I’m exhausted by the time I get to my room in the evening. Classes are tiring and my job requires mental energy and effort. But when the evening rolls around, I’m not tired because of my work and my classes so much as I am tired of interacting with people.
Let me be clear: I am not a misanthrope. I love spending time with people, and even crave social interaction. There’s nothing more satisfying than spending time with my friends or hosting people in my room. But being with them is tiring for me — and not spending time with people on campus is hard. There are few spaces where you can truly be alone — and on top of that, there’s a fear of missing out. Over the course of a full day of classes, meals, and events, you might not have an hour to yourself until you come home in the evening — and if you don’t live in a single, you might not even be alone.
Internally, I feel that the desire to take time for myself is selfish. It means that I’m not spending time with friends or going to an event where I can meet new people. And if I’m not engaged in a social activity, I feel like I’m missing out. Even studying is a social event. But, for better or for worse, I do my best work when I’m alone. I recharge when I’m not around others. Being by myself is essential for my productivity and happiness: In essence, I ensure that the time I spend with others and the work that I do are high quality if I’m able to be alone at some other point.
This means that I am an introvert, albeit not a pure one. I gain energy from being by myself, as much as I love spending time with others. This puts me in an estimated one-third to one-half of the U.S. population who need time to themselves to recharge, according to Psychology Today. If we apply that same statistic to the University, roughly one-third to one-half of campus is introverted, too. But I’ve heard many people feel guilty about studying by themselves or not interacting with others after a certain point in their day. I’ve heard students mention that they feel as if doing so makes them “socially isolated.”
But impatience and fatigue are the true causes of social isolation. I’ve seen myself display these traits when I’ve been around too many people for too long. Recently, on a class trip to Bosnia, I felt so overwhelmed by the constant interaction with my peers that I broke down and cried on the last day. It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying the trip or my classmates — I absolutely was and I made some great friends — but I was so tired of being around them 24/7 that I just couldn’t take it anymore. I hadn’t been alone for more than 30 minutes over the course of the week. I was exhausted.
As a result of this tiredness, I wasn’t always my best self around others, as much as I wanted to be. I wanted so much not to isolate myself from the group that I never let myself be alone, which took an emotional toll. There were moments when I let this show: At times, I could have been more considerate of and kinder toward those around me. I also broke down and isolated myself completely from the group that one night. But I very effectively learned that I need that time for myself. And as “socially isolating” as it may feel, I’ll be harming myself far more if I don’t take it.
Spending every waking minute with people — at Princeton or elsewhere — is exhausting, and it can feel as if there’s no “way out.” That said, it’s worth considering whether you can change your habits in order to give yourself that time alone. If you routinely study with friends, maybe consider doing some — not all — of your studying alone. It might be worth figuring out your roommates’ schedules so that you know when you can get some peace and quiet in your room. Think about places on campus where you can be alone — like the Chancellor Green Library or some study rooms in your residence hall — and consider taking advantage of them. But most importantly, rethink your mindset about “missing out” or “being antisocial” just because you need to be alone.
There’s nothing selfish about taking care of yourself — which, in the case of introverts, includes being by yourself. I rarely see people after 11 p.m. or so because I’ll be doing both them and myself a disservice if I do. But the next day, after I’ve taken the alone time that I need, I’m much better for it, and can truly enjoy the time I spend with others.
Leora Eisenberg is a junior from Eagan, Minn. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.