February 15, 2013

The Strong Silent Type: The Contradictions Of Being An Introverted Man

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This personality is one that is outgoing, funny and altogether great to be around. I use it a lot.

Primarily, I use it when I need to navigate the ever-complicated nuances of living in the social culture we live in, when I need to speak to people I don’t know or when I need to be a hit at a party.

Aside from that though, I prefer to be alone.

There is no greater joy to me than getting back home, taking my shoes (or pants) off and losing myself in the depths of a fabricated world such as can be seen in any of your favorite books.

Also, there is no greater hope of mine than to move to a quiet house, somewhere of high altitude, amidst an abundance of trees, and at least five miles off the main road.

In my heart of hearts I’ve always wanted to be the archetypal recluse writer that provides a level of myth and speculation amongst even those who know him best.

At my core, I am an introvert.

If that seems like a declaration, it is.

But it should also draw no ire. Just as a gay man coming out of the closet should draw no ire.

There is a disconnect when it comes to a strong male figure (which I may or may not be) admitting that he dislikes social situations.

A seemingly inherent weakness, or idea of weakness exists in being an introvert.

A man is expected to be strong and to conquer any challenge presented to him, be it killing a buffalo or making small talk at a crowded party.

For me to get quiet and to complain about being overwhelmed when it comes to social situations doesn’t speak well to the bearded, spider-killing, macho persona I’ve somehow cultivated into my way of being.

I can’t say whether my reluctance to deal with the social world has been sparked by some event or series of events in my past (perhaps by the paranoia I’ve experienced by way of being someone with schizophrenia), but I know it’s there, and I know what I want and don’t want to deal with.

There has been a lot of press about introverts in the past few years and a number of books written on the subject but, it seems, most of them have been written by women.

There’s nothing exactly wrong with that, and forgive me ladies, but it does reinforce a softer stereotype.

“Introvert” is defined in Google’s native definition software as, first, a shy, reticent, and typically self-centered person. Secondly, as a person predominately concerned with their own thoughts and feelings rather than external things.

While I do identify as a bit shy (another contradiction of the confident, manly-man persona), Google, or whatever resource they use for their definitions, seems to have a problem with that.

Further, I am most definitely reticent, but that is a widespread male characteristic, to be reticent, is in essence to be a man.

As for self-centered, I can’t say. I do spend a great deal of time thinking about and analyzing myself, and the things I’ve done, but doesn’t everybody?

I’ve heard it better defined that introverts gain energy from being alone while extroverts gain energy from social interaction.

There are two differing extreme states of being that people will fall into and while it may not be all introvert or all extrovert, they most definitely fall somewhere on the scale.

Those who are more introverted, though, face several challenges in our extroverted world.

It seems there’s a stigma surrounding a quiet person, just as there is surrounding a person with mental illness.

How many times have you heard the words, “He was a quiet man, he mostly kept to himself” during interviews of neighbors of the monstrous?

When did being quiet and a bit shy become a bad thing?

Aren’t quiet neighbors who keep to themselves the best kind of neighbors?

Perhaps the taboo around introverts comes from the mystery of who these people are. Why aren’t their entire lives bared and nakedly on display through the rambled and unfiltered word vomit that seems to be so prevalently coming out of extroverts’ mouths?

The feeling seems to run something like this, “that guy is too quiet, he must be hiding something.”

Too much mystery can lead to gossip and too much gossip can lead to speculation.

Introverts are, if nothing else, rife with speculation, especially male introverts.

After all, what is one to think if a guy doesn’t go to talk to the nice girl by the bar because he’s shy?

Men aren’t shy, if anything, they’re brave, bold, brash and perhaps a bit risqué.

There must be something else going on. Right?

It’s an unwritten fact that men in their twenties and thirties are a bit homophobic.

One need only consult the solitary and unintentional brush of two buddies’ hands as they’re walking toward the bar to pick up chicks. I say solitary because these two will most definitely make sure it doesn’t happen again.

That or the millisecond-too-long linger of eye contact that two guys mistakenly share over a beer.

Edward Hoagland wrote this in his essay “On Friendship” that appeared in the last issue of The American Scholar: “Our earliest friendships are coed, then imprecisely homoerotic, as we reach the age at which tribal peoples form cadres of hunter-warriors to protect and feed the clan, then homophobic for the sake of family life, and at last relaxed and coed again.”

He also wrote that we need friendship in some aspect to protect us from the baggage of the world. To unload the things we get lost in, and introverts most definitely, at times, get lost.

But just like extroverts we maintain a close group of friends, many times a group closer than extroverts would know.

Thankfully, with all the press in recent years about introverts a sort of movement has formed, in part with the help of author and speaker Susan Cain, who wrote the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts”

In it she writes: “Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”

Sound like you? It sounds like me too.

The banner on her website holds the ironic heading: “Join the quiet revolution”

With hers and other books like it, many people are coming to terms with the simple fact that, they just don’t like being around people.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling that way, even if being a little shy has traditionally been a sign of weakness, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. TC mark

Michael Hedrick

Michael Hedrick is a writer and photographer in Boulder, CO. His work has appeared in Salon, The Week, Scientific …

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