Quiet by Susan Cain and becoming comfortable being an introvert

A few years ago I made a decision: to stop pretending I enjoyed “nights out” and to just not go on them.

I was 27 at the time, and quite frankly bored of being in nightclubs at 2am, wishing I was at home, tucked up in bed. It’s not that I was going out clubbing all that often, I’d become pretty good at making up excuses to avoid having to do so, but every so often I’d get talked into it, and I’d be reminded all over again just how much I hate it.

Yet for the 10 years or so previously I’d gone along with the notion that nights out are fun, something to get excited about and look forward to, even though I’ve pretty much always dreaded them. I even went through a phrase at university where I cried pretty much before every single night out, not just because I didn’t want to go, but because I couldn’t understand why I didn’t enjoy them. I thought there was something wrong with me, a malfunction in my wiring, a missing of the “fun” gene. That I was messed up because I didn’t enjoy what so many other people did, or at least seemed to.

For as long as I can remember nights out for me have always followed the same pattern. I start off on a high, all dirty jokes and a loud cackle. I’m full of energy, chatting to everyone and (genuinely) having fun. But then after a few hours one of two things happen: either, if I’m drinking, I get very emotional and start crying, or, if I’m not, I get tired, bored and a bit pissed off. Neither is great for me, or the people I’m with.

I still remember the first night I said “no”. Not “no, because”, just “no”. My flatmates got ready and headed out. I ran a bath, lit some candles and listened to an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice on Radio 4. I was asleep by 10.30pm. The next morning, with no sore head to contend with, I got up early and took myself off down to Druid Street for a coffee, a St John’s Bakery doughnut and a walk along the South Bank in the sunshine. I don’t think I stopped smiling all day.

And it was this that was the real clincher for me: not only was I not enjoying the nights out themselves, but I was also ruining the whole next day for myself as well. By subscribing to someone else’s definition of what a good time was, I was denying myself an actual good time. Which is just silly.

Yet it wasn’t until I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talkinglast summer that I finally understood fully why all this was: I’m an introvert. A really big fat one.

This might come as a bit of a surprise for those that know me, but don’t really know me. Quite a few people have described me as extroverted over the years, and because for so long I had zero clue about who I actually was, I clung on to other people’s definitions of me and took them as truth (more on this soon).

I am social. And outgoing. And on occasion quite loud and gregarious. I’m not shy, and I enjoy meeting and chatting to new people. But none of this makes me an extrovert. Introversion and extroversion is simply about where you get your energy from. As an introvert I get mine from being alone, and get drained being around people. Extroverts get their’s from other people and find being on their own tiring.

Reading about this in Quiet, it was suddenly so obvious what was happening on nights out: I start off with lots of energy but it dissipates as the night goes on, whereas my extrovert friends are feeding off everyone and their energy is increasing. It’s why I’ve never been able to last past midnight (fine, 11pm. Ok, alright 10.30pm if you’re lucky). I also realised that the reason I run out of energy quicker than some other introverts is that I use so much of it up at the beginning of the night by being so overly gregarious.

And it wasn’t just how I felt on nights out that clicked into place. It was everything. Why I was so happy last year spending so much time on my own. Why I’ve always hated big groups of people, particularly when I have to mingle, and much prefer spending time one-on-one with people. Why I hate flitting between conversations, and find “banter” tiring after a while, but love proper in-depth conversations about feelings, and life, and the big stuff. Why I’ve always found weekends away in groups difficult, and why I get tired travelling with people, even just one or two, because I’m around them 24/7 and don’t have a chance to recharge.

And I can’t tell you what a relief finding this all out was! Even though I’d come to terms with the fact that I just didn’t like going out, I still beat myself up about it occasionally, wondering if it was somehow wrong of me to do so. Introversion and extroversion are described as the central axis of personality. It is fundamental to who we are, and although we can learn to be more comfortable in different situations, we can’t change where we fall on the scale. We just can’t.

I just wish I had found out about this when I was younger, that someone had explained there wasn’t a fault in my wiring, that I was just an introvert. And that that is absolutely fine.

Cover photo is of the hills around Sapa, northern Vietnam. I have no photographs of myself. Please remind me to take some. 

3 Comments

  1. Amy | Toothbrush Travels February 14, 2016 / 7:27 pm

    Take more pictures of yourself lady!
    Completely understand where you’re coming from with regards to being comfortable with who you really are, as opposed to who you think you are. It’s something I’m still learning as I’ll say no so many times, yet say yes every now and then and end up feeling totally drained. Will have to check out that book – sounds like an interesting read! xo

  2. Jay March 24, 2016 / 2:42 pm

    I feel like you’re reciting from my own stream of conscious with this post! So well-put and accurate. Now, how do you find traveling solo as an introvert? I admit I find it difficult… or maybe that’s just the pressure of feeling like I have to be extroverted if I’m going to travel solo!

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