Throughout my high school years, I did not have a very large network of friends or acquaintances. At most, I think I had something like four close friends at once and a couple of casual acquaintances here and there. Moreover, I rarely ever went to any parties or big get-togethers, save for some club meetings and events that involved video games, movies, and other things that I enjoyed.
None of this should come across as a big shock given the fact that I have Asperger Syndrome, and that I’ve talked about this in more than a few previous blog posts (check out if you haven’t already).
In the leading up to my first semester of college, however, I had this plan in my head to essentially “start anew” in terms of my social life and become much more outgoing and popular among my fellow students.
“When I start college, I’m not going to be the awkward, isolated introvert anymore!” I said to myself. “I’m going to make plenty of friends, attend plenty of parties and other events, and be far more involved in the overall student social network.”
… yeah, I think you can see where this is going.
Firstly, transitioning from living at home to living on a campus (although I had been away from home several times beforehand) was tough for me. I actually cried quite a bit on my first two days and part of me wanted to just go back home. So, I wasn’t in the best mood to immediately make friends with other students or go to loud, crowded parties.
I spent the first several weeks mostly keeping to myself, only occasionally hanging out with other students – with a mental note to “get back into gear and start being more social” when I felt more comfortable living on campus. Unfortunately, this simply turned into a cycle of “social procrastination” for me – constantly saying to myself, “Meh, I’m not going to hang out with them today. I’ll do it tomorrow or next weekend, perhaps.”
As the semester went on and I was given countless opportunities to socialize with other students, I continued to be habitually introverted and spend at least 80% of my free time alone. When I wasn’t studying I was playing video games, watching YouTube videos, practicing bass guitar, surfing the web idly, and sometimes chatting with people online. Of course, I did make several acquaintances and a few friends while living in the dorm, and I did try to go to several social gatherings during the semester – but nowhere as frequently as I originally planned.
Throughout the other semesters, my social life still didn’t really improve. I had a couple of friendships and acquaintanceships that mostly just came and went. The network of fellow students that I knew never exceeded 7 or 8 individuals. I seldom attended parties or large social gatherings, and when I did it was usually because something like video games, movies, or food drew me there and I wasn’t interested in chatting with others. Sound a little familiar?
Yup, in the end, my social life at college was hardly any different at all from how it was during high school. It didn’t take too long for me to realize that I just wasn’t very motivated to completely change my introverted ways. So, I eventually gave up and simply allowed myself to continue being myself – mostly introverted and on my own, but hanging out with friends and acquaintances once in a while.
To be honest, I think this was perhaps the best course of action for me, as forcing myself to completely change my introverted nature seemed like a bad idea to start with. I mean, it was good that I wanted to have more friends and spend less of my time alone and isolated from my fellow students. Nevertheless, I shouldn’t have set my expectations so high or assumed that everything would be completely different because I was in a new setting. I suppose what I should have done was give myself smaller, simpler goals that would help me gradually move out of my comfort zone over time – as opposed to demanding that I transform entirely within a matter of weeks.
More importantly though, I should have been far more accepting of the fact that I’m simply not a very social person and that I like to keep to myself a bit more often than most others. Of course, this isn’t to say that I should not have tried at all to socialize more often and be more connected with my peers. What I mean is that I wish I had realized much sooner that it’s perfectly ok to not have a large network of friends or to spend some (or even most) weekends alone.
Indeed, as an introvert, I personally believe that while we shouldn’t let ourselves be social hermits or stay fully isolated from our peers, we can accept ourselves for who we are and let ourselves live the way that we wish. Not having a lot of friends or staying at home most weekends isn’t a bad thing or something to be ashamed of, at least in my opinion. Therefore, I don’t see any reason to believe we need to be more social or “get out” more often. Again, as long as you try to reach out to others now and then (both online and offline), be somewhat open to social gatherings, and not be like Boo Radley from To Kill a Mocking Bird, you shouldn’t feel bad being introverted or even a little reclusive.
Here’s something to keep in mind: just because I’m introverted doesn’t mean I’m lonely. It simply means I usually feel more comfortable on my own or with a small group of friends than constantly being surrounded by others.