An Introvert's Manifesto: Dear Extroverts, You Are Not Normal And We Are Not Strange; We Just Don't Like the Same Things.
Well, this post might seem a bit grumpy, but I don't mean it to be. I really don't. I'm just trying to communicate clearly. You see, I'm an introvert, and not just a little introvert. I'm a raging, radical introvert. I would probably be happy being a hermit, quite frankly. But that's not possible in our world, at least not for me right now.
A lot of times when I tell people I'm an introvert, they don't believe me. See, the world is run by extroverts. In order to function successfully, you kind of have to play by their rules. So, I've learned. I can engage with people for a time, and I can be funny or fun and charismatic in public. And, I genuinely do enjoy people. Some of my favorite memories are of being with friends and family at various events (such as dinners or small gatherings--I enjoy these much more than big parties, although they can be fun too).
But this all comes at a cost for me; it drains my energy, even if I enjoy it. That energy can only be renewed by being alone. By having quiet time to myself. That is the most basic definition of introversion. Extroverts gain energy by being around people. Introverts lose energy by being around people (in part because they try to share their energy with others). They generate energy by being alone. They are not necessarily shy or socially awkward (although that certainly can be connected). The thing with introverts is that they are like cars that can drive a while, but need to be re-filled up with gas. And that takes time. And quiet. And while they are refilling, chances are they won't want to do anything.
It took me a lot of years to realize that this wasn't defective, nor was it odd or selfish to want to be alone. It's how I'm built. For an introvert to want quiet time is selfish in the same way it is selfish for a mammal to want oxygen, sleep, or food.
It is not defective or eccentric unless one defines "normal" in a very specific way. And often, dear extrovert friends, you do that. It does not seem to occur to you that your preferences/needs might be just as odd to us as ours are to you. The fact is, we are willing generally to live and live. You want to go to a party every night? Great! You want to be with people all the time? Enjoy it. But can you not understand that for us, that's not really fun? And, can you not understand that your preferences are not some sort of divine, natural default setting? It's your default setting. But that doesn't make it universal.
Imagine a food you really dislike. Now, imagine that you live in a world where everyone around you loves that food."Hey, come on over, we're having some squid tongue!" Everything you do--from work to personal relationships are somehow based on liked squid tongue. "But I don't like squid tongue," you say. Those around you respond with everything from horror to amused condescension. "Of course you do! Everyone loves squid tongue!"
"You just haven't had it cooked right. Here, try my squid tongue."
"Are you crazy?"
"Maybe with counseling you can learn to like it."
Because everyone around you eats it, you learn to manage. You learn to eat it and not gag, and you learn to pretend to like it because, the reality is, sometimes you simply have to eat it. But when you go home, when you are on your own time, you don't want to eat squid tongue. You don't want to ban it. You don't begrudge others who enjoy it. You just don't want it. That's all.
Sometimes, you really don't want to go eat squid tongue, but people you love want you to. And you don't want to disappoint them. So you go. But you don't enjoy it. And they can tell. So then, they make you feel guilty; "Boy, we worked hard to make this squid tongue special for you." And you want to scream: "But I didn't want it! I told you that. I don't like squid tongue. But you forced me to come. So I did because I love you--and now you are upset because I can't enjoy it like you do. You took that as being grumpy or ungrateful. Can't you see that your unwillingness to acknowledge our differences puts me in an impossible position?"
A few years ago, I was talking to a friend. His wife has insomnia to the extent that she sleeps all day and is awake all night. I asked how she was doing. He shrugged. "She's fine. Our life works well for us. The only problem is when people decide she's abnormal and try to fix her or make her feel bad about it."
And that's all I can say about introverts. There's no malice. There's no anger. We just don't think most of what extroverts is fun. We might be dutiful and good sports, but it would be nice if you could not insist on our participation, and do us the courtesy to realize it's not that we are defective. We are not sulking or pouting. We are not being difficult. We just like different things. And when you insist we participate in things you love that we don't, you are setting us both up--we will never love it like you do. You will sense our hesitation and get offended. And then we are the bad guy. But if we refuse to come--knowing this will happen--we are also the bad guy.
Why is that so hard to understand?
If you do understand, and you want to be considerate of the introverts in your life, may I suggest a few things? Feel free to invite them to something. They might go and have a great time--and add to the great time everyone else as well. But, they might not. So, tell them--and mean it--that there is no pressure to attend. Acknowledge that it's simply an option if interested. Understand that their lack of participation does not mean they don't care about you any more than your not wanting to sit silently with them for hours without talking means you don't care about them.. You don't really need to change anything except your expectations that your introverted friend will enjoy something. The wonderful thing about introverts generally is that we tend to be happy to let others do their own thing. We won't try to convert you. And if an introvert does attend an event, allow them their space. For example, I chaperone school trips where I am with students and other adults for 12+ hours a day. During these times, I tend to find a quiet place to myself during lunch or other breaks. At some family events, such as Thanksgiving, or family vacations, I slip away for a time. I am very grateful to my wife for understanding this.
One other thought: don't try to evaluate an introvert's feelings about you based on social interactions. We might seem aloof or distant if you talk with us. It's likely that we are not upset at all. Possibly we are just uncomfortable in the situation, or just being quiet. Remember that social interaction takes effort for us. It has nothing to do with our personal affection or respect for you.
I should add that our time away from people is not only a need for us. It is a social benefit. When I am away, I am recharging. I am also thinking about my students and how I can help them. I am thinking about my family and what they need. I am thinking about my congregation at church and how I can serve them. I am planning books that entertain or bring thought. I'm planning plays that will bring joy, and I might be thinking about ideas that could help bring peace or enlightenment. That's what introverts are doing all over the world. In other words, that down time might end up bringing real benefits to people all around them.
So, go have your party. Go out on the town. Hang out with your friends. Do it with our blessing. Just don't be annoyed if we don't come. Really. We're fine. We'll be better off for our quiet time, and it's possible the world will be as well.
Update: A thoughtful friend shared this comment: "I totally appreciate the introverts in my life. But as an extrovert occasionally I feel like the introverts I know treat me as if I'm shallow and less intelligent because I'm also cheerful, chatty, and bubbly. I hope we can all see the strengths in our differences. Extroverts are not inherently shallow. Introverts are not inherently unsocial. We all just gain energy in different ways." I really agree with this statement. I often feel that as an introvert, I'm outnumbered and misunderstood, and in a defensive posture. It's important not to respond by being dismissive of extroverts. So, to be clear: I don't think of extroverts as superficial or anything negative. I admire you, honestly, and sort of wish I was like that. But I'm not. But I'm good with y'all being y'all.
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