Signs of introversion can start young: imaginary friends, distant-eyed daydreams, or playing alone for hours. For me, I did (or had) all of those things, and never made it a full night at a sleepover until I was in junior high. I remember looking forward to the bus ride home from school just so I could stare out the window and think. I still think of the moments and realizations that played out in my mind during those precious 45 minutes a day, watching and studying the world from that tiny bus window in row nine.
But eventually the introverts grow up, and most go through a period of shame or guilt during the uber social years of high school and college, when partying and hanging-out are at the peak of importance. The time allowed for thinking, playing, or being is diminished bit by bit through the years, and by the time you reach adulthood the entire world seems to be encroaching on you, suffocating you with its demands.
Some are lucky and learn to identify as an introvert early on. Unfortunately, for me (a child of the 90s), this term wasn't introduced until I was in my 20s and already married. All of the years of lying to friends to cover up for the truth, flaking out or canceling plans last minute because school or work had somehow zapped my energy, had already taken their toll on my psyche and self-esteem.
I don't know the exact ratio of introverts to extroverts in our country, but I know the ratio in my life, and it feels like 10:1 (the one being me). They're everywhere. Or so it seems, anyway. I'm married to an extreme extrovert, who will walk out of a restaurant if there aren't enough people in it (not kidding). Most of my closest friends are extroverts, my family, even my dog can't stand to be alone. I've learned to successfully imitate extrovert behavior at social gatherings.
So, in a life so full of extroverts, how do I find time to be alone?
Well, it isn't always pretty. Especially when text messages or phone calls go unanswered for what extroverts believe is "too long." Or there is an important networking event, party, or meeting that I just "have" to be at for the sake of my life or career. But you learn to stop caring so much about what others think.
At first, I would lash out at people or circumstances, feeling so completely depleted, not confident enough to say no, and not understanding the importance of getting a moment to myself. The requests for pieces of me seemed never ending, a constant stream of people wanting time.
I've learned that I need at least one hour alone a day, sometimes more. That can be a car ride, an hour in a quiet house, a trip to the grocery store, or a bubble bath complete with my kindle. I taught myself to ask for it, if it can't be easily taken. Sometimes that means seeing my favorite extrovert's shoulders slump, or getting a frowny face/poop emoji from them. But, it's important self-care, and ultimately makes me a better (more present) wife, friend, sister, daughter, writer.
I've also learned to look at requests from extroverts differently. It could be worse than lots of great people wanting to spend time with you, or talk to you, or text with you. Plus, feeling like meat in a tank full of pariahs all the time takes a toll on you and your peace-of-mind. The truth is, the pace of our society shines brightly on extrovert behavior, and doesn't place a lot of value on the introvert's innate need for solitude. Which means, we must get used to marching to the beat of our own drum, with a full understanding of the ultimate benefits of saying no to them, and yes to ourselves.
Some of the great thinkers of our time spent a lot of time with themselves. Alone. Within those precious moments came some of the world's most incredible inventions, art, and ideas. So, if your brain is wired like mine, and you were created to need massive amounts of downtime, but are surrounded by buckets full of extroverts, own it. Be ok with your uniqueness. Drop the guilt, and speak up when you need time. We'll all be better for it.