'Can Everyone Please Leave Me Alone' Confessions Of A Loud-Mouthed Introvert
The Debrief: Writer Dolly Alderton spent her teens as an extrovert, but now in her twenties has realised all she really wants is to be on her own
I discovered a photo recently. It’s me, aged about six, standing in a flowery dress with a little smirk on my face in front of my bedroom door pointing at a sign I’d made. In very wobbly yet resolute handwriting, the sign says: ‘No one in this room. No one I meen no one and I meen NO ONE.’
Golly, I understand that weariness. I understand that sign, I WANT that sign. I’d like to draw up exact replicas of that sign and sell them on Etsy. I’d also sell a T-shirt saying, ‘LEAVE ME ALONE’, door padlocks and a personalised out-of-office for every email you receive which asks the sender both seriously, and jovially, to never message again. I’d call it A Shop For The Stylish Loner.
I’d call it A Shop For The Stylish Loner
I never knew I was a loner. All through my teens and up until my early twenties, I forced people into spending every minute with me. I made a cute thing of it – silly old me who has the temperament of a puppy and must be played with all the time.
I went out every night, I stocked my house with booze to make sure people came back to mine for an after-party. I would ask people to stay over, then beg them to spend all day with me the next day – the thought of a solo hangover used to turn my blood cold. I think the only time I spent on my own was in the bathroom.
But then something happened at around the age of 25. I began to hate the weeks in my Moleskin with ‘drink with’ or ‘dinner with’ or ‘big night out with’ scribbled on every page. I started hoping my housemates would be with their respective boyfriends for the weekend so I would have the house all to myself. I became hooked on podcasts. I wasn’t scared of the dark. I hated friends staying over in my bed. I began to walk miles and miles a day just because it was an opportunity to be on my own. To my utter surprise and joy, I discovered I am a (loud-mouthed) introvert.
I discovered I am a (loud-mouthed) introvert
With this realisation, my life became much calmer. Aaah! I actually quite like my own company! Oooh! It’s nice to navigate my way through this horrible mess of thoughts alone. Mmmm! How simple and crystal-clear everything feels now I know that when things are muddled what I need is a three-hour walk, a one-hour bath and a trip to the cinema on my own – NOT a dinner party for 10 and an evening of karaoke followed by a hungover fry-up with mad Jan and the gang from my old office.
But this realisation also buggered up a lot for me. For instance, to my utter surprise, I have discovered I’m an appalling team player. I’m rubbish at working with people in groups. I hate charades, I hate rounders, I hate offices.
I used to say I loved being in teams to make people like me because I thought it was a cool, fun extroverted thing to say but I don’t. I don’t like office sweepstakes or group emails, I don’t like going to the pub with everyone at six o’clock and I’d rather sit through Hurricane Katrina than one more bloody brainstorm.
I’d rather sit through Hurricane Katrina than one more bloody brainstorm
Do you know what my ideal working life would be? Someone ringing me every day at 9 am – a sort of anonymous banker figure from Deal or No Deal – telling me what needs to be done. Then I’d sit on my own in my kitchen, nibbling on bits of cheese and swigging apple juice from the carton. I’d wear a nice cosy jumper, the lighting all mellow and lovely, listening to Astral Weeks and I’d get it all done in peace.
I also now don’t understand why everyone wants to hang out with everyone all the time. Why are people always so cross when you have to cancel something? Do you know how I feel when someone texts me mid-afternoon on a Monday and cancels something? I want to send them a thank you present.
You know that bit in Birdman when Michael Keaton flies through the sky and above all the New York rooftops? I feel like doing that along the South Bank. I’ll be completely honest – someone cancelling plans for a Monday evening gives me a high no recreational drug has beaten to date.
Someone cancelling plans for a Monday evening gives me a high no recreational drug has beaten to date
And yet people just LOVE spending all their time with other people. They can’t even bear to travel alone. Twentysomethings are OBSESSED with spending journeys together. It’s always: ‘How are you getting there?’ or ‘Shall we make sure we’re on the same train?’
Why on earth would we want to be on the same train? You’ve got three whole hours between London and Bath. Think of all the reading you could do! You could buy a magazine – who has the time to reads magazines? You could get a nice sandwich, a smelly one that you would otherwise be embarrassed to eat in front of another person – prawn cocktail, egg mayonnaise even. Think of all the fun you could have!
Then about once every three months, my new disposition as a happy loner all becomes too much and my housemate usually finds me sobbing under my duvet with a slab of Dairy Milk, wailing: ‘WHY WON’T EVERYONE JUST LEAVE ME ALONE?!’
People just LOVE spending all their time with other people
And every time she explains it to me: no one is pestering you, my darling. You can’t lump everyone together. You should probably just reply to them more, and then they’d stop sending so many texts because they’re worried about you. Or they just want to see you. No one wants you to be sad; you just have lovely friends.
‘I suppose I do have lovely friends,’ I say, through sniffs. Then I order a pizza (for one).
It’s a natural thing that happens, becoming a bit of a loner. With age, we grow in confidence and don’t need the company of others to affirm who we are. Or that we’re experiencing things; that we’re alive at all.
I used to think people were easily classified: the extroverts who danced on tables or the introverts who didn’t talk in groups
I used to think people were easily classified: the extroverts who danced on tables or the introverts who didn’t talk in groups. But there are extroverted introverts and introverted extroverts. It’s all a part of the technicolour experience of being a sodding human. One day you might be the idiot who tells the story of your last STI test to a table of relative strangers, the next you’re the idiot sitting hunched-up in the shower, ignoring their best friend’s calls.
I’m rather happy I became a loner. And it doesn’t mean I don’t love spending time with my friends or won’t sometimes desperately need their company. One of the best things about becoming an adult is leaning on all different sides of ourselves, depending on what we need at that moment to feel sane.
We don’t have to always be Miss Life and Soul or Billy No Mates. We neither have to be an extrovert or an introvert. The complexity of the human spirit can be summarised with an image as simple as this: a little girl stands in her best dress, smiling showily at a camera. In front of a sign telling everyone she wants to be on her own.
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Follow Dolly On Twitter: @DollyAlderton
Picture: Matilda Hill- Jenkins
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