This morning, I posted the following response to a tweet where someone was expressing frustration for shyness being mistaken for coldness:
“The hardest job an introvert has is making extroverts who don’t like silence feel comfortable. Otherwise, they freak out and think you hate them or something is wrong with you or both.”
It has forty-seven likes and has been retweeted five times. Certainly not a record, but more than I’ve ever had, and pretty impressive for a newbie with eleven followers. I did not realize that such a statement would resonate so much with Tweeters. I thought to myself, for most of the day, how misunderstood introversion is, in part because of my own experiences.
For example, I had a friend invite me to several events including a family holiday get-together and a birthday happy hour. I did not know her family or her friends, but I went to both events. Three hours into the holiday party, I had to find a quiet place outside to, shall we say, reset. Couple hours into the birthday party, I bid everyone goodnight and went home. Months later when I asked her why she had not invited me to something we talked about doing together, she told me she had the impression that I don’t like her friends or want to be around anyone. I tried to explain that this is not the case, but that there’s only so much of people I can handle in a single sitting. Her response was that I needed “to get over that.” I wish it were so easy.
Tonight, I had dinner and a movie plans with friends. After being in grueling jury duty for a week with twelve people I don’t know, my first instinct was to say no and stay on the sofa like I’d planned. However, I did want to spend time with them. So, I went. Halfway through dinner, I was over it. I ended up skipping the movie, running some errands, and am now (somewhat) happily sitting on my sofa. Or, at least, comfortably. Fortunately, these friends were more understanding. I also had to tell myself that I did not have to feel guilty about leaving. I know myself and when that moment hits, my gregarious demeanor quickly devolves into an egregiously unpleasant mood that is not fair to anyone.
Introverts like quiet time. We like silence. But, we recognize that our natural proclivities TERRIFY people. People at work tell me I’m a “social butterfly.” I despise the term because it makes me think of a bubbly, brain-dead cheerleader. I explain to people that what they mistake as extroversion is the result of significant effort on my part. I spent most of the first 20 years of my life being so quiet and shy and I would hardly talk around my own family. When I was talkative, people were actually concerned (can’t win!). I’m 32 now and I believe that, in part, some subconscious part of me is trying to make up for that quiet time, which is why I’m constantly wreaking havoc on hopes, dreams, and feelings with my blatant honesty. A lesson to learn about introverts: We don’t say anything we don’t have to. Also, I realized that in the workplace, I HAVE to be social and talkative. Otherwise, my interpersonal relationships will fail and my productivity will be the lesser for it. After I put in nine hours for the day, though, especially on the days when I cannot find reasons to hide in my cube, I go home, put on sweatpants, turn on the TV, and crawl under a blanket. I’m tired and exhausted, not from physical strain, but from the effort of making everyone comfortable. Is that borne out of care for people? Out of codependency? Out of inadequacy and a need for people to not see you as cold, weird, or angry? Probably all of the above.
The best date I ever had was with a man who was as equally honest and deceptively extroverted as me because life and work required it. We spent the day at the Orlando Science Center doing puzzles and watching cartoons and Key and Peele on Hulu and Netflix. We did not need to talk. We did not need to do anything spectacular. We were comfortable in the few things we had to say, in the use of our minds, and in our silence.
So, the introvert has an ironic, unexpected burden. To make the extrovert feel ok. To create an environment in which everyone is comfortable. We will do small talk because we have to (it’s painful). We will be vocal in meetings because it is necessary. We will be social butterflies because we cannot hide away in corners and under blankets. To the extrovert, though, I would say this. Do not tell us to be happy. We are, but different things make us happy. Do not tell us to drink more. We do not need more alcohol; we’re just over the party. Do not think we do not like you or are mad at you, or whatever preconceived notion you may come up with because it is not about you. We love you. Just sometimes, for lack of a better way to say it, we just NEED everyone to go away for a bit. We promise, though, that we’re doing it for you. Otherwise, not only will our silence terrify you, but also our quiet wrath.