If you told me a year ago that I was going to have to stay at home with little to no opportunities to connect face-to-face with other people, I’d ask you if that was the plot of a terrible science fiction story. Yet here we are – right in the thick of the tale. As an extrovert, the concept of “social distancing” is a scene straight out of a nightmare.
The transition to quarantine has left me with few outlets to expend my energy, restless, and disconnected. It’s gotten to the point where I even look forward to grocery shopping to get my dose of socialization. I know that I can call my friends and play games with them virtually, but it doesn’t feel the same as being with them in person. It has also been difficult to make plans with my friends virtually because they haven’t been very responsive. However, this period of time has given me the opportunity to reflect on social connection and how it may look different for each individual.
The majority of my friends are introverted to their core. As a result, I thought that this situation would be a dream for them. They don’t have to interact with people, they can stay home, and their conversations are mostly through text. But from the chats that I’ve had with them, I’ve come to realize that this is not the case. Here is some advice they’ve shared on how to support introverted friends:
1. Make Plans to Hang Out at Least a Day in Advance
Unlike extroverts who gain energy when spending time with others, introverts get drained after being around others for an extended period of time. Often, if an introvert attends too many events at a time, they burn out, as they don’t have time to “recharge”. For this reason, introverts need time to mentally prepare for social gatherings. Your friends always want to put their best foot forward and be their best selves around you. Remember not to force them into plans and ask them in advance rather than spontaneously.
2. Ask Them How They’re Doing
Introverts are excellent listeners, but perhaps to a fault. They care so much about what their peers have to say and want to take it all in. However, when conversing with their extraverted counterparts who are so excited to share their thoughts, it’s easy for the conversation to become one sided. I know when I get excited about things, I can go on and on for 15 to 20 minutes before I realize that my friends haven’t had the opportunity to say anything. Everyone wants to feel heard, so remember to ask your introverted pals for their thoughts and make space for them to share what’s on their mind.
3. Keep Hangouts to Small Groups
Quality conversations and relationships are of utmost importance to introverts. It is easier to have more meaningful conversations in a smaller group because this allows them to pay more attention to what their peers are saying, as well as their body language and tone. Introverts don’t mind surface level conversations, but they thrive in conversations about deep and authentic matters.
Something that often throws off introverts, and can lead to them withdrawing from conversations, is when a smaller group activity or call is planned, but they end up being surprised with a bigger group, especially when the group includes people they don’t know well. Introverts need time to mentally prepare to meet new people because the act of introductions and small talk can exhaust them quickly. Help your fellow introverts feel at ease by keeping hangouts to a smaller group. If you want to expand the circle, make sure you give them a heads up a day or two in advance!
4. Understand That They Won’t be in Constant Contact
This is a concept I particularly struggled with. As an extrovert, I love chatting with my friends and calling them up throughout the day to be in the presence of another human. However, I felt like this feeling wasn’t reciprocated with my introverted friends. Wondering if I had done something wrong, I asked them about it. To my relief, it wasn’t personal. My friends told me that just because they aren’t texting me every day, it didn’t mean they weren’t thinking of me. But they’d rather wait to chat in a fruitful way when they could give me their full attention and energy.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t text your friends – in fact, please do continue to do so! It shows them that they’re on your mind and will make them feel loved. However, don’t take offence if they don’t reply right away or to every message. Respect the space that they need.
5. Be Open About Your Feelings
Finally, the most important way you can support your introverted peers is by making sure you’re caring for yourself too. Extroverts may come across as more energetic, but remember to set boundaries for yourself and ensure that your needs are being met as well. Your friends care about you, and the last thing they want to see is you getting hurt or you making multiple accommodations for them. Just as I cannot always understand why my introverted friends behave in certain ways, they may not be able to comprehend my actions. Clearly share ways that they can best support you as well.
It may seem difficult to work through the differences in mindsets and behaviours, but if you are open and supportive of one another, it will do wonders for your friendship and mental health. The current situation may be tough, but having solid relationships with others makes all the difference. We’re all in this together!