I strongly dislike labels. In high school, my mother once offhandedly remarked that I was an introvert, prompting a lot of negative feelings on my part. An introvert is someone who gets his or her energy from being alone, something I saw as distinctly negative.
While I spent a lot of time by myself in high school, I was appalled that anyone would believe I was spending my Friday nights at home to “recharge my batteries.” My alone time in high school arose not from a desire for “me time,” but from a lack of connection with the people planning the fun nights out. I resolved to disprove my mother’s comment by seeking out as many social connections as possible in college.
In hindsight, this determination to prove my extroversion was laughable. It turns out that when given a choice, I really do love being on my own.
Freshman year, I was so worried about being lonely at such a large university that I clung to the people I met. While we initially shared the common factor of being first-year students trying to navigate a new experience, it soon became painfully obvious that we shared little in the way of values, goals or personalities.
With no emotional connection to speak of, I began to feel extreme loneliness despite constantly surrounding myself with friends. Nevertheless, I held onto these tenuous connections because I was terrified of what might happen if I were to let go. What if there was no one at Michigan with whom I could genuinely connect? Would I go back to being the girl who spent her Friday nights alone?
The thought of being alone worried me so much that I began to develop a fear of abandonment. I overanalyzed every text I received, convinced that each person was planning to walk out of my life. FOMO — or fear of missing out — became another huge concern of mine, and soon every picture from every close friend posted to Facebook without my presence seemed to confirm that the worst had happened.
I voiced my constant anxiety until my fears became a self-fulfilling prophecy for my life: The more I mulled over my abandonment conspiracy theories, the more I dragged down the group dynamic and the less my friends wanted to spend time with me.
This year, I finally decided to conquer my insecurities by seeking opportunities to do things on my own. Rather than plan my days around friends’ busy schedules so that I wouldn’t have to eat or study alone, I began to plan my days around what I wanted to accomplish. Despite having fewer guaranteed social connections throughout my week, I’m now the happiest I have been in three years. With no one to please, answer to or worry about but myself, I’m finding the courage to become the person I always wanted to be. I’m rediscovering my passions for singing and writing, both of which I gave up as a freshman because none of my friends shared these interests. I’m gaining a better sense of self, purpose and lifelong aspirations. My worries about loneliness have subsided.
For me, the key to being on my own without feeling lonely has been embracing the communities I’m part of. My biggest social support system to date has come from fellow Residence Staff members in my building. Rather than cling to each staff member, I treat everyone like I would a cherished family member. They aren’t necessarily my best friends, but they are the people I come home to at the end of the day, eager to ask how I’m doing. They are the people who cheer me on, let me know that I matter and remind me that I am loved. Their constant support gives me the self-assurance to spend a few hours of the day on my own without ever feeling alone.
These days, I fully embrace the Friday nights I get to spend by myself. Who wouldn’t want to curl up in bed and watch Netflix after a long week of studying and interacting with residents? My attitude has changed since high school, because this time I have a choice as to how I spend my weekends. If I want to be social on a Friday night, I can sit in my hall’s lounge, mass-text my staff or walk to my community center. If I want to recharge my batteries and be by myself, there’s no shame in that either.
Though the label of “introvert” still irks me due to its oversimplification of the human experience, I can now say that when given a choice, I proudly, confidently and unabashedly love being on my own.
Annie Humphrey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.