and an introvert with a deep interest in psychology, but I promise that whenever I’m over my head, I will consult professionals before spouting off.

This column depends on your questions, so please send them to me. And, of course, I hope you all will share your thoughts, too, in the comments. We’re all in this revolution together.

I’ve just entered college this summer, and I’ve been feeling the consequences of being a loner/introvert. I have three really close friends, and that was enough for me. The thing is we’ve all gone to different schools. Now, whenever I crave some human contact or familiar conversation, I have no one nearby to turn to. Even introverts get lonely and depressed with extended time alone. My floor mates also constantly do stuff together in large groups, which makes me feel even more alienated when I do crave companionship. So, I just wanted to ask you for some tips on surviving college as an introvert.

—Quiet Coed

Dear QC,

For introverts, college—to paraphrase Charles Dickens—is the best of times, it’s the worst of times.

It can be the worst of times because of the college party prerogative. Beer bongs, hookups, and all-night Bacchanalias are a nightmare for most introverts.

However, at no other time in your life are you more likely to be surrounded by so many peers, a smorgasbord of potential friends, than in college. Somewhere in that throng are just the people you need. And another plus: colleges usually have calendars full of interesting events worth your time even if you end up going and leaving alone—more about that in a minute.

While researching Introverts in Love, I learned that some introverts are drawn to extroverts who will drag them out and make them part of the scene, while others prefer quiet souls like themselves.

If you’re the kind who wants to join the party, don’t be shy about asking your flatmates about tagging along sometimes. They probably recognize your quiet nature, and it hasn’t occurred to them that you might want to join them. Not only that, some extroverts see us sitting quietly and assume we are sitting in judgment. Unfair, I know, but it’s up to us to correct that impression.

One big plus of extroverts is their easygoing nature about adding new people to the mix. Unlike we introverts, who approach new people with an abundance of caution, extroverts have that “the more, the merrier” attitude and give new people a tumble without a worry. Use this to your advantage.

To put words in your mouth: “That sounds fun! Mind if I tag along?” Or “I’m feeling stir-crazy tonight. Can I join you guys?” You needn’t exude loneliness. Just let your potential companions know you’re open and available. While making such a request might make you feel vulnerable and needy, it probably won’t sound that way to extroverts. They’ll just feel you like them, and who can resist that?

And remember: Just because you want to join the party does not mean you are required to stay until the last drunk passes out. Go for as long as it’s fun, and leave when you want. Allowing yourself to leave when you’ve had enough makes going a lot easier in the first place.

Now, if you would rather find other quiet souls for friendship, you’ll have to nut up and take yourself to places where they might be. Check your school’s schedule of concerts, lectures, films, clubs, etc. Mark them on your calendar, and when the time comes, push past your “I’ll just stay in” default mode and GO. Who cares if you’re sitting in an audience by yourself? You’re there to hear the music/watch the film/listen to the lecture. While at an event, stay open to meeting people and signal your desire to connect through your body language. Don’t bury your face in your phone during a lull!

Radio announcers know that smiling makes their voices come across as warm and friendly. You don’t have to walk around smiling, but keep your head in a “hey, look at all the cool people” space, and let that radiate from you. Grab opportunities to comment on the film/lecture/concert or respond to someone else’s comment. Don’t worry about being deep or profound. It’s called small talk because it’s small. Maybe it will lead somewhere, maybe it won’t, but every chit-chat you engage in betters your odds of meeting a potential friend.

You can also try studying in the library or other public area instead of your room. Do that on a schedule, and there’s a good chance you’ll see the same people over and over, which can help slow-to-warm-up introverts. And keep your eyes open in your classes. That person sitting quietly in the corner might be just the one you need to meet. It’s easy to overlook other introverts amid the extrovert hubbub. But they’re there and just as anxious as you are to make connections. And who knows better than an introvert how to best strike up a conversation with another introvert?

College can be isolating and overwhelming, but it’s also a great potential-friend pool. Dive in even if you start out with doggie paddling. You’re not trying to swim the English Channel—just make a friend or two.

Do you have a question for Sophia Dembling? Send her an email!