Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers! Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays. (Usually we are on time. Usually. Ok, mostly. Sometimes? Don’t judge me.)
Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:
This week, I chose the topic, and I said: Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Discuss.
I became interested in this topic about a year ago, after my friend and writing mentor Wade made an observation about me that took me by total surprise. I wrote about Wade’s comment in a blog post last year, but I’ll repeat it. I have been working on a book, a memoir, for several years now, and I had sent Wade the full manuscript for his input. We FaceTimed after he read it, and I asked whether I did an ok job of honestly presenting myself in the book. He said yes. He said, “You come across as smart, funny, and – ” and then he took his hands and put them out in front of him, as if to keep someone at a distance. I physically flinched. I’ve known Wade for three years and have spent handfuls of hours with him over that time. In those hours, he has seen in me a tendency to keep people at arm’s length. I’ve known myself my whole life and I had no idea I did this.
So surprised was I by Wade’s comment that I reached out to a few friends – friends with whom I was comfortable enough to discuss this – and asked them if I’m like that, or if I’d been like that when we met. The friends could see it; if not now, then when we were first introduced. I had no idea. I truly didn’t know I kept people at bay, now or in the past.
Of course, as I always do when I learn something new, I thought about it. I paid attention when I met someone, or when I was in a social setting with people I didn’t know well. Sure enough, I felt the stress. I literally had a visceral reaction: chest tightening, hands sweating, inner monologue racing. God forbid if a new person hugged me – I am sure they could feel me stiffen up. I noticed myself attaching to one or two people, almost as if they could protect me from the others. I wondered how I’d never before realized this about myself.
I think what threw me off, at least in part, is the fact that I am somewhat chatty. I will and do talk to strangers; hell, as I wrote in another post, I once made friends with someone on an airplane. However, I could explain that away. I mean, I’m likely not going to see the person in line at the grocery store ever again. I’m not discussing anything “real” or heavy when I make small talk. It’s a filler, a way to kill awkward silence and boredom. I’m not exactly letting the other person in very far. But, yet, I wondered whether there was more to it all. How did my tendency to chat fit in with my newly discovered introversion?
And then, a few months ago, I read an article about “extroverted introverts,” and hell if I didn’t meet almost all of the criteria, things like, “You seek out social situations but feel alone in a crowd,” and “You screen all your calls, even from friends,” and “You need to be alone at the end of the day.” An extroverted introvert is an introvert at heart, but she also wants and requires social interaction and the company of others. She finds a way to put on a social face because even though she enjoys being alone, she craves human contact. I see myself in this description: although I love and need my alone time, I do want social interaction – I just want it on my terms.
I’ve read that extroverted introverts use the extroversion (i.e., the chattiness) to cover or hide the introversion, because introverts always feel like they really don’t fit in. That would explain my chattiness; it also explains my tendency to make plans and then stress out with dread when it’s time to fulfill them, it explains the tightening in my chest and my preference to just stay home and read a book – and my conflicting desire to then go to a book club and chat about it.
An odd mix, indeed. But one I feel the need to understand and synthesize.
Froggie, Merryland Girl, and I were messaging after I sent them this week’s topic, and Froggie said that she’s come to realize that being an introvert affects all of your relationships. I’ve never really thought about it before, but she is obviously right. I married an extrovert – something introverts commonly do. I have close friendships, but not a ton of casual ones, and I’m sure that’s because of my introversion. I don’t want to let people in, and so I am choosy. True closeness takes time, for me, anyways. I have a few “fast friendships,” relationships that developed quickly because I just clicked with the other person. But even in those, I can look back and see that the other person opened up first, that it took me longer to feel safe and ready to really share. My introversion made moving to a new city very tricky; I’ve gone to many social gatherings in my new community, but even after more than six months, I can’t say I have felt fully comfortable at any of them. Mid-sized groups are especially rough, and I much prefer one-to-one get-togethers, or even a small group of three or four. Anything larger than that, and my pulse races and the dread flows (unless it is a huge crowd and I can break off into a smaller group). I am so much more comfortable taking my daily walks with only my friend Kym, or my evening walks with only my friend Christine, or a trip to Target or a flea market with only my friend Ang. I don’t need a posse. A posse sounds exhausting and overwhelming.
I’ve come to believe that society, as a whole, views introversion as a negative, something to work on, something to fix. I disagree. I do believe people can change in some ways, but I don’t believe this is one of those ways. I can act extroverted, I can force myself to be more social, but I can’t change my true nature. And, anyway, I think there are benefits to being an introvert. Introverts have been shown to be thoughtful (pensive, not kind – though we could be both). We tend to see the big picture. When I make a true friendship, I cherish it and I put a lot of energy into it; I’m not spreading my time across the surface of numerous, less serious relationships. All of which means that I cannot honestly say that I wish I were an extrovert. Honestly, just the thought of it makes me nervous.
And so, although I don’t see myself changing my introversion, I am grateful to Wade for pointing it out. Now that I am aware of it, I understand my hesitation in certain situations, and I know which ones to avoid. I can remain conscious of how I might be coming across when I meet someone new; although I don’t mind being an introvert, I certainly don’t ever want to make anyone else feel like I don’t like them or don’t want to get to know them. I realize I might have to “work” a little harder in a social setting, and that that’s ok – sometimes.
All of which makes me grateful that I opened up and let Wade in, allowed him to really look at me and tell me what he sees, scary as it seemed at the time. So, thank you, Wade, for pointing it out, for being honest with me, for putting out your arms in a gesture that spoke volumes without you uttering so much as a single word. (And for the record, I pegged you as an introvert the day I met you, friend.)
And now I ask you, my Five Loyal Readers, how do you see yourself? Are you an introvert or an extrovert, or a weird mix like me? How did you first perceive me? I would love to hear your feedback!