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Do your nightmares involve involuntary conversations on airplanes? Do you ever find yourself skipping parties because there’s a new show on TV?
If you do make it to these parties, do you find yourself in the corner, playing with the host’s cocker spaniel? Or do you have to take frequent 10-minute bathroom breaks, not to expel fluids, but just to sit there and breathe deeply and count floor tiles and not answer any questions?
Then you, my friend, might be an introvert! We introverts (a term with many definitions, but typically represented as one who prefers solitary activities over social ones, or who is primarily interested in his or her own mental life) are a wonderful bunch. We make up about 30 percent of the population, and our ranks include such greats as Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Steven Spielberg and more than half of your professors.
I love being an introvert. I listen more, because I’m talking less, and I always end up coming home from Costco with new and surprising items that weren’t originally on my list (a product of being overwhelmed by the sheer mass of people at Costco on Saturdays).
The only problem with being an introvert is that all extroverts seem to think that all introverts secretly want to become extroverts.
We do not. Please, leave us alone.
An extrovert (one who obtains gratification from what is outside themselves, or who typically prefers time spent with people versus time spent alone) sees an introvert across the table at the dinner party. This well-intentioned extrovert thinks to herself, “Golly!” (Extroverts always talk in exclamation points.) “Why is that man just eating his pasta quietly and staring at everyone else who is talking?! He must be painfully shy and alone! I will help him become like me, an assertive and enthusiastic person who is great at parties!”
Meanwhile, the introvert, who, up until now, has been having a perfectly lovely time observing the conversation without being forced to say anything, sees this gregarious socializer leaning forward to loudly heal him by asking him something deeply personal.
This will, in turn, make everyone else at the table stare at him, just as he is forking a particularly saucy bite of baked ziti into his face. The unitasking introvert decides that, rather than take too much time to think before answering, or rather than stutteringly answer the question and spray marinara sauce across the table, he will instead choose to die, and his head explodes. Baked ziti and brains are everywhere, and the party is ruined.
At least, that’s how it feels.
Introversion is frequently interpreted just as shyness, which isn’t necessarily true. Many shy people are truly extroverts at heart; they crave social interaction, but may avoid them out of a fear of social failure.
Introverts just prefer more alone time. We’d rather fish, write passive-aggressive newspaper columns, or drive long-haul trucking routes while listening to NPR (a station created for, and by, introverts). A wise man (also an introvert) once described it to me this way: An extrovert’s batteries are charged by spending time with people, and an introvert’s batteries are drained by it.
Most of us, naturally, have a switch we can turn on and off. We may have a small group of friends and family, but they are close, and we enjoy our interactions with them. If work requires us to raise our voice or make a public speech, we’re more than capable. We just usually choose a different route, like telling the loud person what to yell, or quietly quitting and moving to the mountains to herd sheep and write mediocre poetry.
Being a lifelong introvert, I’ve learned to adapt. One of the smartest things I’ve done was marry a brilliant extrovert who is also an expert in small talk. In social settings, I sit on her shoulder like a parrot, occasionally being asked to open my mouth for a one-liner or to accept a cracker, while she does all the how-are-you heavy lifting.
Now, I’m a little worried that, by writing this, I’ll lose all my friends. My fear is that the people I know will read this and think, “Huh. He hates everyone and doesn’t want anyone to talk to him. I will stop asking him about his life because he thinks I’m silly.”
That is not true (except for you. You know who you are. Stop bothering me). I love people, but I just tend to show it in different ways, like NOT talking to them, or Facebook stalking (hey, Dani R.! I’m glad you love your new iPhone!). My only intention is that all you extroverts will read this and think, “Huh. There are people out there who really DO just want to eat at dinner parties?”
And then, I will eat my baked ziti in peace.