I’m an introvert trying to live in an extroverted world. I’m an introvert that sometimes ends up in the spotlight performing improv and sketch comedy, or dancing in swing dance competitions. I’m an introvert who has traveled to many places throughout the world and made many friends. I’m an introvert that most people would say is an extrovert, because “she doesn’t seem like an introvert.”
Actually, most the literature says that half of us are introverts and half are extroverts, or more accurately, half of us live on the introverted side of the spectrum, and half live on the extroverted side. Regardless, I increasingly feel a cultural expectation to present as an extrovert. It seems like that is what everyone expects from you, what gets you the promotion at work, and what is understood as “desirable” human behavior. Maybe it’s because these social characteristics were crucial to our evolutionary pathway to the present. Whatever the reason, it seems like introverted characteristics are often coined as “weird” and are commonly misunderstood. When I try to explain my introvert needs, the extroverts around me can’t seem to comprehend them or they explain them away, effectively trivializing them.
So, I am going to try and explain what being an introvert is like in my own life. I know it isn’t the same for others, as we all present differently in our traits, but I do think there are some universal experiences we all have in one way or another. And maybe for the extroverts out there, instead of thinking, “That’s weird,” when your introvert friend does something, you will have better understanding and realize it’s just different from you.
Alright, I shouldn’t be putting people or myself in categories. Extrovert and introvert, are just arbitrary categories we set up and grouped certain qualities with, and there is also the third burgeoning category, ambivert, to take into account as well. Human personality traits are on a spectrum, and slicing it up into generic categories isn’t always informative or indicative of the person standing in front of us, but that is kind of my point in writing this, because it feels like some personality traits are misunderstood or even discriminated against. I’m not going to try and pretend to be a psychologist, but I do think there are things we can learn by being introspective or by more closely observing each other’s human tendencies and needs. Now would also be a good time to point out introspection is also an introvert trait.
Being social for me is like exercising. Exercising is good for you, but it will ALWAYS require effort and you can only exercise for so long before you get too tired. Similarly, you can only do certain exercises for a couple minutes before you have to move on, though you can condition yourself to last longer. Exercising usually leaves you feeling great, but sometimes it doesn’t, like when you get an injury. Exercising requires some recovery time before you engage in it again. And, sometimes, often for some people, you just don’t feel like exercising.
Being social exhausts me; it drains me. It takes work and effort to be social. How quickly and how much it exhausts me depends on the type of socialization. If I am in a small group of people I know well, and we are engaged in thoughtful deep philosophical discussions about each other and life, I become a social ultra-marathoner and can go on for hours. If I am in a large group of people I don’t know well or at all, and am having menial surface level conversations or small talk, then it feels like I have a gunshot wound and am losing a ton of blood really fast. If I just performed on stage or in front of people, then I go into a creative coma afterwards that can last for days depending on the amount of vulnerability I had to have.
The only way I can regain my energy is by being alone. I need time to be with my thoughts, read a book, write, learn, hike, play an instrument, play a video game, or something that is just me time to restore my health bar back up before I reengage with society.
It’s not uncommon that when I go out with friends or to an event, even if I am having a good time, that I need to leave before anyone else has even had a thought about leaving. Sometimes I chose to stay, and let my life force energy drain out completely, or I hole up in the bathroom, outside, or in another room that is empty for periodic intervals throughout the night to get small bits of recharge. This makes it difficult because there are actually a lot of people I care about, want to hang out with, or want to begin cultivating a friendship with, but I just don’t have the social stamina to commit to it. I have lost friends because of this, people who fade away because they think I don’t care about them or, rightfully so, just need more from me than I am giving.
There are many times I feel the pressure to be an extrovert so much, that I force myself to be more social and just simply operate in a permanent state of exhaustion because of it. I have this irrational (or perhaps rational) fear that if I am not social, then people would think I am a jerk, or I am pretentious, or I am rude, unwelcoming, uncaring, judging, snobbish, or I am unkind. But really, I’m just tired, socially or physically, or am not able to overcome my shyness. If I had it my way, I would most often stay lined against the wall in social situations, and only talk to a very few people. And reminder, it’s not that I don’t enjoy it, it’s that it’s tiring. It’s not that I’m “anti-social”, it’s that my endurance level for being social is much less relative to an extrovert.
But, admittedly, sometimes that is the case, sometimes I don’t want to talk to people. Not because of who they are, but because my energy and time is a scarce resource, and I want to spend them wisely. This leads to the second portion of my introversion, hyper focus on productively and efficacy of my time usage. I like spending my time bettering myself, being productive, learning, being imaginative, being self-reflective, or being creative and when this can’t be combined with social events, then my social attention pays the price. In college, I even avoided romantic relationships because they allocated too much time away from these endeavors.
I like to be alone, and sometimes need to be alone. Not all the time, but sometimes. I have no problem travelling alone, going to movies alone, eating at a restaurant alone, or going to activities alone. Sure, some experiences are enhanced when you can share it with someone, but there are also many gains from going solo. Unfortunately, sometimes people feel bad for me when they hear about me doing something solo or see me doing an activity by myself, but they shouldn’t, because it’s not always a bad, unwanted, or sad thing.
My alone time is important, and with social media and cell phones, socializing has even seeped into my alone time. That’s why my phone is always on silent, and I have turned off notifications for everything. The only way I know if I got a phone call, a text, a message, a like, a retweet, etc, is if I physically check it. Much to the frustration of my friends and family that want to get a hold of me quickly, I miss calls and texts all the time, and have extraordinary response times. It’s the only way I have found to manage it all though.
I am rarely ever bored. Even though I pack my life chock full of activities, I enjoy the times that aren’t brimming with adventure just as much. Things don’t have to be social for me to enjoy life, and sometimes, I even avoid being social. It’s not uncommon to see me wearing headphones in a crowded place, or charting the best time to take a trip to the coffee room at work and find it devoid of people.
I tend to come off a bit closed-off and difficult to get to know, because I rarely voice my internal thoughts, opinions, advice or feelings. It acts as a mask and people never quite know what I am feeling or thinking, unless I feel close enough to them to divulge. I don’t seek the limelight or centerstage, even though some of my hobbies put me there. It’s a byproduct of my hobbies I must accept in order to participate.
I contemplate and analyze everything, which can sometimes be maddening even for myself, as sometimes, I just want to not care. I mean, how long can one spend pondering the meaning of our existence, or what all the uses of paracord are, or what so-and-so really meant when they said “maybe”, or why towells are so soft.
I’m not into putting people in categories, after all my life mantra is, “The moment I begin defining myself, is the moment I begin limiting myself.” So I don’t encourage defining, but I do encourage understanding. Understanding of yourself and others coupled with acceptance of yourself and others, has the ability to make this world a little better off.
After writing this I feel a bit exposed and anxious, after all, if anything can be taken away from the above divulsion, writing this is very outside of my comfort zone. Getting out of my comfort zone is what I strive for though, because I feel like that is the only place where understanding and vitalization can thrive.
“The Introvert’s Conundrum: When you like being alone, so you spend your time alone, but you don’t like feeling alone and you have a fear of dying alone.” – Brandy Little