“Another hundred people just got off of the train…” The thing about New York is that there are always people. Everywhere you turn, people. People on the street, people at the grocery, people all up in your business on public transit. Sure, the “city that never sleeps” may sound exhilarating, but for an introvert like me, all those people can get pretty overwhelming. I’m one of those weird talkative and somewhat over-friendly introverts. (They exist, I promise. I think it stems from my Southern upbringing. Chattin’ up strangers is just how we do.) I’m good with people and, most of the time, I genuinely like them. But in order to be the functional human being you see (or rather, read) before you, sometimes I need to not be around them for a while. I need some me time to recharge.
It wasn’t hard when I was growing up. I’m an only child and a former latchkey kid, so I spent plenty of time alone. In the moments when I didn’t have the house to myself, there was still a whole floor between me and my mom or dad and carefully cultivated trust that meant respect for my privacy. Not that I spent all my time locked up in my room: I went to sleep-away camp as a kid, but even when I was sharing a small cabin with nine other people, I was able to find moments for myself. There was a big rock in the woods between the lake and the cabins, and I would go there after dinner most nights to sit and take a breather from all the human interaction. I miss that sitting, the non-urgency of being fourteen. As I got older, my car became my “rock in the woods,” the drives to and from various activities a moment of solace. Things got harder in college. One of the only things I couldn’t deal with about my freshman roommate was that she was nearly always in the room, making my much-necessary alone time almost impossible to come by. We hit our stride eventually, and I found roommates in the subsequent years that complimented me better, but still I would count down the days until I could go home and veg undisturbed.
I got really lucky with my current roommates. We like each other and enjoy hanging out, but we also understand the need to not be around each other all the time. We can all come home from work and go to our separate corners, and nobody’s feelings get hurt (honestly, most days we all work such weird schedules that we might not even see each other at all). But even with awesome roomies, because I live in New York, I’m never truly alone. There’s always the hum of things going on: the people calling out on the street, the tapping of your neighbors hanging things at two in the morning, the rumble of the train as it rolls past your window. Sometimes, I need more than my little corner of the cacophony. I need the freedom to lie in the bathtub for a good hour without anyone else needing the bathroom. (However, since I’m a considerate person, I have to settle for the floor of my room.)
Lately I’ve found myself craving quiet, a deep Thoreau-esque aloneness — the kind you can only get by leaving the city lights behind and surrounding yourself with nature. I miss the solitude of that camp rock, a bubble of reflection where I could just take a second, alone but never lonely. Come to think of it, I think I’ve just been missing nature lately: my hiking boots sitting on my closet floor, half-made plans for day trips outside the city kicking around my head, trips I probably don’t have the time or the money to go on.
My need for alone time is exacerbated by the fact that I spend most of my working life surrounded by people, New Yorkers and tourists alike. I’m in the service industry, which may not seem like a natural fit for an introvert, but most days it’s fine. Good, even. (But if I’m working one of those 13-day weeks that sometimes occur, don’t expect me to meet up with you for drinks after my shift. I love you, but, people.) Making people happy whether with food and beer or art and history is nice, and being around people you like is even nicer. The downside though is that you don’t get “normal” holidays; come Christmas and Thanksgiving, people want to eat, drink, and be merry, and it’s my job to serve them. This year I spent my Christmas Eve working a mostly dead shift at the restaurant and then going home to my empty apartment, and I thought it would make me sad. I thought a holiday without family and friends would be thoroughly depressing, and that the 24th would find me curled up with the Muppets and a box of tissues, weeping into a bowl of Reese’s cups and getting nostalgic for Christmas parties gone by.
Then this week rolled in. And yes, I was sad. I missed my traditions, the usual guideposts of my holiday season. But I live in a very small apartment with three other girls, wonderful though they may be, and for a glorious 72 hours I had it all to myself. So instead of moping around feeling sorry for myself, I decided to celebrate. After setting aside a moment to briefly wallow in self pity (I am only human, and it was Christmas after all), I relished the alone time, seizing the opportunity to recharge. Carpe Netflix! Carpe Tumblr! Carpe This Playlist and My Couch!
And you know what? It was great. I felt better, more myself than I had in a while. I hadn’t realized how much I needed it. It’s damn near impossible to be an introvert in this city. Turning inwards means surrendering for a bit and being passive, and New Yorkers don’t do that. This city is all about the hustle: Everyone’s here for something, for someone, to go somewhere and be somebody. We “find each other in the crowded streets and the guarded parks,” and we meet people every day and sometimes we lose ourselves for a little bit, and then we dive right back into the bedlam. Everyone’s always moving here — trying to get their break, to land their dream job, to find their soulmate, or just to pay their damn rent. It’s a city of tirelessly moving cogs, an endlessly whirring machine. And this Christmas, as my gift to myself, I chose, for a glorious moment, to sit still.