How to Be an Introvert at the Mall
A handy guide for my fellow shopping-averse introverts preparing for reentry
Crowds are the worst. I generally hate shopping. Ten minutes inside a florescent-lit store will send me into a spiral of anxious foot-tapping and watch-checking until I can finally be free. Even before the pandemic, I avoided shopping malls like the proverbial plague.
Sometimes malls just can't be avoided, though. Maybe there is that one shop that carries the leggings you really love that you can't seem to find anywhere else. Or maybe your local mall hosts the only Cinnabon for miles. Maybe it's pouring rain and you have to get those steps in.
Or maybe your not-even-two-years-old iPhone 8 decides to malfunction, leaving you with the choice of a $377 repair or a $279 new phone after trade-in, and it's faster to shlep to the Apple Store instead of waiting two weeks for a delivery.
This is how I found myself—navigating north on I-71 without the help of Google Maps—en route to the capitalist hellscape that is The Mall.
Just in case there are any other introverts out there looking to freshen up their mall-going skills, I thought I'd put together this handy step-by-step guide based on my experience.
Enjoy, and good luck out there.
Step 1: Forget How Parking Lots Work
The first step to any successful mall venture for an introvert after a pandemic is to promptly forget how parking lots work.
Once you have made your turn into the general mall area, it's time to slowly drive around the perimeter of the complex. As you do this, try to guess where your destination might fall within the mall. Make a sudden turn, and almost run over some people crossing from the parking lot into the Dick's Sporting Goods. Get frustrated. Under your breath, say, "Can you walk any slower?" and then feel really bad because it looks like one of them might be recovering from a broken leg.
While you berate yourself for being such a jerk, search for a parking space. Be sure to turn the wrong way into a one-way lane. Swerve out of the way of any passing cars, and finally pull into a spot.
Don't forget to put your car in park. You've made the mistake of not doing that before.
Step 2: Give Yourself a Pep Talk
Once you are parked, it's time to take a deep breath. You don't know exactly where you're going, and you can't look it up on your phone because your phone isn't properly connecting to the cellular network. (It's why you're at the mall at the first place.) But it's okay. You will figure it out. You're doing great.
Before you get out of your car, relax. Tell yourself that this is fine, because it is. Check once, twice, three times to be sure that you have your phone, keys, and wallet. Lock the car, and head in the general direction of the mall.
Step 3: Find a Door
Now that you've parked and made sure that you have everything you need, it's time to find the actual entrance to the mall. It's probably logical that the "mall entrance" sign is a good place to enter.
Once you get up close, though, you realize that this "mall entrance" is actually boarded shut for construction. So now you have to find another way to get into the mall.
At this point you should start wondering whether or not this is actually a mall at all. Maybe it's a very large drug front. Maybe it's an airplane hangar with some fancy light posts.
Finally, you find a sign for the "food hall." You have no idea whether this food hall is actually connected to the rest of the mall or not, but at this point it seems like your best choice.
Walk through the sliding doors. Success! You can walk past the Bibibop and the Chick-Fil-A and straight into the hordes of people in the main mall atrium.
Step 4: Locate Your Destination
Now that you're inside the mall, it's time to locate your destination: the Apple Store.
Something tells you that the the Apple Store is probably located on the second floor. It just seems like an Apple Store kind of place to be. Every other Apple Store you've visited has been on the second floor, so it feels like this makes sense.
Walk past the food court, turn right, and keep walking. You're sure that the Apple Store will make itself known any minute now. Wander around multiple escalators and past music-blaring, cologne-blasting shops.
Don't ask anyone for help. Instead, keep walking like you know where you're going. You spot some employees around, but hey, why ask when you could aimlessly meander for twenty minutes?
You realize then that you can connect to the mall's wifi. You hop on, search for the Apple Store, and learn that it is actually on the first floor, underneath the food court, exactly where you just came from.
Turn around and walk the other way. Go down the escalator. And there is the Apple Store. Note to self: Apple Stores can also be on the first floor.
You made it! Time to get yourself a functional phone.
Step 5: Hold Up an Employee's Lunch Break
Now that you're here, you can do what you came for.
First, check in. Then, wait for them to bring out your new phone, and chat with the very nice employee while he sets everything up. It's going to take a while to transfer your data, though, so be sure to stand there glancing around the room at all the other people buying shiny new Apple products.
Every time the employee comes back, say the same thing: "It's still updating!" Smile cheerily. Repeat a few times. Check your email. Check your Vocal stats. Read some stories and leave a few hearts. Oh! The update is complete. Now, look around the room and try to find your employee.
You think you spot him leaving the store. Uh oh. Is he leaving for the day? Think about what to do now. Wait and see if he returns? Ask someone else for help? Go back to reading stories. Check your email again. Check Instagram. Look around.
Try to think of an action plan. Will you be trapped in this Apple Store forever? How long will it take until someone else comes over and asks if you need help? How is it possible that every single associate is already helping someone else?
But there he is! Your faithful helper. He is returning with... a pizza box from Sbarro. Uh oh. It's his lunch break. You are now officially holding up his lunch break. Guiltily, gesture to him, a kind of half-wave, half-shrug, with a nervous smile.
He comes over grudgingly, much less friendly than he was when you first started interacting. Tell him the update is finished and ask him to erase the old phone. He does, and takes it away for trade-in.
Congratulations! You have completed your Apple Store interaction.
Now you have to pee.
Step 6: Find the Safe Bathroom
Another reason you hate malls is the bathrooms. They're big, smelly, crowded, and too shiny, and usually, they have automatic flushes. You hate automatic flushes. You've had a phobia of them since childhood. You're past the point where you cry about them, but still, if you can avoid them, why not?
Your past experience has taught you that Macy's can be trusted. They have bathrooms with armchairs and calming music. You've never been in a Macy's bathroom that had automatic flushes. It's the safe zone.
So you exit the Apple Store, and walk all the way to the other end of the mall to Macy's. But when you get there, the first floor is the perfume department. Oh no. Bad news. Too many smells and too many people trying to talk to you. Go up the escalator instead. You end up in the men's department. Not ideal, but it will work.
You spot a sign for the bathroom. You think it points to the left. Navigate in that direction, fail to locate the bathroom, and find yourself on the other side of the store. You make a circle, spot the same sign again, and realize that it was pointing to the right this whole time, not the left.
Follow the arrow down a dingy corridor, and there is the sign for the women's restroom. You've made it!
Step 7: Stand By Helplessly
You're pretty proud of yourself for having found the restroom. All that's left to do now is open the door and walk in.
As you reach for the door, a woman carrying a child and pulling a double stroller full of two more children begins to back out of the restroom. Try to figure out the best way to help her. Wring your hands a bit. Smile awkwardly while she struggles.
The problem is that the door swings inward toward the restroom, not out into the hallway. You think you might be able to reach over the top of the stroller and hold the door open. Try that. Reach towards the door, mumbling something about trying to help.
Then, when you get a view into the bathroom, you realize that there is already an employee inside the restroom holding the door open.
What's your next option? Offer to hold one of the kids? Try to help her maneuver the stroller out of the restroom? Each idea seems more invasive than the last. Settle for standing there with that giddy, awkward smile still plastered on your face, clenching your hands together as the woman pulls, turns, and scrapes the stroller out the door, and finally gets it free.
Give her one last apologetic smile, then enter the bathroom, almost run into the employee who had been holding the door open, and find an empty stall.
Macy's has let you down.
But no matter; you're an adult. You've got this. Deep breath. Deal with it, and move on.
Step 8: Escape
All your needs are met. All your tasks are completed. Leave the restroom, exit the traitorous Macy's, and do a few laps around the mall to get your steps in. You might even have time to stop at the food hall for lunch.
Go on, treat yourself. You deserve it.
You get to leave the mall with a full stomach and a functional phone. It's okay that it wasn't a perfect experience. It's okay that not every interaction was ideal. It's hard to get back into the world after over a year of social distancing, and no one is perfect.
Hopefully, it will be a long time before you have to go to the mall again. But when you do, you will do just fine.
Thank you for taking the time to read this story! If you enjoyed it, please click the heart button below. If you really enjoyed it, please consider sending a tip. You may also want to check out some of my other stories at my Vocal page or my website.
Good luck out there in the world! I'm rooting for you!