I started to write, I’m an introvert, and leave it at that. But the longer I sat here thinking about it, the more I remembered being outgoing, enjoying parties, and being in the world. Somewhere along the way, I changed. I don’t know enough about the psychology of these labels to know if this happens a lot or is rare or is even possible.
I don’t think this is something I would have noticed at the time (did I notice anything in those days), but looking back on it, I feel like it must have happened after I stopped practicing law, so while I was home with the kids, somewhere between 1989 and 1995, when I started writing.
Perhaps it was stepping out of the flow of traffic that is working outside the home. Perhaps I never was an extrovert, and yet, remembering things like camp and college, I believe I was.
From one of the best articles I’ve read on the subject, “Skin Deep” by Martha Crawford, this scenario rings so true to me now:
A neighbor recently sent me an email which stated that of all her neighbors, I was the one that she felt least connected to, and that she found this distressing. (Was this for real? I was flabbergasted. ) She felt that whenever she encountered me that I was always in a rush, that I never seemed to want to stop and chat. (Chat? What on earth about? )Moreover, she said, that even factoring in differences and variations in personal privacy, she had determined that I was insufficiently social, and that as a result, our relationship (Did we ever have one? I couldn’t think of a single instance when I had laid eyes on her in the past year) was in need of repair. How would I feel in her circumstance? (What circumstance exactly? The one where my neighbors want nothing more from me than a brief, cordial greeting? “Relieved beyond all imagining” were the only words that came to mind)
An extrovert, in external conversation, frustrated and injured that a confounding introvert was withholding much needed social contact. An introvert, misunderstood and in flight from an extroverted pursuer, in an internal monologue about the internal need to avoid extraneous social contact.
I would be interested to know if anyone else out there feels as if they’ve changed in their into/extro vert status.
I concur. I used to be so OUT THERE. There was a time when I carried way too much of this responsibility– to maintain or initiate relationships,etc and recognized that I was slowly losing more bits of myself and the things that make me “tick” because it was becoming more and more “other centered”. It was exhausting to “dumb down” conversations or skim the surfaces with chit chat about shopping, sales and television shows I didn’t (don’t watch). I wasn’t then or now am not feeling snobbish… but I just stopped working so hard and gradually things have quieted down. I don’t get invited places often (mostly those deplorable sales pitch parties) but I do have a handful of sincere and serious friendships that are mutually FUN for us all. I’m content and satisfied to be who I really am and surrounding myself with others who can do the same. Side note: I do push myself beyond that place quite often– but it’s for totally different reasons now.
Loretta, thanks for sharing your experience. I like the way you talk about things as “gradually quieting down.” As if you settled into place. Nice.
I have not read extensively on the subject but I believe I have always been an introvert without the courage to insist upon it. About five years ago that changed; chronic illness was the catalyst. I came to appreciate the energy of living. I am more judicious in my choices, which favor a life of solitude over personal interaction. I could and did live the life of the extrovert but it felt empty. For me, the Internet provides sufficient social interaction. Thanks for the link to the Martha Crawford blog.
Karen, I know what you mean about without the courage to insist upon it. It seems so, well antisocial, to insist upon it, but I have started to. Though I’m still in a bit of a resentful stage. Good for you that you seem to be in the peaceful stage of claiming what makes you happy. And yes, the internet does provide a good bit of social interaction : )
Levels of busy-ness seem to dictate my level of engagement with the outside world. And I always have to ask myself: am I creating this “busy” life to hide something? I love the moments I can stop and chat!
Elisabeth, it’s great to hear from you! And you sound like one of those fun-loving extroverts : )
I think I am both, by turns, and always have been — as far back as I can remember. I do live in my head, can go without speaking to three-dimensional people for days (although take away the internet and I might write many more letters), and find it hard to make myself go out and mingle, unless it’s necessary for business or medical purposes, or because the larder is bare. (Although I can stall, delay, reschedule with the best of them.) But once I’m out, no one would think me an introvert. I’m the jolly, laughing, entertaining one who has so much apparent “charisma.” It’s not put on, I enjoy being out and about once I’m there, and it’s probably good for me. So which is the “real” me? I’ve stopped trying to figure it out.
Nina, you sound like my no-middle-ground post : ) And your comment helped me to realize I don’t mind the necessary incidental chatter–like with the cashier at the grocery store or a waitress in a restaurant. And I also enjoy talking to A friend/husband/child for a short-ish amount of time. Usually, though, conversations suck the life out of me, even good ones, and these days the small talk at a party just about kills me. I need to replenish with quiet. Only the rare conversation with a good friend energizes me.
I love this post, Cynthia. I’m an extrovert, but over the last few years, I’m needing more and more time alone. And I’m definitely less inclined to jump for the kind of gathering that will necessitate lots of small talk. I’m interested in getting to know people more deeply. (And then I need some time to recharge alone.)
Thanks, Kate. I do wonder if we naturally become more introverted as the years go by. Too soon for you to know : ) Hope you’re feeling better!
“It’s OK to cross the street to avoid making small talk.”
I’ve just joined ‘The Quiet Revolution’
Quiet Quiz: Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert?
pssst… LOVE this piece Cynthia!
Thanks, Helena. I don’t generally like quizzes but I took this one > I : )
Me neither. Happy to have someone to play with… >[;D
I’ve found the labels are deceptive, and subject to a lot of misinterpretation. When asked to classify myself, I call myself an extroverted introvert. Most who know me would say I’m an extrovert – I function well in crowds (mostly), I love evenings out with friends (mostly), after too much time alone I seek out company (mostly).
But ultimately it depends on what is going on in my life. The key (from my POV) is where you get your energy. My energy comes from within. When I’m tired or stressed or have simply been around too much noise, the company I crave is my own. This is a large part of why I run and why I love travel. They both provide stretches of time when I might be around people, but not WITH people, and certainly not expected to interact with them. It recharges my batteries and allows me to come back and enjoy the company of others.
Susan, it’s so nice to hear from you again. And I LOVE your second paragraph. I agree. My energy comes from within too. Thanks for your adding your words here.
Like a few others here, I’m both and always have been, though being social “in person” was what I did most ’til I got married, then my socializing was mostly at work, then when I worked for myself, it was more sporadic. I have no trouble talking to people and being social whether it’s in person or online (I think you can tell I can talk lol). BUT–I love when I’m alone, left to do the many things I want to do, hopefully without interruption. My mind never stops, regardless, and I do think also that creative types are introverted in these ways. Writing as we do is a solitary endeavor, but I love it.
I do know that I do enjoy chit chat if I like the people I’m talking to and I can easily get caught up in conversation, but I avoid it for the most part. I have too much to do, frankly. With all the blog stuff, I’ve got more “social” activity than I could ever need and really do want more “alone” time 🙂
What I think is that, as we get older and our life’s demands change we want life to slow down and be simpler (I know I do!) and spending less time “out and about” with people enables that.
Donna, it does sound like you’re both–the best of both worlds. But even with all that you accomplish, I would have guessed, just from knowing you online, extrovert : )
Yeah, lol, but for years now I really have longed for more quiet and solitude. I would just need to be within travelling distance of a Barnes & Noble cafe in case I needed it 😉
I think Martha Crawford might be my new favorite writer.
I know–that paragraph is so great.
Like other commenters, I’m a mix. I feel very introverted but others will refer to me as an extrovert b/c of the way I interact in groups and b/c I tend to be pretty bold when it comes to organizing events and creating things like discussion and reading groups. I also enjoy doing readings. But I’m always surprised when people label me as outgoing. I have a friend who actually argues with me when the subject comes up in conversation and I say that I’m an introvert. She’ll say, “No you’re not” and appeal to others in the room to bolster her case. Which, frankly, really annoys me. These people have no idea about the agonies in my head when I’m forced into small talk, or when I spot someone I know at the grocery store, or when I get invited to a gathering that will include a lot of people I don’t know. As I’m getting older, I’m starting to feel a bit stubborn about this, and I’m letting myself stay home more, socialize less. And I feel far less stressed as a result.
I hear you. Now we can just refuse–a perk of being older.