Talk is overrated

College isn’t kind to introverts. On a campus teeming with boisterous young adults full of tireless vigor, the loud and charismatic usually gather the largest following. Hardly any attention is paid to the quiet kids hovering on the sidelines. Forming genuine connections is an arduous struggle, even for those who do summon the courage to participate in the social scene. 

As a fellow introvert, I dread the uncertainty of first encounters. The prospect of initiating and sustaining a conversation, without any prior knowledge of the other person’s interests and disposition to leverage as talking points is absolutely terrifying, to say the least. While the intense socialization of college has trained me well enough to engage in casual chit-chat with anyone about academic inclinations, classes, clubs and the like, I can barely last ten minutes without feeling my insides squirm at the superficiality and awkwardness of our exchange.

Social events are especially tormenting. It is one thing to be forced to share details about myself that are frankly not very compelling, but an entirely different ordeal to have to recite the same blurb over and over again to people who clearly could not care less— all the while enduring their repetitive narratives. At some point, these interactions devolve into perfunctory and impersonal blather, where both parties talk past each other instead of listening actively and engaging in meaningful dialogue. 

My deep-seated aversion to small talk, however, pales in comparison to the fear of being ostracized for my antisocial inclinations. In college, which is widely touted as the prime of one’s social life, those who abstain from group banter and communal activities risk being stigmatized as misfits. Time and again, I have been pressured to suppress my introverted tendencies and masquerade as a social butterfly who basks in the company of others, so much so that this persona has evolved into somewhat of an alter ego that I can conjure at will— albeit with considerable discomfort. So adept have I become at wearing this facade that these days my self-proclaimed introversion is met with skepticism, with some people even going so far as to repudiate it and relegate me to the nebulous class of “ambiverts”. 

Having spent two years in this crucible of socialization, though, I am starting to question the implicit prejudice that introverts contend with. Why have we fostered a culture in which reclusiveness and reticence, among other qualities typically associated with introversion, tend to be perceived in an unfavorable light? Why should introverts feel a need to change their personalities to make themselves more likable and socially accepted— to conform to standards that are inherently biased against them?  

As much as I enjoy being in the presence of extroverts, who have a flair for putting those around them at ease with their incessant chatter and contagious energy, introverts— if I may say so myself— are some of the most caring, thoughtful and fascinating individuals I know. 

Masters of quiet observation, they are constantly scrutinizing their surroundings and gleaning insights that inform their actions and speech. Quick to pick up on social cues, they are the first to detect subtle shifts in others’ moods and sense if something is amiss. They exercise discretion in their choice of words and seldom ruffle others’ feathers with insensitive or extraneous remarks, preferring to err on the side of caution. They are the first people I choose to confide in during times of distress, knowing that I can count on them to listen patiently to my relentless outpouring without interrupting unnecessarily. Their personalities might be enigmatically obscured by their shy demeanors, but they unravel over time— even when you least expect it— with each new layer only drawing you in deeper and enticing your curiosity. 

As we ease into the rhythm of the new academic year, I find myself, once again, in the company of my old friend, social anxiety. During a period that abounds with fresh encounters and long-awaited reunions, the weight of social expectations is overwhelming and the peaceful solitude of my dorm room seems especially inviting. This time, having embraced my introversion, I’ve decided to indulge in my antisocial tendencies and retreat into my comfort zone as I please. I’m getting more comfortable with remaining silent when I have nothing better to say and speaking my mind without being overly conscious of others’ responses. I enjoy my regular bouts of isolation, which are surprisingly rejuvenating and effective at priming my social battery for a new wave of interactions. 

Being an introvert in college is still difficult, but it really doesn’t have to be. A lot of the social norms around us are perpetuated by the choices we make and the beliefs we ingrain in ourselves and others. To all the introverts out there, especially freshmen struggling to find their feet in this daunting environment, whenever you feel lonely and out of place, just remember that our ranks are much larger than you might think.

Valerie Tan is a Pratt junior. Her column typically runs on alternate Wednesdays.

Valerie Tan | Opinion Managing Editor

Valerie Tan is a Pratt junior and an opinion managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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