What’s an introvert doing at a party?

By Robin Andeer. This article was published on August 25, 2013.

Introvert backdrop

tl;dr Don’t feel like reading? Google “Susan Cain” and watch her TED talk.

Before the party

Can’t help but feel last minute disappointment. I’ve already confirmed the party invite. Now my chaperone suddenly can’t make it. She’s off sailing to Finland.

I’m a party planner albeit of a different kind. Invitations trigger hours and days of obsessing and outlining. How will I get through this next social event? New people and loud music quickly overwhelm me. It’s like being under water where oxygen is depleted no matter what. Making an effort only accelerates the process. Walking home from parties with a headache is unfortunately more rule than exception.

Getting to the party

I enter the flat. Sink into in a corner couch. A slew of new faces and names crowd my mind. Attendees casually move between rooms. I might not be hiding from anyone but I’m certainly not barging into conversations either.

A book I recently read has come to mean a lot to me. I saw so much of myself in the reflection of those words. Did it outline a future where I would grow out of shyness and awkwardness around crowds of people? Far from it. Instead it did something more profound. It helped me become more comfortable with who I already am: an introvert. No need to change. Just adapt to reality.

For example the reality of getting through parties, I could:

  1. 1.
    Device an excuse for leaving, real or fake. The, when my batteries run out, I’ll have a “valid” reason for leaving early.
  2. 2.
    Stay on the side lines where the volume is lower and non-shouting conversations are actually possible.
  3. 3.
    Focus on only a few people which increases the likelihood of forging meaningful connections.
  4. 4.
    Talk about stuff I actually care about and skip right over the superficial cold talk.

At the party

4 hours later. People come and go. My energy levels drop into the red zone. Semi-organized dancing commences and I feel compelled to join in. The first and only time I leave the comfort of the couch.

Back to the book: “Quiet: The Power of Introverts” by Susan Cain. Her main theory? Extroverts are boosted by highly stimulating environments. Introverts recharge by avoiding them (the environments, not the people.) In other words; extroverts are drawn to weekend parties to get through the work week. Introverts rely on cerebral tasks to get through the weekend’s social obligations. Lunch breaks? Same idea; introverts spend energy credits, extroverts cash in.

Looking for Introversion 101? Watch and listen to Susan Cain’s acclaimed TED talk.

Note, however, that the only reason for introverts to save up on energy credits is to get to use them. Given the right preparations, social events are absolutely something I look forward to. Compare this to travelling. Save up enough money and you’ll have a great time spending your travel funds on cheap stuff and fancy dining. Now imagine travelling broke and having to waive all the fun your co-travellers ask you to partake in. The latter would feel similar to an introvert spontaneously invited to a party starting a couple of hours later.

Recap

The night ultimately surpassed my (low) expectations. I spent some quality time talking to a few people yet kept far from the center of attention. In the end, I lasted a full 5 hours and never had to use my excuse to leave. No headache either.

“Well, you could certainly learn to enjoy parties more if you just put in some effort.” Of course! But if I don’t do it my own way I’m still going to run out of energy after an hour. Stay too long and the headache inevitably comes creeping. On top of that, I’ve realized I don’t have an innate interest in enjoying parties the way typical extroverts do. Probably simply because it doesn’t fill an essential need for me: building up energy. For that I turn to movies and personal projects. Now, those are the things I won’t give up. I might even schedule them for a friday night.


Are you an extrovert? Congratulations on making it this far! I’m kidding. Do I think you should leave us introverts alone? Not invite us to parties? Of course not. Quite the opposite. Extroverts should push their introverted friends to join social events. Don’t let us off too easy! In return, we promise to push you to do your best work if we happen to work on a project together. See, we get you’re not in your natural habitat quietly researching information. We’ve been there, remember?