The Introvert Who Couldn’t be Alone

Photo of a lookout on a beach. By Gabriel Santiago.Ask any introvert, and one of the things they most likely cherish is time by themselves. I belong to that category, but I have a love/hate relationship with being alone.

I lived alone one year while teaching English in Germany. It was a small town, and I chose to go there (for the wrong reasons – oh, to be ten years more mature when I was 24). For an entire school year, I lived in the attic apartment of a wonderful older couple. Their bedroom was on the main floor. The second floor has their grown children’s bedrooms, only occupied occasionally when they came for a visit, and my two-room apartment, complete with kitchenette and bathroom, was on the third floor/in the attic. An introvert’s dream living conditions.

About 15-20 hours of my week was with people, the rest was alone. I read a lot, I baked a ton, touched base with friends and family weekly.

And I called my parents frequently at 5:00 a.m. their morning crying, because I had no one else to talk to.

My contract explicitly said I would not be left alone in a classroom to teach. I was, after all, simply a foreign language assistant, not a fully trained teacher. Unfortunately, I was assigned to three grade 6 classes, one hour a week, with no teacher in the room, no teacher training under my belt, and the school clearly segregated its classes based on ability. I had very few issues with the high-achieving class (mostly girls). I had lots of issues with the other two, and I wasn’t trained to deal with them. (Nor did I have the confidence at the time to speak up.)

My introversion had now become a hinderance as I lived almost entirely by myself, devoid of any trusted support system. After the rush of four years of university, with large and small classes, weekly nights out with friends, group assignments, etc., a year living by myself became quite lonely. It wasn’t the beautiful alone time that an introvert dreams of.

Being alone used to be an escape for me: I’d dive into the world of my favourite author for an hour, or I’d change my stare between the television and the crocheting in my hand, or I’d spend an hour or two at the computer hammering out a short story. I loved all my feelings – sad, angry, happy – and I felt their power, whether it was helpful or harmful. But once I moved on from my brooding teenage years into university and then adulthood, I became less and less comfortable with my negative feelings to the point of not wanting to be alone with them.

What an odd experience for an introvert. I regain my energy by being alone, so you’d think I’d have been full of boundless energy after all that time in that apartment. In the end, though, I had become uncomfortable with being alone. I wanted to talk to people about stuff, exchange ideas with them, go out for a drink or a piece of cake (this was Germany, after all). No amount of hiking or cycling could replace my surprisingly growing craving for a social life. The same way that you don’t leave a car parked at a gas station all day to fill it up, I needed to be unhooked from my introvert pump so I could drive and spend the energy.

The beauty of age: I’m finally realizing this now. Back then, I thought something was wrong with me, when absolutely nothing was wrong with me. I’m simply human. The perfect life for me is truly a balance: I need the stimulation of being around others, but I need doses of quiet time to reflect and recharge. Too much of one or the other, and life starts to get really messy, like the asphalt around the car hooked up to its pump all day.

What about you? Do you find that your introversion/extroversion sometimes takes over, with undesirable results? Or have you found a balance that works well for you?

2 thoughts on “The Introvert Who Couldn’t be Alone

  1. Everyone needs to find their own way. I’m glad that you found the balance that works for you. Looking back is sometimes the only way to move forward–even though we’d often rather not revisit unhappy times.

    • So very true. Despite all the desirable distractions I had (time to read, bake, excellent, safe hiking trails right outside my door), I wasn’t expecting lack of a social life to be that hard.

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