I came out of the womb a chubby, 10 lb, wailing, Chinese-American baby. Unfortunately, the crying didn’t stop. When others tried to hold me, I’d cry. When adults tried to play with me, I’d cry. When people just looked at me, I’d cry. Clearly something needed to be done.
Of course, my Asian tiger mom decided to address my wailing head-on. At the age of four, she signed me up for Jewish camp so that I would start making some friends. My Chinese mom would sit with me, watching me spin the dreidel and eating matzah bread. We weren’t even religious!
Throughout my life, I’ve been put in uncomfortable situations that have forced me to develop “extroverted” or “outgoing” traits. Out of survival, I embraced these challenges and overcame them. From attending Jewish camp and being the lead in the school play to taking mandatory public speaking courses in college and speaking at international conferences for career advancement, I’ve developed a set of professional personality traits that have brought me success. This includes being an engaged listener, expressive storyteller, confident speaker, easy laugher, strong debater, and an empathetic communicator.
Want to know the real truth? I’m 29 years old, and I’m still that wailing, chubby baby inside. Here’s what I wish people knew about me as an “extroverted” introvert.
1. Please save me from being the life of the party.
I can’t tell if it’s social anxiety or my professional brain kicking in, but something overcomes me when I’m in an awkward group situation. I become this talkative, highly engaged, story-telling, inquisitive alien that even I don’t recognize. My goal turns into, “Let’s make this awkward hell of an evening into a memorable, exciting one for everyone!” I mean, I didn’t recharge my internal, introverted battery to waste it on a terrible night, right? If you see this happening, I beg of you, please take the reigns and save me from crumbling inside.
2. I don’t want to make “after” plans.
I’m ecstatic going out to lunch or dinner with a group of friends. Honestly, I probably have waited all week for this hangout. During the activity, you have my full engagement and participation. The worst thing you can do is ruin it by unexpectedly suggesting to extend the hangout with extra activities, i.e., going to a bar, party, or club after dinner. I have mentally only prepared to be engaged for a certain activity for an allotted period of time. My introvert battery is not charged up enough for “after” plans.
3. I can get really creative with my excuses.
I feel terrible when I’m invited out but just don’t feel like going. Instead of saying, “Thank you, but I’m enjoying my time alone,” I may say something like, “Oh, I’m away this weekend! Also, work is getting stressful so I’ll be really busy this coming week. So sorry, but thank you!” The last thing I want to do is hurt anyone’s feelings. It was so thoughtful of you to think of me and invite me out in the first place.
4. I’m not “boring.” I’m happy.
If I don’t feel like going out, don’t ever call me “boring.” Yes, I know it looks like I’m having a blast when I’m out with you, but please don’t mistake that as my constant state. If you can imagine this, I’m more internally happy when I’m staying in than the external happy version I portray when I’m out.
5. I love you, but I need space to keep loving you.
It is suffocating to be with someone I love 24/7. I end up taking them for granted. I get annoyed at certain behaviors. I lose respect for what I mistakenly deem as their “neediness.” Their positive traits are clouded by the negative ones I perpetually see. Give me space. Let me love you when I’m in the best mindset to love you.
6. I hate my wrinkles.
In the professional setting, I have become so used to fake smiling and laughing to seem likable and engaged. It surely helps with career advancement! As I get older, I’m trying to be more authentic with my reactions so my face doesn’t look like a prune at the age of 29. Sorry not sorry if I don’t burst out laughing at a joke I don’t find funny. I hope you’ll understand.
7. Therapists are paid. I am not.
I feel honored when others are emotionally vulnerable with me. Within minutes of meeting me, random people have shared their relationship problems, sexual addictions, chronic infidelity, and toxic drug behaviors with me. I’m open-minded, so my tolerance is quite high for the abnormal. However, if you’re going to talk about yourself for two hours straight every time we hang out… BYE. It demonstrates that you aren’t interested in a reciprocal friendship. As an emotional sponge, it hurts me more to be your friend, so I have to let you go.
8. Ask me a question about my life.
I’m an excellent listener, but sometimes it’d be nice to be asked a question about my life. Initially, I may deflect the question out of fear of being the center of attention. However, deep down, I secretly yearn to be listened to and understood as well. Prod harder and don’t give up on me.
9. Being an emotional sponge is tiring.
As an outgoing, introverted empath, I try my best to ask the right questions so that I can get a better understanding of you. I will feel every expression of sadness, disappointment, happiness, fear, anger, etc. with you and for you. I don’t realize this in conversation, but it gets exhausting being an emotional sponge. Don’t mind me when I need some time alone to wring out my sponge-like heart.
10. I’m outgoing out of survival.
This is taught. This is practiced. This is perfected. I needed to learn how to be outgoing in order to succeed in my life goals. At an early age, I quickly learned that if I’m not my own biggest fan, no one else will do me justice. I have to constantly tell myself that I believe in myself and that I’m strong enough to overcome things that make me uncomfortable. By owning my biggest weakness (shyness), I’m able to propel myself forward in ways that I couldn’t even imagine.
11. Setting boundaries is preservation of sanity.
As I’ve matured, I’ve learned that it is okay to say no. I’ve bent over backwards for friends, family, and even strangers. I’ve stayed out until 3 a.m. partying to please my cousins. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on dinners out with friends of friends who I’ll never see again in my life. I’ve talked non-stop for eight hours straight, four days in a row with an (extroverted) best friend who I hadn’t seen in ages.
The common result? Me curled up in bed crying, resenting my loved ones, and wishing I weren’t so entirely drained. The people I love don’t deserve to be hated. Why should they suffer when I’m the one who can’t set personal boundaries?
12. Respect my complexity.
Yes, I seem way too excitable for an introvert. Yes, I probably talk way too much for an introvert. Yes, I understand you’re sad when I don’t come out to play. I get that, but please respect that I have many other layers that you do not see. I know it’s on me when I don’t express them to you. I’ll try to do a better job of that.
So here’s a start: I do want you to know that in order for me to be so “fun and loving” with you, I need to put me first. I need my time alone to read, watch TV shows, sleep, exercise, and relax. I need that absolute silence. It brings me solitude. It brings me sanity. It brings me pure joy.
To be the best person I can be for you, I hope you can understand these things about me as an extroverted introvert.