When I thought about post-graduation and what it would mean for my life, I always figured that I would be strung-out on deadlines and memos, filling every moment with job applications or client calls. I never knew it would be this lonely.
Instead of filling every minute with work, I’ve hit a wall— halfway through my third month of being a part of the workforce— and I completely broke down tonight after spending far too long holding it all in.
Before graduation, I lived in a house of 13 girls. I met with friends five nights out of every week and relished the rare weekend that I would allow myself to stay in after babysitting. I was constantly, deliciously surrounded by my peers.
On a drive to Detroit for a settlement negotiation that I was sitting in on, my new boss and mentor chatted with another intern in the front seat about book she was reading about introverts. Called, “Quiet,” it explored the differences between extro-and-introverts, a difference I thought was simply determined as “not-shy versus shy.” She explained that the author believed it was more complex, in that the energy we gain from being alone or being around people was the far more important test when it came to which side of the fence you fell on. As she explained her need for quiet and serenity when working, including time away from her kids and husband in order to finish any big projects (once renting a hotel room in Detroit to achieve said atmosphere), I was in the backseat, realizing that I was an extrovert requiring constant presence of others to regain my energy.
For the months prior to that conversation, I had been painfully aware that something was missing. I was unhappy and anxious, and floated through weeks in a constant state of agitation. My boyfriend would ask me if I was happy that day, and people I saw fleetingly on the street (as Ann Arbor is a small town) would ask me why I looked so sad. When Jane explained what it meant to be an extrovert, I glimpsed a bit of the truth of why I had been so unhappy.
I was forced to face that same truth tonight, when I realized that I would have to be alone for another hour before going to my boyfriend’s apartment. Whatever the trigger (hairline though it may be), I was sent on a spiral that ended with me curled in a ball in my bed, crying into a pillow with my hand over my mouth. I felt so alone. So raw. My only contact that day were attorneys and interns and the other students in the yoga room for the one hour that I felt some sense of community.
I realized that I’ve started to linger in grocery stores, just to feel like I can find some acknowledgment in a stranger’s smile when they squeeze past my unhurried shuffling to get to the salad bar. The days I don’t make it to the gym or to yoga are the worst, because I often don’t see anyone outside of work and my boyfriend, who, to his credit, does as much as any one man could for a girl that needs, apparently, a lot of attention. I keep netflix or my television on while I cook or clean so that I have some connection to sound and conversation. Without wifi and cable, I think I’d already be Wilson-drawing crazy.
I’ve started to sign up for projects that I know will require time and effort outside of work, to draw out after-work meetings and drinks because I know they will be followed with an empty house. I run the dishwasher too often, because it sounds like someone else is home. I leave lights on, play loud music, shop far too frequently for a paycheck of my size. I try to be outside, but wherever I’d go there is lonely too.
I hate it. I hate the empty, the quiet. I hate how I need people, because I never thought that I would be so dependent on others for my own happiness. I hate sounding sad and pathetic, and I hate that I have let myself fall apart now, simply because I will have to wait for an hour to finally not be alone.
This is the part that they won’t tell you about in after-school interviews and magazine articles. They warn you to wear a suit to the big-firm interviews, business casual for the others. They teach you about theorems and research design and supply and demand but they forgot to teach us about how to cope with this kind of change, the kind that makes you catch your breath on a sob when it’s 10pm and you’re aching for a friend.
I suppose it ends eventually. People come back or you move away and find new friends and a separate support system.
I hope so.