I have no idea who told me that you’ll get along much better with your parents once you leave the house, but truer words have never been spoken. I have a wonderful relationship with both my parents and both my sisters (and pretty much most of my family), but I could still feel it improve significantly once I didn’t have to share the same space with them for extended periods of time. As an introvert who was raised in the middle of extroverts, it was a relief to finally have my own space and my own routine.
I need to point out, though, that I didn’t simply leave the house. I left the entire country.
Three years ago, after being disappointed in my choice of career, and my stagnate life, I packed my bags and moved from Brazil to Canada with the intent of making Toronto my new home. It was a complicated change, with several challenges in terms of finances, culture, and dealing with all of the emotions from such a big change in my life. But it was also the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. Perhaps in the future, I’ll explore some of these topics, from the point of view of an introverted writer-slash-teacher who hates change and can’t usually be bothered to get out of the house.
But this time, since this is my first article for Introvertunites, I thought I might start with something a little more cheerful and talk about something we both love and dread: sharing limited spaces with people who are much more extroverted than us. Yes, this is a survival guide. Buckle up!
Leaving home is not an easy decision to make, regardless of whether that means just leaving the house or immigrating to another country. One way or another, you are leaving behind everything and everyone you know to start a new chapter of your life. Immigration, though, tends to make visits infrequent, because of distance, currency exchange rates, and so on. Were it not for Skype and Whatsapp (and letters because my Great Aunt Maggie won’t touch electronic devices), I might have lived in such complete isolation that it might have been too much even for me. I do get to visit more or less once a year, though. And when I do, I get my fill of family, friends, and barbecue. I love them all equally.
Of course, I don’t get to go home all the time. Sometimes, my family and friends come to visit me.
Aaaaand that’s when things get complicated.
Personally, I find the position of “visitor” much easier than that of the “host”. That is mostly because I have my own room back in Brazil, in a big house that gives me lots of opportunities to avoid social interaction. Besides, I can be in control of my schedule. If I wish to go out to dinner, sit in the living room with my mother for three hours, or lock myself in my bedroom and seek refuge under a blanket, I’m free to do that.
When people come to visit me… well, I don’t have the luxury of a large house. We’re pretty much confined in one bedroom for days or weeks, where we’re stuck with each other in a loop of endless social interaction, no privacy, no silence and it is such a drainer.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that because my best friend is coming to visit from Montreal and she’s going to stay with me for four days. Which is fine. I’m sure we’re going to have a lot fun together, since I miss her like hell and we’ve been planning this for a while but, at the same time, I’m kind of freaking out because I don’t do so well with people. More often than not, the moment my friends leave, I crash – and it’s not a nice and cozy crash, with warm blankets and a cup of tea and a good book and, “Oh, I’m so happy to have this place to myself again”.
It’s a “god, people, I don’t want to see people for two weeks, I need silence, why am I like this? I’m such a hermit! Why can’t I be normal? Why can’t I enjoy being around people like a normal person? I’m truly a horrible friend! Where is my computer? I need to distract myself, but now I’m too distracted and I’m not doing my chores and I feel worse!” kind of crash.
Yes. Living inside my head is fun. You guys should try it some time.
Anyway, this is what I’m trying to avoid. Four days with my friend Tai (who is one of the most extroverted people I know) is going to be fun and exciting and with a lot more events than I usually do on my own. My goal, though, is to get to the end of this weekend with my sanity intact, and not, you know, hissing at the sight of another human being. With that in mind, I compiled a short list of tips on how to survive non-stop social interaction with an extrovert without going crazy. Or murdering them.
1. Prepare yourself for non-stop social interaction.
I know, terrifying, but bear with me. If you know you’re not getting any rest for a week, a month, or, in my case, four days, then it’s better you get yourself rested beforehand. Binge watch an entire show on Netflix, if you can. Have you watched Gravity Falls? It’s really good!
Or, if you’re not a lazy person, like myself, spend some time with your favorite hobby. Knit a sweater, read a novel, write a novel. If your friends want to grab a drink after work, maybe skip the happy hour this week and go drink by yourself at home. No, that’s not alcoholism, that’s self-care.
Try to squeeze in as much “Me” time as you can the week before. Allow yourself to recharge. You’re going to need your social energies for the next few days.
2. Set boundaries.
Okay, that’s easier said than done, and it really depends on who’s coming to visit. You probably have friends with whom you get along better, and even people you’re used to sharing a house with. Sharing a bedroom with my sister is easier because we’ve done it all our lives, we already got the fighting out of our system. The first time I tried to share a bedroom with Tai, we nearly killed each other.
Let people understand your needs as an introvert and as an individual. Put away the things you don’t want them to see, and if you have a kid brother who’s a little snoopy (like mine), buy something with a lock. A sturdy lock. If you have a big project coming up and you’ll need time and solitude to work on it properly, let them know beforehand and work that into your schedule.
3. Oh yes! Have a schedule.
Speaking as an international student and worker, when people come to visit you from another country, they have one thing in mind: tourism. They want to see the parks, the museums, the malls, and, most importantly, they want to see these things with you. Trust me when I say being a tour guide gets exhausting pretty quickly when you’re an introvert, especially when your idea of tourism involves art galleries, while your mother’s involves spending the entire day mall-hopping.
Working on a schedule beforehand will help you: a) get used to the idea of it, especially if it’s something you don’t like doing/are not used to doing very often and b) help you prepare for the activity and work in some quiet time. For example, if you’re going to the pub on Friday, then you can do something quieter on Saturday to recharge. Art gallery? Yes please!
4. Do things that are enjoyable to you.
As a good host, you should make your guests a priority, or so my mother has taught me. However, there’s no reason why you can’t do things that you want to do together. And by that, I don’t just mean places to visit and events to attend. Focus on the person, think of the many things you missed about your loved ones and concentrate on that.
I miss my dad’s cooking, so you can bet he’s going to make me delicious meals while he’s here. I would help him, but that wouldn’t be… safe. I also love doing my nails and Tai cannot do hers – guess how I’m spending my Saturday?
These are your loved ones and you should enjoy them!
5. Find a way to clear your head.
The real issue I have with sharing small spaces is when I need to get inside my head and be alone for a little while, but people are… everywhere. There are ways to work around that, though. The easiest one I know is to put on your headphones for thirty minutes, maybe while your guest is in the shower or making a call. Something else you can do is go for a walk around the block to clear your head, if it’s not winter and you don’t live in Canada like I do. A short walk when things get too overwhelming can be a great help.
Or, if you have a candid relationship with this person and they know you and your introverted ways, ask for a break. Tell them you need to sit in the kitchen for thirty minutes, or book a city tour for them so you can give yourself a mini-break.
6. Is it over? Treat Yo Self!
Congratulations, my fellow introvert! You did it! You’ve been an honorable and perfectly polite host and you’ve made your mother proud. Now give yourself a pat on the back and take a deep breath. You are, once again, in charge of your schedule, your home, and your bathroom breaks. It’s time to recover your hobby supplies, pick up that book from where you left off, make a blanket fort, and enjoy the peace and quiet. Isn’t it wonderfully silent now?
You deserve some “Me” time. Don’t feel bad because you need to take a break from people, or because you get overwhelmed by your loved ones, or even because sometimes you wished time would pass faster so you could get some alone time. Craving solitude doesn’t make you anti-social, or a bad person, or a bad friend. It’s just what makes you you.
Now, don’t panic! Everything will be fine. Occasionally overwhelming, but ultimately fine. You miss your family and friends, you know you do. Unless they’re complete douchebags, they missed you too. You, in all your quirky introvertedness. They knew what they were getting into.
Changing your schedule and your routine to accommodate other people into your life is exhausting, but there’s no reason why you can’t make the best of it.
Thank you, and enjoy your stay!