I’m sitting in a moderately noisy bar with a group of friends, and there is just enough conversation going around the table. The topic of discussion is not one that interests me particularly so much that I’m willing to chip in, but as is often the case, I am content with listening. Before I’ve ordered my next drink, the conversation has fizzled out and pretty much everyone to my left and my right has turned to the person to their left or their right making small talk.
I’m hoping that no one turns to me because I know that the exercise is one that will push me over the edge of mental exhaustion. I’d much rather be in this private space I’ve managed to create; where I’m only a listener and an observer without the pressing need to participate. As the others around me continue to share the table for another few hours, some choosing to get bored together rather than alone, I find myself wanting to leave and sometimes better still, saying my goodbyes before ‘the party’s even started’.
I know you’re tempted to stick a label on me and I bet it says ‘Snob’, ‘Anti-social’, ‘Boring’, ‘Aloof’ or ‘Arrogant’. But if you insist on shining this despicable spotlight on me, I’m going to have to ask you to say it right; I am an introvert and I find few things as tiresome as meaningless banter. Before you can assume that I dismiss your or anyone else’s ability to engage in interesting conversation, I’ll admit, ‘It’s not you, it’s me’.
I’m not better or worse, I’m just different. While most people revel in the distraction of banal conversation and choose it over awkward silences, I’m just the opposite. Silences are not half as awkward to me as a conversation that does not even remotely hold the promise of going somewhere. The effort of engaging in such an exchange while seeming eager or interested is something that would suck the energy right out of me. It’s not that I don’t like company; it’s other people’s discomfort with co-existing in a space without the constant need for conversation that I cannot deal with. I’m the person who can truly enjoy having a meal all by myself, without feeling lonely, so much that sometimes I’ll choose not to have a dinner companion.
Don’t get me wrong; I do have the ability to enjoy conversation, but the real difference between an extrovert and me is that I enjoy deep, passionate conversation that explores a topic of my interest as opposed to any conversation. I’m selective about the situations I want to put my energy in, simply because I only have so much of it, unlike the endless reserves of an extrovert who finds stimulation in social situations. And just because I’m not talking, it does not mean that I’m not listening- an equally important and often under-rated component of good communication.
Put me in a discussion about something I’m interested in and you’ll see that my words have the ability to bring real value to it. It’s just that I’d rather have that over insignificant words uttered to fill silent gaps. I cannot help that I have an inbuilt filter that sifts out all the noise and tries to grasp the crux of a conversation, which then determines my level of participation in it. From time to time, I need to be alone with myself, kind of like a cell phone that needs to be plugged in to recharge. If I cannot physically be alone, I create a little private space by not talking so that I can recharge. It’s not that I don’t like you, or you’re not interesting enough, it’s just how I am wired.
In a world where the power of networking and people skills is being increasingly lauded, it is not easy to be understood as an introvert, a personality trait that is often confused with shyness, depression or indifference. The playing field isn’t level; extroverts are seen as confident, proactive, charismatic and natural leaders while introversion is associated with reclusiveness or a forgettable personality.
Introverts can be as opinionated as everyone else, it’s just about being selective in expressing our opinions. By contrast, I personally believe that introverts could be slightly more insightful because they spend greater energy in listening and processing information than putting their own two cents into a conversation. An eagerness to express your opinion or share new information can often distract from the act of really absorbing existing information.
I don’t enjoy long phone conversations or any phone conversations unless they’re exceptionally interesting or absolutely necessary, and I’m not afraid to be the first one to leave the party, because I believe doing what you really want to do is highly under-rated. Before you write me off as rude or as someone who just doesn’t care, consider my right to be who I am without being judged or misunderstood.
I’m an introvert and this world is mine just as much as it is yours.