If you've met me and I told you I'm an introvert, you'd laugh. In fact, I've met me, and when my therapist told me I'm an introvert, I could have laughed. Me? An introvert? But I love to talk! (Too much, perhaps) I get really lonely if I go too long without seeing other people. I'm not shy at all. I love conversation so much that it bums me out to go anywhere where I'm with others but can't talk, like a club with loud music. By the time I was 4 years old, the other kids called me "Motormouth." And I still find that embarrassing, because it still rings a little too true.
Well, I'm not the most introverty of introverts, but I'm realizing that I am one. And I'm realizing that introversion is largely misunderstood in pop culture - and that accurately understanding myself as an introvert is really, REALLY helpful. Join me below.
What is an introvert? It's not the same as being shy or socially phobic or socially awkward. Introversion or extroversion is a trait you cannot change. It has to do with how your brain works. The major distinction has to do with how you generate and use energy. The extrovert gets energized by being around people. The introvert gets drained of energy when around people and needs some time alone to recharge.
This doesn't mean that an extrovert never enjoys - or even needs - time alone, just as it doesn't mean that the introvert doesn't ever want to be around people. Introversion and extroversion is a spectrum, and you fall somewhere along that spectrum.
Introverts are also more likely to enjoy conversation one on one or with small groups, instead of in large groups. And that describes me perfectly. I love being with people one on one. I like parties too, but within a party, I seek out one on one conversations with the people there.
This year, I decided to have a gathering for my birthday. I invited all of my friends to a particularly beautiful part of a nature reserve and told them to bring a dish as a pot luck. Many came. While there, I talked to them one on one. And after the fact, I thought, "Gee, it was stupid to have a party. I only got to talk to each person for a few minutes. I would have preferred to have lunch or dinner or a nice hike with each of them individually so I could spend more than a few minutes with each person."
Culturally, celebration means "party" - but that's not really the right thing for me.
About 75 percent of people are extroverts, which means introverts are outnumbered. Plus, introverts often take longer to think before they talk or maybe talk quietly or not at all. That means that extroverts are doing most of the talking, and controlling most of the conversation. And guess what? They think it's great to be just like them.
And it is great to be like them. It's also great to be NOT like them. It's great to be whatever you are. But that's not the message that introverts often hear.
As I'm coming to grips with the idea of myself as an introvert, I'm realizing that many of my old stereotypes of myself as "not very much fun" are wrong. OK, I'm mega-boring to an extrovert, but I'm plenty of fun to ME.
Recently, I decided to do a bit of online dating. I put up a profile and before long, I had several guys asking me out. I ended up with plans to go hiking and have dinner with one guy on Thursday, another on Saturday, dinner with someone else on Sunday, and I've got a coffee planned with a fourth guy on Tuesday. Usually, I go hiking nearly every day, aiming for 5-6 days a week, and I go to the farmers' market every Sunday. This Thursday, I'm also taking my ex's daughter out for her 7th birthday.
Needless to say, I'm exhausted.
I normally wouldn't make so many plans to go out, because I'm a good cook and I'm thrilled to have friends over for dinner, but I'm not letting some blind date I'm meeting for the first time into my apartment. So we're going out. And the birthday dinner? Yeah, that's gotta be special. It means going out too.
Mr. Thursday was a nice guy. A real gentleman. I met him at 4pm for a hike on the most high-traffic trail in the city (to be safe) and afterward he treated me to a wonderful dinner. I got the sense that he wasn't that into me.
I got Friday to myself. I went grocery shopping at the organic food co-op.
Mr. Saturday was a nightmare. Let's just say, "No chemistry." After the hike I shook him off as quickly as possible and went home to cook myself a nice dinner.
First thing the next morning, I went to the farmers' market and stuck around for several hours, doing my shopping and catching up with my friends there. Then back home for a few hours respite before Mr. Sunday showed up. Given the timing, I didn't get to go hiking.
Mr. Sunday took me to a nice wine bar for a great meal. He was either a jerk or a contrarian who enjoyed saying stupid things to get me riled up. I don't really care which. I don't plan to see him ever again.
So now it's Monday. Ahhh... a day to myself. Phew. I am WIPED OUT. So here I am, drinking coffee, listening to NPR, dealing with my Obamacare situation (they really need better hold music on their phone hotline), and lining up interviews for the week for a story I'm writing about fish for Alternet.org. And I'm in my pajamas!
Today Mr. Tuesday emailed me to ask "How was your weekend?" Well, I'm not going to mention to him that I was dating other guys, but I did say I went out with friends each day. And, I added, my weekend was a bit too eventful for me. I would have preferred fewer things outside of my home, to be honest. By the time Sunday night rolled around, going out for dinner yet again was just too damn much.
By extrovert terms, this probably makes me boring. And my whole life, I would have interpreted my feelings this way. Why am I so boring? Here I had this lovely packed weekend and I'm wishing I didn't. I should have loved it. Well, it would have been better if the guys I'd gone out with were better matches, but still.
Will Mr. Tuesday judge me and find me boring for my desire to spend more time at home? I can't say I care. If he does, then we're not meant to be. Being an introvert does not make you boring or unacceptable. It makes you an introvert. (If that's boring to the 75% of the world that are extroverts, that's fine... none of them are required to live my life or date me.)
This interesting turn in my life makes me wonder how many other introverts are out there, feeling like they are boring or social failures, or pushing themselves to get out and socialize more without respecting their need to build down time into their schedules to recharge. Because that's what I've done my entire life, and so far, it sure hasn't turned me into an extrovert.
UPDATE: Wow, what an unexpected response! I want to respond to a few comments that go something like "I'm an introvert and I hate it when boring extroverts yap nonstop about themselves." I would say that the problem with those people is not their extroversion, but their self-centeredness.
I've got several friends who are wonderful people, yet extroverts. I really struggle with it, since they are people who I highly enjoy talking to ONE ON ONE because we have great conversations and they have lots of interesting things to say. They also listen and care about me, too. But they really feed off of going out and being with large groups, not the one on one get togethers I like. As a result, I end up seeing them at parties, but rarely one on one. And it's highly unfulfilling to me precisely BECAUSE they are such fantastic people when I do get to actually talk to them in a way that is meaningful to me. Being at a party with them, seeing them in the middle of a large group, where I am unable to have a good, one on one conversation with them is torment for me. It's like seeing exactly what I want (my friend) dangled in front of my face and yet being entirely unable to have it. Because for me, there's nothing more unfulfilling than that group banter that goes back and forth and talks, ultimately, about NOTHING.
(My therapist reminds me that that sort of shallow group banter that my extroverted friends enjoy is not "pointless stupid bullshit" - which is my opinion - but it is actually helping to "establish group cohesion" for everyone else in the group except me. Not that my friends wish to exclude me. From their point of view, it would be like, "So? Join in!" Only I can't, and I don't find it fun.)