My fellow, introverts, can I talk to you for a minute? I get you, I get us, I really do. If you ask my mom, I’ve been a card-carrying introvert since the days I used to come home from preschool and sit alone in my room to decompress. Swap out preschool with work and my mom with my husband and the story is still often true. But I’m getting pretty tired of the way we talk about ourselves online.
I’m a Type 4 if you’re into the Enneagram so I get the appeal of living your life like no one understands you, but a lot of the pro-introvert rhetoric I see online excuses some of our worst natural weaknesses and doesn’t give a very positive of an impression of our personalities or ability to adapt. So here’s a few things we should stop saying and doing, not to make ourselves more “normal” (the dreaded word!!) but to make things a little better for us.
1. Thinking we’re deeper or more intelligent than extroverts.
Our extroverted colleagues and acquaintances are not all loud boorish buffoons conspiring with a world that’s out to get us. Honestly. In both high school and college, I got to know a variety of intelligent introverts and extroverts who were all capable of having serious intellectual discussions. If you think all extroverts are shallow and can’t carry on a conversation beyond the latest exploits of reality TV episodes, maybe you just haven’t met one who shares your interests. Also, plenty of intelligent people have casual social conversations about commonly-known topics. They know that “quantum computing” or “feminist analysis of Doctor Who” aren’t widely recognized ice breakers, so you might not get to know that side of them without investing a little time in conversation. Nobody likes a snob- the intellectual superiority we try to pin on ourselves isn’t attractive and may even cause us to miss out on relationships with interesting extroverts.
2. Defining ourselves by what we’re not.
Introversion as I see it described online seems to have a strong negative undercurrent to it, in that we often describe ourselves as anti-extrovert rather than pro-introvert. How often have you seen people saying they hate small talk because it’s so “shallow” as opposed to saying they prefer more in-depth discussions because they like to talk about things they enjoy in more detail? Or saying that parties are a waste of time instead of admitting that parties are fine for some but quiet nights at home are more appealing to introverts? I know that we live in a society that rewards more extroverted traits so it’s easy to be defensive. I’m perfectly comfortable in my identity as an introvert, though, so I don’t see the need to reverse-evangelize the world with the evils of extroversion. I’m probably too busy spending the evening reading on the couch.
3. Saying “no” too much.
Part of my goal for this year was to say “yes” more often. In the past I’d developed a bad habit of automatically turning down fun-sounding opportunities because I thought they’d wear me out too much. Now, when I get offered the chance to do something, I give it more serious consideration. I try not to shoot down others’ suggestions or my own ideas just because I don’t have a ton of energy. If you find yourself in the situation where you’re spending a lot of your time both watching copious amounts of Netflix alone and talking on social media about how you’re lonely…well what can I say? It’s not an easy situation, particularly if illness, disability, or financial issues come into play, but I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment and good memories out of things I might not have done before. I’m never going to be the high-energy type that always wants a full calendar, but going out and having fun makes the relaxation afterwards even more sweet.
4. Acting like it’s fine to not know how to interact with other people.
Not all personality traits natural to introverts make us secretly superior or are even neutral. Untreated social anxiety or unaddressed shyness can seriously hold you back in life. Things like seeming awkward in a job interview or looking aloof and miserable around new people aren’t exactly going to propel us to great new heights.
If there’s issues in your life, try addressing them and then develop a basic social interaction toolkit. For strangers or friends-of-friends you’re meeting once? Eye contact, a smile, and cursory knowledge of sports/current TV shows/the week’s weather forecast are all good starters. In my experience, people who are well-liked and respected are great at making other people feel cared-about and significant. Now I think some people have magical powers in this that are outside my ability to emulate, but anyone can try. We introverts like to boast of our good listening skills, so why not put them to work? An attentive listening face (which was totally a learned skill for me) and the ability to ask a couple polite questions are probably not a Herculean feat for most. That small talk we hate? It’s a good way to find out similarities or potential topics of interest you might share with a stranger or acquaintance.
5. Not investing in relationships, and then acting like martyrs when we don’t have friends.
As an introvert, I definitely have experienced that maintaining relationships can be challenging and that social interaction takes effort. But in reality, good relationships take work for everyone, extroverts included. As introverts, I think we often struggle with the basic fear of not being wanted, but at the same time we excuse behaviors in ourselves that can signify to others (introverts or extroverts) that we don’t care about them. As bad as we may be at initiating, as much as we might prefer texting to calling, etc. sometimes we have to suck it up and do something we don’t totally love for the sake of someone important to us. Relationships are two way streets, obviously, so I wouldn’t recommend investing deeply in someone who doesn’t seem concerned with your preferences and boundaries. If they only ever call you unannounced or only want to hang out at large noisy parties, then you might not be compatible. But asking your extroverted friend to coffee on a semi-regular basis or going to the occasional party isn’t going to kill you if you really like them and want to maintain a relationship with them.
I’ve been that textbook introvert for the majority of my life and it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve begun to edge further outside my comfort zone. I’m still fairly reserved, still can be bad at filling in awkward silences in conversations, and will always want more quiet nights than to crazy nights out, but learning to overcome some of the weaknesses natural to an introvert has helped make my life a more fun and interesting one.