There are a lot of misconceptions floating around out there about introverts — you know, that they’re all anti-social misfits, incapable of intimate relationships or dealing with groups of people in socially appropriate ways. While there are surely some people who fit both bills, being an introvert has no reflection on how well you function in the world. Some of the most charismatic people you’ll meet are introverts.
You’re just not in on their secret — that while they’re charming you and regaling you with stories and anecdotes and rising to positions of power in their careers using all their people skills, they’re secretly, silently dying inside. The whole time. It’s taking every ounce of strength they have to get through this, and all they want to do is go home and take off their pants and watch movies and be alone.
The struggle is real.
But they don’t. Because there are lives to lead, and more often than not, that necessitates leaving your apartment. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to make the day to day a little easier for our compulsively self-reflective, socially anxious compatriots. In fact, even somewhere as demanding and gregarious as New York, there are ways for an introvert to navigate the world in a more comfortable way.
Even if you’re part of a rare breed of people who wants to go out of their way to exert more daily energy than absolutely necessary, gyms are clearly not an option. You might be lucky enough to have the disposable income for a decent one, but gyms require a seemingly endless number of uncomfortable interactions. Upon entry, you have to talk to the staff at the front desk. And from there, things only get worse. By regularly attending a gym, you’re just begging to create a roster of acquaintances whose names you don’t know, but with whom you’re forced to make polite small talk when you both go for the same treadmill or free weights.
Luckily for you, your natural anxiety makes it easy to integrate exercise into your social schedule. You can’t be deliberately late for an event, because that would mean that you have to introduce yourself to a huge number of people at once, rather than dealing with greeting them as they trickle in. But being early for any kind of meet-up would not only be a social faux pas, you would run the risk of having to make conversation with strangers in bars, or at least be hyper aware of every single other person in there judging you for being alone. Which is definitely what is happening.
Walk It Off
You’re totally blending in.
Repeatedly walk around the block until you’ve achieved a perfectly timed, seemingly effortless arrival. Really. Not in a tiny loop or anything — that would be weird and people would start to notice. Just start walking. Make some arbitrary turns. Slowly, windingly work your way back to the starting point, in a path that is both efficient an inconspicuous.
It will also help you identify if the person behind you just happens to be going in the same direction as you or is actually tailing you. Surprisingly, it’s a lot easier than finding an out-of-the-way but not dangerously-out-of-the-way wall to lean against as you endlessly refresh your Facebook feed and kill time.
Not only does your new compulsive walking schedule get glutes and calves nice and tight, but it’s a great way to explore new neighborhoods. So many of us come to New York specifically because it’s a mecca for back-alley weirdness, it would be a shame to not seek it out.
Museums, and Other Places of Cultural Value
Who knows, you might just stumble across a little known treasure, like the mmuseumm, a weekends-only, unmarked, back alley display of exquisitely random oddities and collections. Their “pay what you want” policy is, admittedly, another level of social stress, but it’s well worth it if you’re the kind of person who enjoys examining a well-curated collection of New Delhi mosquitoes killed mid-bite and streaming Andy Kaufman videos.
Or maybe you’re more into Harlem’s Stickball Hall of Fame, which pays tribute to the most New York of neighborhood sports.
New York is filled with parks, which should be great. Parks are an amazing way to take time for yourself, even in the middle of the busy city. No one has ever felt worse about something while looking at flowers. But in reality, only a select few parks will actually get the job done.
You see, just having some grass and benches is lovely, but it isn’t enough. You need space where you can breathe. Where you can relax, both physically and emotionally. Trying to find an open seat in Union Square is about as relaxing as walking a runway. And the limited space afforded to many of the other squares in the city means that benches are basically circled around some kind of central statue/fountain/obelisk, leaving you to awkwardly avoid eye contact with whomever is plopped down directly across from you.
Go Big or Go Home
Focus on the pretty river. Ignore the looming buildings.
With that in mind, Central Park is the obvious choice. There’s just so much space. At some points in The Ramble, you can genuinely convince yourself that you’re on a real hike, as long as you don’t look too far off in the distance.
In the grass, you can stretch out, read a book, and for a short period of time, let this oasis of greenery and calmness allow you to forget that you have made an active choice to live in place that forces you to physically navigate your way around, literally, through millions of people every day. Is that a bird that’s not a pigeon? This is what Eden must have felt like.
Just your average view from Manhattan.
Fort Tyron Park is another valid option. What it lacks in sheer mass, it makes up in winding paths, incredible views of tree-covered cliffs across the Hudson, and, of course, The Cloisters art museum. Many of the walking paths sit above the highway, making it easier to pretend that you’ve gotten out of the city for the day, as long as you don’t look down.
You can also go towards the other end of the spectrum, and try to find some greenery so tiny, so obscure, that no one else knows about it. Introducing: pocket parks. Tiny spaces tucked between towering buildings, where some kind soul planted some trees and flowers and set up a few benches. Sitting in one of these is like hitting “pause” on the city.
All of a sudden, you’re calm and serene. In these little hidey holes, the skyscrapers around you are no longer oppressive monstrosities — they’re guardians, keeping vigil around your oasis of calm. As long as you’re the only one in there. Any more than that, and it’s like sharing an elevator.
Want to slow your thoughts by a soothing waterfall? Head over to 1886 Broadway, just past the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. Or maybe you’d rather contemplate international affairs by a piece of the original Berlin Wall. Tucked just behind 520 Madison Ave lies a little patio with chairs, tables, and five panels decorated in 1985 by German artists Thierry Noir and Ciddy Citny. You can even hear the waterfall from Paley Park, another welcome bastion of happiness, located conveniently next door. Pocket parks are really into waterfalls, apparently.
Bars are a tricky balancing act. On one hand, they are cesspools of strangers trying to start vapid conversations and bump up against you. On the other, a little social lubrication can really go a long way. Besides, you’re trying to navigate the city — not shut it out completely. You’re going to have to go out some time.
As many a good introvert knows — particularly the kind that has spent any time on stage — simply knowing what the hell to do with your hands can do a tremendous amount to make you feel more confident in your impression of someone who’s having fun. Just having a drink in hand is a good start for this. You can lift it to your mouth. You can make controlled emphatic gestures with and around it. You can make polite and even entertaining asides about how much alcohol the bartender put in it or how much of it remains in your glass.
Oh, Cool! Pinball!
How could it get any better? We’ll tell you how: Bars. With. Games. Games completely avoid the stress of a) trying to maintain interesting conversations above the din around you or b) succumbing to a night of surface level chatter. They give you a place to look, a common interest, things to do with your hands, even a temporary escape from the “social” aspect of your social life.
Looking for old school video games at 25 cents a pop? Barcade, with its Brooklyn and Manhattan locations, has you covered. Want to embrace your inner Golden Ager? Head on over to Fat Cat for shuffleboard, board games, ping pong, and much more.
Avoid any restaurant in which you’re expected to walk a worker through every step of your food’s preparation. This includes many fast food burritos, falafel, and salad bars. Yes, it’s a shame that you’re missing out on those options. They’re delicious.
But the anxiety that comes with being expected to somehow innately understand an unspoken and illogical order of operations is simply not worth it. (What kind of guac do you want to go on top of the thing that you haven’t told me about yet? Do you want your bread to have had a happy childhood? Sorry, you needed to specify the country of origin for your cheese when you started.) You wanted a fajita, not a place at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
Order pre-made salads and sandwiches. Best if they don’t come with silly names, but if they do, so be it. Or better yet, order in. Is it cliche? Maybe. Is it financially responsible to do on a regular basis? No. But money isn’t everything. The beauty of ordering in is that you can take all the time you want to craft your ideal snack, without the palpable pressure and disdain of a 17 year old who’s 6 minutes from her break.
The Automat: Culinary Anonymity
Pastries and pies had their own sections. It was too beautiful to last.
New York actually used to be home to the perfect solution to your dining woes: The Automat. A cross between a vending machine and a wall of laundromat dryers, you surveyed the display in peace, put in your quarter, and pulled out a hot sandwich of your choice. No questions, no cashiers, no problem. Unfortunately, these brilliant little inventions have all but disappeared in this country. To get anything close to this level of convenience, you may have to (dare we say it?) leave town.
Touch Screens: Why Aren’t There More Of Them?
Yes, they call it a hoagie. You’ll live.
Sacrilege alert: If you want to experience the true height of civilization, take a trip to Pennsylvania. Between Philly’s innumerable Wawas and Pennsyltucky’s cornucopia of Sheetz, you can go just about anywhere in the state and make hot, delicious custom sandwiches without ever having to make direct eye contact. Just stand at the well-organized touch screen and do your thing.
Always have a train book. Not only is reading fundamental and mind-expanding, but it also avoids any risk of awkward eye contact with your fellow passengers. You may think that drowning out other people’s conversations with headphones (whether they’re actually playing music or not) is enough, but that still leaves your eyes vulnerable to making contact with someone else’s. Really, you can only stare directly at someone’s feet or above their head at an ad for breast augmentation for so long before you start feeling self-conscious. And not just about your bustline.
This is a rare opportunity to avoid interacting with other people and work on your public image at the same time. Want to seem both socially relevant and just a little better than everyone else? Read the book that basically any current movie is based on. Even if it’s something Young Adult like The Hunger Games, it still says to everyone around you, “I am committed to learning about the author’s original vision for the this story’s subplots. I probably have critical thinking skills.” Or take it a step further and start working through the list of books you were totally supposed to read in high school, but didn’t.
Pro tip: The Great Gatsby fits both categories.
Do you grow weary of your daily emotional struggle against the city’s natural indignities? It’s time to take your fate into your own hands.
Gather your courage. Go out and stand in the middle of Times Square. In a short period of time, the undulating sea of people and sound and sweat and light and knock-off character costumes will completely overwhelm you. First you’ll panic. This will give way to desensitization. You’ll think that this was the point. You’ll be wrong.
Hold out, because soon you’ll be so overstimulated that you’ll start to lose all sense of self. Your sense of ego will slip away. A desire to run away from the crowd screaming will be replaced by no desire at all. Bam. Instant enlightenment. If Buddhist monks spent more time in Midtown at rush hour and less time in those picturesque monasteries, they might achieve it a lot sooner.
There are rumors swirling round that not everyone has these concerns all the time. Some people, allegedly, enjoy the ongoing company of others. They feel better, more alert, more invigorated when they are faced with novel social situations and settings. We hope that they enjoy their magical little lives, along with unicorns and free shipping without a catch and other made up things. For the rest of us, may this guide provide some small defense against the city. It can be hard. But you just need to take a deep breath, remind yourself that you’re a functional adult, grab your train book and step out into the world.
And just in case you ever get tired of parks or long walks, play the Vimbly Game to get a personalized list of activities just for you!