Jordan Bedell / Daily Nexus

It is March 2020. Andrew Ferguson writes in The Atlantic that, “for a true introvert, any encounter closer than six feet constitutes foreplay.” At the top of his article, a smiling face peeks through the blinds. Without eyes, of course — eye contact is so terribly awkward for us.

This is how the story usually goes: Introverts have been socially distant their entire lives. They’re special — they need no friends. Indeed, they scorn them. They wish everyone would just leave them alone.

And so, the coronavirus pandemic, a once-in-a-century calamity that has torn friend from friend and family from family, is just Tuesday for introverts. No, even better — it’s utopia.

“The world has caught up with us at last,” Ferguson writes. “The social order has been upended, and extroverts find themselves living in the introverts’ world.”

It is January 2022. When I, an introvert, see the beginnings of another round of school closures due to the omicron variant of the coronavirus, I am not smiling.

I am, in fact, reeling in fear — the fear of, once again, being alone.

And I wonder — two years after we gave a name to this innocuous, terrible collection of RNA, lipids and spike proteins — if Ferguson is smiling now.

It is April 2020. Like Ferguson, I smile. I smile at the irony. I smile at the introvert memes. I smile at the news articles — written by extroverts, surely — that describe a new way of life, not unlike how I’d already been living for 20 years.

It is November 2020. This new way of life is too new, and I feel very sad. I can only look forward to the comforting regularity of my routines, actions ingrained in memory from years of practice — brushing my teeth, cleaning my glasses, exercising at odd hours, closing my bedroom window in the late evening. The days become one, and my actions become days. Sometimes I cry myself to sleep.

It is December 2020. I forget to start my math final on time and only have half the time to finish it. I don’t. I can’t. My dad comes into my room. He is no longer smiling — the months have taken a toll on him too. He starts yelling, a kind of yell frightening in its rarity. I start yelling too, but louder, and uglier, tears and snot and shivers everywhere, and I surprise myself with the volume and clarity with which I sputter. I have been waiting to share this with someone for so long. And for the first time in a long time, I am alive.

It is February 2021. I hate my major. If I’d been on campus, perhaps I would, at the very least, not feel so alone — that despite my disinterested professors, that despite my dread at being stuck in this dead-end field for the rest of my life, I could have a good laugh with someone about the stupidity of market economics suffocating individual passions. But I am alone, and I can’t.

It is February 2013. One of my middle school teachers worries I am not social enough. She refers me to one of the counselors. I tell her that friends come with strings attached: Either they’re too slow for me, or I’m too slow for them. It wouldn’t end well.

It is April 2021. I miss simply being around people. Even though I’ve never had too many friends, I’d always been reliant on the buzz that people generate by talking with each other. Or even the occasional “Hi” from a casual acquaintance, or a simple “Sorry” for bumping into someone — even that, that brief spark of human connection, I miss.

According to Ian James Kidd, an assistant professor at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Nottingham, a misanthrope’s isolation comes from the belief that human nature is riddled with vice. He writes that misanthropes respond to these flaws with outright hatred, fearful escape, hopeful activism or quiet coping — or a combination of or oscillation between all of these.

An introvert, in my experience, avoids people for more mundane reasons. Sometimes we’re just shy or uncomfortable, and we think too much about how we present ourselves to others that we give up on presenting ourselves entirely. We don’t really judge the human condition so much as we judge ourselves.

Unfortunately, too many people conflate misanthropes with introverts — even us introverts. What we forget — what I had forgotten — is that introverts are still human.

“Social connections are a basic human need,” Danièle Gubler and Katja Schlegel, psychologists at the University of Bern, Switzerland, said to BBC News. “Being an introvert doesn’t mean you don’t want to socialise at all.”

Certainly, a misanthrope can have some introverted qualities and vice versa. But even Ferguson, in his original article, notes that “despite lots of overlap, the two are not the same.”

It’s not the same, being an introvert and constantly seeing the worst in humanity to the point where you want to distance yourself from everyone. But that’s exactly what we’ve done — in our haste to rationalize our deficient social lives and to rub it in the extroverts’ faces, we and everyone else have sublimated our unassertiveness and propensity for solitude into unyielding, spiteful, boastful individuality.

And we have suffered for it.

Anahita Shokrkon, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Alberta (UoA), surveyed more than a thousand people in Canada during pandemic lockdowns. She analyzed these responses in her research article in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed science journal, finding that extroversion was, “positively and significantly related to all three scales of emotional well-being, psychological and social well-being.”

Additional research backs up Shokrkon’s findings, from Gubler and Schlegel’s own study to doctoral graduate Maryann Wei’s at the University of Wollongong, Australia.

In other words: Extroverts were happier than introverts during the pandemic. We all had it backward.

And as the pandemic upends the world, from teleconferencing to single-use containers and utensils, this is our chance to upend ourselves — to reexamine what it really means to be an introvert.

“Extroverts have better mental health in general,” Shokrkon said in the Folio, the UoA’sjournalism site. “They are happier, and they usually have more friends, and better quality relationships. They can lean on the support of those friends to keep their positive mental health.”

Unless we introverts take these findings to heart, we remain trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy of unhealthy isolation.

Is this really who we are? Or is this only who we think we are, who we think we should be?

It is October 2021. I sit by the elevator in my dorm while working so that I can talk to people as they pass. I join the Hong Kong Student Association for no other reason than to hang out. I rejoin the Daily Nexus, forcing me to regularly talk to strangers. I even start to ask people who sit alone at the dining commons if I can sit down with them. I switch majors.

And on Saturdays, I visit friends for a night of games, food and talking. Yes, friends. I met one of them in my first year at UC Santa Barbara, but only now do I decide to invest more time in that relationship.

I am happy in a way I have never been before.

It is November 2021. I sit down for lunch — alone this time because being back on campus has spoiled me such that I again have the luxury of deciding when and where I want to be social. Someone else sits next to me.

He describes himself as an ex-introvert trying to be more of an extrovert. “I used to be like you,” he says to me.

The thing is, I still like being an introvert — I don’t think I’ll ever let go of the peace and quiet that introversion offers. It’s a good home.

But it’s not healthy to stay home all day. So this person who sits next to me, who after more than a year of being alone no longer wants to be alone, is onto something.

Which brings us back to January 2022.

We’ve now had a taste of what a world without people is like. The pandemic thrust us into what was likely the most isolating period of our lives, something we introverts have all dreamed of at some point or another. But did that make you happy? Probably not.

And as the pandemic upends the world, from teleconferencing to single-use containers and utensils, this is our chance to upend ourselves — to reexamine what it really means to be an introvert.

Some things should stay — our ability to concentrate, our perceptiveness, our fantastic dreams.

But some things need to go.

We must recognize that introverts are not immune to the loneliness of solitude, that our lone wolf style is weakness masquerading as strength. A company of one may be enough to satisfy us for a while — and indeed, sometimes we must recharge ourselves with a good nap or a good book or a good YouTube video — but the reality is that we’ll find the rest of our happiness when we are not alone.

Forcibly inject yourself into a group, even if it just means quietly sitting in the corner of the room working. Join student organizations even if you’re only mildly interested because you won’t know for sure until you try.

Be kind. Be resolute. You may reel in fear, but what matters is that you show up, day after day. And eventually, you will find someone, perhaps more than one.

Of course, it won’t be easy — there’s omicron, and not to mention how extroverts seem to dominate UCSB. We are not out of the woods just yet, and these forests seem never-ending. The next few months will be scary for all of us, introvert or otherwise, and I am starting to think we will have to adjust to a permanent life in the treetops.

We will have to be courageous. But not fearless — courage is not the absence of fear, but is action despite it. And perhaps the most courageous action we can all take is to ensure that the bonds of friendship — or acquaintanceship, if friendship is too much — do not dissolve even in our physical isolation.

Introverts know a thing or two about staring down the face of fear. And the fear of social awkwardness just pales in comparison to the apocalypse. Now that’s something to smile about.

Yiu-On Li encourages introverts to turn the confines of their mind into a cozy home by having guests visit regularly. They already have so many stories, souvenirs and stargazings to share — what a shame it would be to keep the blinds drawn.