“It’s such an interesting feeling,” said Alex Delaney, 28, a teacher who lives in Brooklyn. “I fully identify as an introvert and like to spend time alone, but I’ve had more urges [in the last year] than ever to want to be at a club or go to a bar, which are places I would never go prior to the pandemic. It’s funny, though, because I feel like once I do have the option to go to those places again, I probably won’t.”
Delaney is one of thousands of introverts who responded to a callout from BuzzFeed News asking how the pandemic has affected them. It’s easy to assume that for a group of people known to relish their alone time, a pandemic that encourages social distancing and isolation might paradoxically offer some great respite. It’s not that simple though.
While a great portion of respondents noted that their desire for socializing has decreased during the pandemic, others realized that they do like — and even need — a decent amount of human interaction from time to time, like Jane Eckles, 24, of Hartland, Wisconsin. “I've almost forgotten what it's like when a person accidentally bumps into you in Target and you start chatting, and you realize that your cousins went to the same college,” she said. “I miss the little things.”
No two introverts are alike, which is to say that we don’t all operate in the same way socially. As psychologist Jonathan Cheek told the Cut last year, there are at least four specific types or “shades” of introversion: social, thinking, anxious, and restrained. Social introverts tend to prefer smaller group settings over larger gatherings and are OK with spending time alone. Anxious introverts tend to avoid social interactions because of anxiety, while thinking introverts tend to be introspective when they socialize. Restrained introverts are more reserved in social settings.
“Being social is so intentional now.”
With great news on the vaccine front — the Biden administration recently announced that there should be enough doses for every adult American by the end of May — there’s a palpable feeling that life may soon return to normal. The last year has compelled introverts to think more deeply about their social lives — and though it’s not certain their disposition will change as the world inches toward reopening — some have at least considered making changes once that moment happens. It wasn’t the case for everyone, but some respondents concluded that they would like to be more chatty, while others want to focus on striking more of a healthy balance between social time and alone time.
“I used to feel pressure to be social as often as possible,” said Andrea, a 41-year-old who lives in Michigan. “Lots of large group socializing and awkward small talk. It was so exhausting!” Andrea lives with her husband and used to go out three or four times a week before the pandemic. She likes to hang out in small groups of around two to five people, as she becomes a “wallflower” and will “disengage” if the setting becomes more crowded. “Being social is so intentional now,” she said.
Kenzie, a college student who lives in Belleville, Illinois, feels similarly. In the Before Times, she said her social meter would be “maxed out” a lot, as she would often see friends daily, go to classes, and do extracurricular activities, in addition to a social hangout once or twice a week. “I would tend to go home most weekends just to have a way to recharge,” she said. Now Kenzie chats with her friends remotely a few times a week, meeting virtually every Saturday to play Dungeons & Dragons, “though even when we have to take a break from that, we’ve still met up,” she said.
But after a year of social distancing, it will likely be an adjustment for Kenzie to revert back to pre-pandemic socialization. “I miss my friends so much, don’t get me wrong, but the idea of being around people for a full day now sounds so emotionally draining to me,” she said. Kenzie believes some of the energy required to socialize will return once things get going again. “Either on Zoom or in person — it’s like all of my social skills have abandoned me for the first half an hour of talking until they finally kick in again,” she said, acknowledging a concern other people have about how their social skills have atrophied during the pandemic. “It’s such a daunting thought right now to even consider having to return to this sort of performative ability to socialize. I’m just not sure I currently have in me.”
While introversion has proven to be a great asset for some people during the pandemic, others have wondered if they should push themselves to be more gregarious in the future.
Emily Larin, 28, who lives in Riverside, California, has realized that she likes being more social than she lets on. “When I was younger, I had this mindset of doing important things alone and not relying on others, especially when it came to my career goals,” she said. “I'm an introvert and shy, so being vulnerable and asking for help is something I have always struggled with.” The pandemic, Larin said, made her more cognizant of how this approach was holding her back, especially when it came to her career. And once the pandemic ends, she plans to challenge herself to “get out of my comfort zone,” but in small steps, she added. “I’m still an introvert at heart.”
“I miss my friends so much, don’t get me wrong, but the idea of being around people for a full day now sounds so emotionally draining to me.”
Marina, 28, relocated from NYC to Santa Fe along with her partner in the last year. Prior to the pandemic, she said she typically went out three to four times a week. Her desire to be more social has grown and comes “in waves.” NYC was great for Marina and her partner during the summer; restrictions were lifted and they could eat out and spend more time with friends. But things changed when they got to New Mexico: “The isolation and strict regulations out here have been brutal.” Marina said she now feels a pull to be more social in her own life, as she longs for interactions, not just with friends but even with strangers, like people at her coffee shop. “I need a lot more socialization than I originally thought I did, and this whole situation has forced me to really take a look at what I need to do to be an active participant in my own life,” Marina said. “Life may feel like it’s on hold, but it’s not.”
The immense pressure of the last year has even made some introverts miss events with coworkers. Jordan Carter, 30, lives with her fiancé and their two dogs. She would often go out a few times a week pre-COVID. “Before the pandemic, I thought I'd love working from home and wouldn't need any imposed structure. I love being alone and making my own structure. Turns out there is a limit on that. I desperately miss people and scheduled events. I miss everything from parties to those awkward, forced work interactions I used to dread.”
There’s a common misconception that introverts don’t want to socialize at all. But both introversion and extroversion lie on a spectrum. Elisabeth, a 50-year-old mom from Maryland, said she needs to have limits for social interactions. “I can only handle about three hours in a group before I wanna go home,” she said. “I have found that I was more apt to reach out for interaction that I was [craving] when there was plenty to do.” She enjoys being social, but there is a boundary to how often she wants to do it. Relatedly, she said her appetite for interacting with people has grown in the last year, though she attributes that to a perverse reaction to the circumstances: “When you’re told you have to stay inside, you want to go out just because you’ve been told you can’t. And when you have all kinds of options to do things, you’re very satisfied to stay home because you have options,” she said.
“I don't want to try and mimic extroverted behaviors anymore just because that's the social norm.”
That said, there are things about pre-pandemic life introverts absolutely do not miss. Lockdown has reduced anxiety-inducing social interactions and made it easier for introverts to cancel plans. Maren, 35, lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, and feels as though the world has finally caught up to her, a “very introverted” person who worked from home before the pandemic and who typically spends a good majority of her social time with her sister, whom she lives with. “In this pandemic, for the first time in my life, my introversion is finally an advantage,” she said. “Other people are losing their minds, and I’m carrying on like normal. If anything, it’s increased my self-confidence,” Maren said. Like Maren, Briana Maxwell, a 33-year-old woman living in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, has settled into herself more over this period of time. Maxwell said she’s “had so much more time to invest in my hobbies and passions, without the guilt that I’m hiding away.” In the future, once it’s safe, she wants to “travel more and experience more things, but not necessarily with people.”
In a culture that often favors extroverts, achieving this level of confidence is no small feat. “As a child and teen, I was quiet and awkward and considered weird and stuck-up,” said Maren, adding that throughout her life she was always told to “talk more.”
Maren’s revelation is similar to that of Dasha, 32, who lives in Toronto with her family. She said this time “has made me realize that I truly am a hermit and that I would like to pursue the hermit’s way of life even after the pandemic is over.” Dasha said she really pushed herself throughout her twenties to socialize and, while thankful for the experiences, fully recognizes “that people really drain me and that solitary activities are what fulfill me,” she said. She recently deleted all of her social media accounts in the last year. “I often found myself thinking, Wow, this is me. This was me and this will always be me. I'm a hardcore introvert. I don't want to try and mimic extroverted behaviors anymore just because that's the social norm,” she said. “I want to do what feels right for me."
Nearly all of the stories in this piece resonated with me as a fellow introvert. At the beginning of the pandemic, I thought this process would be a walk in the park. I tend to get overwhelmed in large group settings, prefer smaller, intimate settings where I can get to know people and I typically need a decent amount of alone time in order to recharge. But I would be lying if I said the constant alone time — occasionally days on end — didn’t get to me sometimes. There have been countless instances over the last year where I’ve daydreamed about going to a raucous bar or a crowded concert venue, places I would’ve avoided before. It’s reassuring to know I’m not alone in feeling this way. Once the world opens up, I think I’ll challenge myself to occasionally try new experiences (social anxiety be damned!). It’s especially important for me — after a year of uncertainty — to really lean into life. And if I’m not feeling the vibe, at least I know I’ll always have the option of finding solace in restorative, uninterrupted solitude. ●