Commentary

Social Butterflies

At 9 p.m. on a Friday night, I was sitting in bed in my pajamas, with one hand on my laptop keyboard and the other in a bag of popcorn. While I struggled to focus on my task, an obnoxious thought kept making its way into my head: “What am I doing at home on a Friday night?” I tried to justify my lack of social activity with the relatively empty Weekender, but frankly, a night in sounded more appealing than a night out.

I am an introvert. This may surprise some people—after all, I am a fairly social person—but it shouldn’t. While we all joke about an introvert’s hatred of people, dependence on Netflix and good books, and reluctance to spend time with people, these clichéd depictions of introverts are exaggerated, or even inaccurate.

In reality, introverts and extraverts are not the stereotypical shy bookworms and social butterflies they are portrayed as. I consider myself both introverted and sociable. Although I enjoy being with other people, I “recharge” mentally and emotionally by being alone. Extraverts, on the other hand, rejuvenate around others. This is the true difference between introverts and extroverts, and like most personality traits, introversion and extraversion are not a dichotomy but a spectrum. Most people fall somewhere in between the two extremes, and these people are classified as ambiverts. For example, although I lean towards the introvert side, I don’t need to be completely alone to restore my energy. Being around certain close friends can buoy my energy levels.

The difference between extroversion and introversion is not so stark and should not make a difference in someone’s success. However, a pervasive cultural bias toward extraverts makes it difficult for introverts to thrive academically and socially. From a young age, kids are expected to work in groups at school. Of course, encouraging teamwork and inclusion is beneficial, but when there is an excessive amount of group work, it excludes the students who are not as relaxed in group settings and perpetuates the assumption that sociability and creativity are synonymous. Even outside of the classroom and past childhood, extraverts are also favored as friends. People radiate confidence and cheerfulness tend to draw people towards them. Since extraverts get their energy from socializing, other people tend to find them more exciting.

Along with this societal favoritism, the lack of general knowledge on these personality traits makes it difficult for introverts to take care of themselves. I was unaware of the actual definitions of “introvert” and “extravert” until very recently; I was under the impression that extraverts were simply outgoing people and introverts were shy. Because I’m a sociable person, I identified as an extravert. Using this reasoning, I justified forcing myself into uncomfortable social situations. During that time, my happiness and emotional state of mind declined. My mental health has improved drastically since discovering, and accepting my introversion. I’ve learned how to better take care of my mental health and avoid situations that do me harm.

Despite the overall improvement in my life, being an introvert at Andover can still be difficult. We are all aware of the constant expectation for Andover students to be everything at once: academic, athletic, artistic, and of course, social. When students spend an abundance of time in class with other students, at sports with other athletes, and at clubs with other members, it is easy to be overwhelmed by constant social interaction. During the little time that we’re not working, we are expected to take advantage of Friday and Saturday nights by going to “relaxing” social events that may drain us further. Deciding not to go to a dance or show can be a thing of shame.

One of the first pieces of advice that I received from older students my freshman year was to always say “yes” to social activities. You can be alone whenever you want, and other people won’t be there forever, they argued.

But for introverts, it is often more important to carve out alone time and unwind than it is to attend social events for the sake of having “fun”. Everyone’s definition of “fun” is different. For some, a dance is perfect to let off steam after a long week. For others, watching Netflix at home is preferable. Regardless, you should not prioritize others over your own mental health. Don’t be afraid to decline an invitation every once in awhile. A good friend will understand that you need time to recuperate from a stressful week.

For extroverts, be aware of our peers. Help your introverted friends step out of their comfort zones while keeping in mind their boundaries. Be supportive of their needs. Understand that some people need more “alone time” than others.

In order to combat extraversion bias and deconstruct the stigma around introversion on campus, not only do introverts need to accept and understand what keeps them mentally healthy, extroverts must step up and do what they do best—encourage their peers.

Nov 4, 2016