Alone Time: Therapeutic or Simply Weird?
I’m a self-proclaimed introvert but it took me a long time to come to terms with it.
A few years ago, I found myself in a relationship with this brilliant guy that happened to be the exact opposite: a loud, convivial extrovert who could easily dominate a conversation – or a room – in an effortless, cheerful manner. Despite being incredibly proud of his character, from some point onward I couldn’t help but compare my social skills to his, which would weight me down and make me feel terrible a) for not being as extroverted, and b) for being jealous of him,
Around that time I stumbled upon Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Cannot Stop Talking. Needless to say, it was a huge relief. It felt like the opposite of googling your symptoms to find out if you’re coming down with something: you type in something like back pain and Google diagnoses you with some fatal illness. Passionately argued, thoroughly researched and backed-up by stories of real, successful introverts, it permanently shaped my self-awareness. Truth is that we live in a culture which celebrates extroverts, both on a personal and on a professional scale. Cain’s book seeks to showcase the rise of the Extrovert Ideal, explore its effects and, ultimately, question its value. She draws a detailed account of the differences between introverts and extroverts and offers advice on how to harness them to the introvert’s benefit and embrace them as a strength.
“Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured”, she suggests. Being raised on a generation of women’s magazines and websites raising extroversion to an oppressive standard, to which I was failing to conform, my introversion felt like a pathology, “a second-class personality trait”. This did not correlate with the fact that I knew that I was a great, cordial, supportive friend, and I wholeheartedly loved spending time socialising.
Introversion for me came with a great sense of self-sufficiency and an appreciation for doing things on my own – if you cannot keep yourself company, who really can? In her book, Cain mentions that introverts “may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas”. She presents the argument that introverts need to recharge after being around other people; they need some of downtime. It feels odd to suggest that people, like electronic devices, gradually run out of energy, which they then need to replenish by spending time on their own. However, reading about this was like flicking a switch: the wish for me-time stopped causing me guilt any longer. I needed alone time to feel happier and this translated into being a better sibling, daughter, friend, classmate, partner. Ever since I’ve read this, I’ve been making a point to raise this topic in conversations and you’d be surprised how many people relate with it – even people who wouldn’t necessarily identify themselves as introverts.
The list of people exalting the value of alone time is long and manifold. It includes personalities from Dalai Lama to Oprah. We need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person, to examine our life and surroundings openly and honestly, to reflect, to create, to meditate.
I would like to finish off this post with a not necessarily recent but very defining moment. When I first moved to London, my social circle was adorable but limited. At the same time my thirst to go out and experience the city was unquenchable. So I did what felt natural: I ventured out on my own and started exploring it. I remember being on the phone with my best friend from Athens, describing how I’d spent my Saturday morning, when she said, “Oh my, I could never wander around and sit at a cafe alone.” Well, it was one of the most beautiful sunny days London had seen that autumn and, ask any Londoner, there are only a handful. I wouldn’t regret a single sunray that traced my skin that day.
Introverted (as always),