How to Actually Have Alone Time In Your Dorm If You’re an Introvert

published Jul 15, 2019
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College is full of new friends and new experiences, but if you’re an introvert—essentially, someone who recharges from having alone time—it might not be all it’s cracked up to be.

The expectations for togetherness abound: lectures, study groups, social activities, even living arrangements. Dorm life involves a lot of interaction, right down to sharing a room. If you’ve never shared a room before, that can a big shock on its own. What are you supposed to do when there’s a relative stranger in your space pretty much all the time? The truth is, even if you have the best co-living setup imaginable, if you’re introverted, you need space—and that can be tough to come by.

Lynn Zakeri, an Illinois-based therapist who specializes in adolescents and specifically the college transition, says that close quarters can be hard for people who need space—and that may lead to strained relations between roommates.

“Something that can exacerbate a potential conflict is if the student is already feeling claustrophobic and is stifled by the close quarters,” she says. She suggests that simply communicating a need for alone time may be enough to resolve the issue, since those without strong introverted tendencies may simply not get it. 

Remaining connected, then, may require some strategic thinking, but it’s worth the effort. It may seem tempting to want to live alone, but that might not be the answer, either. Former college student Sierra Horton wrote an essay for PopSugar in which she detailed her regret in skipping dorm life. “When I was a freshman, I hated the thought of not having any personal space. So, instead of living in the dorms, I lived completely on my own. I earnestly wish I hadn’t! You will completely miss out on meeting your peers. Those who live in the dorms develop a kind of bond that you just can’t create elsewhere.”

Given the benefits of dorm living, it makes sense to brainstorm how to overcome some likely challenges. Here are some approaches to help meet your introvert needs and address potentially sticky roommate interactions without feeling overly demanding or uncomfortable.

Try to find your match

So, where do you begin? Start with the roommate match. Yes, those algorithms can fail, but it’s a good idea to answer those roommate questionnaires honestly—not how you think you should answer them. Being honest about your needs and your introversion guarantees a more sustainable situation. 

Assert your preferences right away 

Ultimately, the biggest gift you can give your introverted self is to clearly and promptly explain why this alone time is so crucial for you. Zakeri stresses that making the importance clear to others will be easier on everyone in the long run. “Self-disclose,” she says. “Let your roommate and new friends know that when your door is closed, when you are not being all that communicative, you are not mad or sad or anything at all, other than simply recharging.” 

Be clear about who you are

Jessica Velasco, a college admissions officer-turned-counselor, writes on on JLV College Counseling, a free resource for students and parents, that it’s important to show your passions. “You don’t want your roommate to think you hide out alone in your room all day long,” she says. “Make them aware of your interests and hobbies, and they may start to understand why you like to spend time alone.” Alternatively, it may turn out that you have a shared interest or at least an opportunity to develop one. “You may prefer to keep to yourself,” Velasco notes, “but extroverts are often willing to try new things.”

Schedule time to be alone

Discuss with your roommate ways to block out alone time and set it up just as you’d create a schedule for shower use. This can be built around classes, work, or predictable out-of-room time (like if one of you goes home every Friday and comes back on Sunday). 

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Create a long-term calendar

Starting and maintaining a longer-term shared calendar with your roommate, whether on your phone or on your wall, can help to manage less-predictable needs or breaks, such as going on vacation or younger sibling is visiting to tour campus.

Establish house rules

Velasco encourages setting clear boundaries early on. “Establish specific quiet hours, study hours, TV times, or hours that are acceptable to have guests over,” she writes. “Discuss these issues with your roommate to come up with a plan that works for both of you.” This one may be particularly important for introverts, who often need parameters for their personal space and who is allowed into it. “If you really don’t like to entertain, the conversation should include how often and how many friends can be over at a time,” Velasco advises.

Pick your battles, but enlist help if needed

Yes, you need to co-exist, which means that you’ll both need to bend a little. No one wants to be the feared roommate. So, pick and choose your real issues. But remember that RAs do exist for a reason and are trained on handling these types of issues. 

Cherish the space and time you do have

Ryan Predieri, a University of Oklahoma student who blogs about college life and wrote a post about an introvert’s guide to living in a dorm, believes that introverts have to seize every bit of alone time they can—even if it’s while washing your hair. “Odds are, the only time that you will get to be alone is when you are showering,” she writes. “Take that time to relax and enjoy being alone. I personally take the longest showers of anyone that I know, so obviously I cherish my shower time.”

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Just block it all out

If you have to be in the room together when you’d really rather not, noise-blocking headphones send a clear not-now signal and help to buffer whatever incidental noise occurs. Another introvert will probably understand and appreciate this, but an extrovert might need a gentle explanation that you some cocooning before you can re-engage. 

Find a different spot

If none of these options work, though, Zakeri recommends finding alternative locations that provide sufficient space, such as the dorm common space, or even in stairways. 

Anywhere people are less likely to insist on interacting can be an escape zone. Study rooms at the library and religious services are usually quiet by mandate, as are yoga classes and meditation spaces. Computer labs can provide respite, especially if you employ headphones or earbuds. This also applies at the gym, but if you really want to guarantee the sound of silence, there’s always swimming!

Hit the road

Predieri recommends that sometimes you just cut your losses and either stay with a friend or leave campus entirely. “Some people feel ashamed about going home from college too often, but if you are really in need of some alone time, just go home,” she says.

Want more dorm ideas, inspiration, and stories? Head over to Dorm TherapyHQ!