Confessions of a Part-Time Extrovert

by Sarah Alpert | 5/1/19 2:05am

by Michael Lin / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Until recently, I didn’t think it was possible to get sunburned in April ... at least, not in New Hampshire. On one of the first (and few) beautiful days we’ve had this term, I sat outside on the Green for over six hours, doing nothing at all but chatting and people-watching. By the end of the day, my back was striped red where my tank top wasn’t, because in my mind, sunscreen is for beach days in July when the heat is so strong that we pale folk just know we’re going to burn. In the summer, we prepare accordingly.

But on that day, I looked around and wondered if I actually was on the beach. With frisbees flying in 10 directions, Spike Ball nets on every quadrant and blankets spread for girls in dresses, the Green became a college paradise. Just like on the beach, everyone was happy simply to be outside, to coexist under the sun. You can’t even think about doing homework on a Saturday like that.

In my opinion, there is something particularly magical about lounging on the grass and seeing countless familiar faces pass by on their way to KAF, or friends from class and Trips and your first-year floor all kicking a ball around together. Dartmouth feels most like home to me when everyone crawls out of the woodwork (aka the library) and gravitates toward the same, central space.

Part of my joy on these sunny days, I have to admit, comes from the strange intoxication of being “facetimey.” Dartmouth slang for students who stop and chat with endless acquaintances around campus, the word “facetimey” seems to get a bad reputation. Personally, I thought I’d never even know enough people at Dartmouth to be facetimey. I was quiet in high school, and my circle remained small for most of freshman year. But after joining new programs and organizations as a sophomore, the number of people I know on campus grew rapidly. Some people might consider being facetimey a sign of superficiality — a hollow habit of waving, reciting a lackluster “How’s your term going?” — but for me, it has become a way of feeling secure at Dartmouth. The more people I know, the more I feel like I belong here. On the Green, I love running between different groups of friends, seeing what everyone is up to and laughing about whatever nonsense happened last night. With the Dartmouth community spread all around me, picnicking and half-heartedly picking at their textbooks, I feel bubbly and chatty and happy to be alive.

“It took me a long time to figure out that these sudden swings from introvert to extrovert, social butterfly to hermit, are normal — or at least okay.”

That’s extroverted me. Other times, I could contentedly lie on the grass in silence for hours, with nothing to look at but the clouds. Some weeks, I go days without getting a meal with friends or spending time with other people. One day I’ll smile and wave to every acquaintance I pass on the sidewalk; the next I’ll hide behind my coffee mug and grab shameless solo meals at Collis. I crave alone time like my life depends on it, and sometimes this leads to conflict: Should I go to that group dinner or get a salad and continue my reading in peace? I often can’t say which choice would make me happier. 

It took me a long time to figure out that these sudden swings from introvert to extrovert, social butterfly to hermit, are normal — or at least okay. But for some reason, no matter how comfortable I feel when I’m alone in my own head, I still feel guilty saying “no” to various activities. It always seems wrong to step back from the center of the scene, even if I know my FOMO (fear of missing out) is silly.

Maybe this is just what happens when a social introvert meets Dartmouth College. It’s pretty clear that Dartmouth culture favors extroverts. The most visible people on this campus — club or Greek house executives, performers, partiers and Trip leaders — tend to seem like the most successful, or at least the most enviable. The “ideal” Dartmouth student is supposed to do everything and know everyone, yet also have a killer GPA. And to be honest, as an underclassman, I’ve found this ideal irresistible. Becoming more facetimey has been a way for me to confirm that I belong in different communities, to feel included and to stave off anonymity. If you can be someone here, then that’s a d— good guarantee that you can be someone in the world. And to be someone, my FOMO whispers, you have to be social — you have to smile and wave even when you most crave solitude. People might think you’re too facetimey, but they respect you for being present and involved.

I already know that when I look back on my Dartmouth experience, spring days on the Green will be among my favorite memories. Surrounding myself with friends makes me happy to be alive, and it also reminds me that by being extroverted and actively participating in different parts of Dartmouth, I can learn and grow the most. Even if the person I’m striving to be isn’t entirely real, joining new clubs, meeting new people and — most terrifyingly — exposing my thoughts in Mirror articles have been the most formative parts of my time here so far. I’ve tried being the student who talks in class and jumps at every opportunity, and most of the time, this extroversion feels right.

But even if I love the beachy feeling that enlivens campus each spring — even if I cherish greeting people as I tread the well-worn paths of the Green — my most peaceful moment at Dartmouth happened when I was alone on Occom Pond in February. In the middle of reading period, I laced up my skates and spun around the pond at sunset. After a long, stressful term, it felt stunningly fresh to be alone in the cold, etching clumsy ovals into the ice. What a shame it would be if Dartmouth made me forget how wonderful it is to be alone. Dartmouth might pull us in a thousand different directions, but sometimes it’s best to let the world wash over you, without always waving back.