Ask Kat: The Misunderstood Introvert
I am a freshman in college and I have a bit of a problem. I am not a very outgoing person and like to think of myself as very independent. I don't need a big group of friends around me all the time to keep me happy. I'm perfectly fine spending time alone and having just a few really good friends. However, my parents don't seem to get it. They are constantly asking me if I've made more friends and who are they and what are their names and on and on. I tell them about a few people that I've talked to in my classes, hoping that will be enough to get them to stop asking, but it's not.
I know that my parents love me, and I respect what they tell me, so I end up feeling like I should be making more friends and so I try. I try to force myself out of my comfort zone to make friends and I hate it.
One of my close high school friends will be attending my school next year. She's asked me if I want to room with her and I do because she's great and we get along really well. However, my parents are opposed to this. They think that I just want to room with her because I'm too afraid to get out there and make new friends. All of this just makes me really mad! I feel like my parents should be supporting me as a person and not pushing me to do things I don't like. Is there something wrong with me rooming with my friend? Should I be trying harder to be more outgoing even though it's really hard and uncomfortable for me? My parents' constant talk about how I need to be "more this" and "more that" just makes me crazy because I feel like the way I am is not good enough.
Well, one thing's for sure: this situation requires swift and decisive action—before your parents bring their helicopter act to your school and start trying to schedule play-dates for you.
First things first: For someone who likes to think of herself as independent, you're giving your parents an awful lot of control over how you live your life. You do realize that who you live, socialize, and connect with at college is your decision, right?
Let's say for a moment that rooming with your friend is a mistake, and based solely on your fear of putting yourself out there.*
Well... so what? It's still your choice. Even if it's a bad choice, the only person affected is you. And your parents' behavior, well-meaning though it may be, is over the line. Interfering in a kid's social life and grilling her for info about who her friends are is appropriate when the kid in question is young, immature, and not yet ready to navigate the world on her own.
You, on the other hand, are an adult—which means that it's time for your parents to relax, let go, and trust that they've raised you to have the confidence and wherewithal to make your own best decisions.
Even—and maybe even especially—if they're not the decisions they'd like you to make.
Meanwhile, minus the parental hovering, your problem is simple. You don't like big groups, you prefer one-on-one socializing with a handful of close friends, and you're happy to spend time alone? Congratulations: you're an introvert! Which is fine! There's no law that says you need loads of friends or a jam-packed social calendar to be happy—and as you've discovered, forcing those things on yourself is a great way to be miserable.
So if you're truly happy with your few close friends and plenty of solo time, then embrace it. It's who you are. And the next time your parents start in on your social life, tell them exactly that. You can say something like, "I know this is hard for you to believe, but I'm incredibly happy and fulfilled by my life as it is. The only thing that makes me unhappy is that you keep badgering me to be someone I'm not. I love and respect you guys, and I'd like you love and respect me enough to accept and support me as I am—and to trust that you raised me to make good choices for myself."
The caveat: you say this once. And thereafter, if your parents try to reopen the subject, you'll employ a three-step approach.
Step 1: "Mom, we've already discussed this. I appreciate your concerns, but I'm very happy with my life as it is."
Step 2: "I'm sorry, but I'm not going to talk about this. So, how are things at home?"
Step 3: "I've now told you several times that I'm not interested in discussing this. Since you're not willing to respect that, I'm going to have to go now." (To be followed by hanging up or leaving the room.)
Once you take your social life off the table, your parents will have no choice but to either comply (or press forward in full knowledge that they're seriously damaging your relationship—which of course, they won't want to do.) And you'll have taken a valuable step in being, acting, and living independently—instead of just thinking of yourself that way.
*Not that I think this is true, by the way. Although I should mention, for the record, that living with a friend has a well-earned reputation for being a highly effective way to destroy the relationship—so if you do decide to do it, make sure you really talk it out before you move in.
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