Extroverts take their energy from bouncing off other people, whereas introverts draw strength from their inner lives: this has become commonplace, but I remember feeling profoundly understood when I first came across the idea that feeling drained by loud restaurants and busy parties wasn’t abnormal. It was an important discovery because it often feels like extroverts rule the world, and extroverted characteristics are often extolled as superior. For example, networking and confidence are just as important as competence when it comes to career advancement, and social time is simply easier if you feel you can own the room. Despite knowing all this, there are some situations that we still find really hard, like large parties full of strangers. So, for any actors or researchers that may be reading, here’s how to party like an introvert; here’s an introvert telling the world what we are like, for once.
Three hours before the party is due to begin, start double-checking with your friend that they’re still coming with you. Suggest a quick drink in a nearby pub beforehand, so that you’re:
- Already in social mood when you arrive
- One G&T away from your usual awkward self
- Left with at least one decent hour of the night to remember before the energy-sucking hordes descend.
Deliberately arrive at the pub early and scout out a quiet table. It’s been a full-on day; it started with you shuffling to the fridge past your half-dressed flatmates trying to speak as little as possible as you retrieve the milk, the commuter train was busier than usual, and someone stole your usual corner seat at the office. You can’t go straight from that to more social time, oh no. Remember that you know yourself best, and you deserve to leave yourself at least a half-hour of mental detox per day.
Reluctantly leave off catching up on the emotional ups and downs of your friend’s week, because you feel guilty for arriving late. Ring the buzzer already feeling dissatisfied and robbed of this rare chance to unburden your woes to the only person who really cares. Rehearse your escape strategy in the stairwell: you’ll pretend you’re stepping outside to take a call from your mum, and sneak out when no one’s looking. Plan B: Netflix, your duvet and a cup of tea.
Your friend’s having a great time conversing with the host and three unknown males, while you’ve ended up in the corner making awkward small talk with another shy person who’s saying quite boring things about their job as a dog walker. Nod along wondering how to politely suppress this and scan the room to identify possible openings in other people’s conversations.
You can’t deal with the dog walking any longer, so make the excuse that you really need the loo. Eye up the groups you pass on the way to see if any of your friends are participants. Nothing. Have a wee; finally, peace and quiet and no obligation to interact with strangers. Briefly consider leaving but get hurried out of the loo by impatient knocks before you can make up your mind that you would definitely be enjoying yourself more on the sofa rewatching the Bake-Off.
Chat with newly-arrived friends in the doorway. Finally, start to feel like this could be an acceptable party. The banter’s flowing, you’re participating, you feel like your opinion is solicited; revel in this moment.
People keep shoving their way through your huddle to get to the loo. Someone says ‘hi’ to you on their way past. In the five seconds it takes for you to exchange how-do-you-dos, the huddle has been forced out of the doorway and the spell is broken.
Get into a relatively interesting catch-up with a minor acquaintance when the guy you fancy comes into range and settles into conversation with some other people within earshot. They’re talking about something you actually care about, one of the few things that riles you up, and about which you have clever things to say. Keep looking over and try to lip-read what your crush is saying, while nodding along with your friend.
Feel bad for not listening to your friend and hope she hasn’t noticed. Reprimand yourself for having FOMO. Break the tension by suggesting you both get a drink.
People are climbing on the roof. 🙄
By pure chance you happen to meet someone who confesses they don’t know that many people at the party. Immediate kindred spirit. (Not terrible-looking, either.) People are starting to get up in your grill with aggressive dancing, which forces you to the side of the room. This is actually perfect: new acquaintance asks about your job and your future plans, tells you about his travels to Sicily, and you commiserate about global poverty. For once, he asks as many questions of you as you of him. You’ve had just enough drinks that your Stranger Filter is gone. You actually want to talk about yourself. Eye contact, meaningful connection. When you get onto the burkini ban, there’s enough common ground that you can debate the finer points without feeling attacked or alienated. You feel that it was definitely worth coming to this party.
A mutual friend approaches. Slightly tipsy, they fail to grasp the vibe and start asking about new acquaintance’s recent ski trip (which, like, you already talked about and moved on from). You’re unable to reassert the vibe because, as usual, social interactions with others are beyond your control.
Someone grabs your hand and literally pulls you away to dance. New acquaintance politely demurs and gets chatting to someone else.
New acquaintance is firmly embedded in a group you don’t know, and you don’t feel you can break the circle. Approach best friend for sympathy; she puts her arm round you, barely interrupting her animated conversation about whether or not you should all go out in Clapham. You feel safe and under no pressure to contribute. You feel your resounding ‘no’ vis-a-vis Inferno’s would put a damper on proceedings. Brief eye contact with your mate and a gesture towards the bedroom and you can both go and sit down alone for a minute.
But only a minute. Amusingly intoxicated person wanders in and crashes on the bed between you and your friend. Their drunk chat is entertaining but quickly gets old. You chivvy them back to the kitchen for some water.
Fantasise about hosting a much smaller party and inviting your new acquaintance. No loud people feature on the invite list. Within the daydream, you serve drinks, hold court, and people laugh at your jokes.
New acquaintance nowhere to be seen. Half-annoyed that you couldn’t speak further, half-envious that he has got out.
Someone’s started playing the guitar.
You were briefly talking with three other people about the Jeremy Corbyn train scandal but there’s not enough material or enthusiasm to sustain the group. One person leaves and the other two go down to the off-license for more beers. You’re on your own. No one solicits you to join them. Get out phone on a reflex. No notifications; scroll through a couple of favourite apps anyway. Briefly wonder why you’re refreshing the BBC app when you’ve already read the news today. Defiantly pull up the Facebook app again and add your new acquaintance.
People have gone for the last tube and you wonder why you didn’t go with them. Oh wait, it was because your drunk crush half-mumbled at you to stay and then didn’t talk to you again. Sigh.
People are being sick.
Order an Uber wondering why you didn’t do that three hours ago. Everyone around you is more drunk than you and apparently having more fun. Leave without saying goodbye. No one seems to notice.
Arrive home resolving never to party again.