These days I happily identify as an introvert. Anyone who read my post where I described in intricate detail how I chose books over making new friends is probably thinking “Well, yeah”. But it wasn’t always so obvious for me (looking back, the book thing really should have tipped me off).
There were times growing up when I knew that I was operating on a slightly different wavelength from some of the other kids. In primary school, we used to go to the library once a week. We would sling our library bags over our shoulders and march off to the dimly lit, slightly musty aisles of the library, and I would do so with a spring in my step and excitement fluttering in my chest. Being given the time and space to hunt through the racks of books for my next read, my next exploration into new worlds and new ideas was as good as it got. When I heard other kids groaning about being bored, about wanting to go play, I was perplexed. All I could think was “What are you talking about, this is the best part of the week! We play outside every day. You want to play? Go play with some Roald Dahl, he’s the most playful author I know!”
This feedback was not appreciated by the other children.
Moving into highschool and university, this difference was acutely accentuated when it came to going out. As a young teen, I had heard about the nirvana that was the nightclub and couldn’t wait to get to that holy land of booze, music, and sexual opportunity. When the time finally came and I walked into that darkness broken by pulsing lights and strobing music, I was…utterly dismayed. It was so chaotic and drunk strangers were everywhere and all there was to do was drink and dance. Where’s the appeal in that? I would complain ceaselessly that the music was so loud that I couldn’t hear anyone talking. Friends would suggest I go try my luck getting a girl to kiss me and all I could think was, “How am I meant to do that, they won’t be able to hear me?”
I failed to realise that the whole environment was designed so that talking wasn’t necessary, it was all down to being brash, letting go of inhibitions, and gyration. But as a happy little introvert, brashness, letting down my defences, and gyration were not in my wheelhouse. Words were my wheelhouse, sitting down to a one-on-one conversation where I could connect and be funny was my play, and that thumping, sweaty setup had robbed me of my weapons. Nightclubs were an extrovert’s arena.
I think my lack of self-identification came from early definitions used to describe introverts and extroverts. It boiled down to: introverts are shy and extroverts are confident. While I was quiet, I wasn’t shy. And I never felt that I was particularly lacking in confidence. Granted, I wasn’t thrusting my hand up and volunteering to sing and dance in front of people, but that had nothing to do with confidence and everything to do with that just sounding like a terrible idea.
It finally clicked into place when I heard an alternate way to outline what makes someone introverted or extroverted. It went like this: an extrovert is a person who recharges their batteries through social interaction and an introvert is someone who recharges their battery through quiet and solitude. And, inversely, an extrovert’s batteries are depleted when forced into silence and solitude for too long and an introvert’s batteries are depleted when forced into social interaction for too long. This is not to say that introverts don’t like a good party or that extroverts don’t like alone time, just that these things take energy from these people rather than giving it.
Suddenly, so much made sense. Choosing intimate drinks with friends over all-night raves or the peace and quiet of a library over the never-ending game of tag in the playground didn’t make me weird and anti-social; I was introverted.
And those kids huffing and puffing in the library about being bored, or happily spending their weekends squished between strangers, ears ringing from house music, weren’t confusing and obnoxious; they were extroverted (although, that anyone in their right mind would choose a nightclub over a library still mystifies me. And those haters out there who claim that there is nothing erotic about a library have clearly never experienced the sexual tension that radiates off librarians).
I am telling this long and boring story because normally the world is skewed in the favour of extroverts. Those that thrive by being brash and letting down their defences, and, yes, sometimes even gyrating, often come across more opportunities than the quiet achievers. It can be hard sometimes out there for an introvert.
But we are not in normal times and the restrictions brought on by the coronavirus have suddenly made this an introvert’s world. Stay at home all day in your bubble: Check! Work from home wearing cosy clothes: Check! Conduct all work communication via emails and skype chats: Check! Social interaction limited to intimate conversations with one or two people: Check! Feel no obligation of a weekend to go paint the town red: Check! Hang out with books rather than crowds of people: Check! And, to be honest, while so much of this situation is challenging and hard, it is a relief to be able to lean into an introvert’s strengths for a bit.
While we navigate these previously untrodden paths and redesign the world to fit the current handicaps, it’s worth a bit of self-reflection and deciding where you fit on this scale and identifying what recharges your batteries. Introverts, you can relax and enjoy society matching your pace for a change. Extroverts, you can acknowledge the hardship you’re facing and make plans to keep your source of fuel coming through upping the volume of video chats and phone calls.
And for those introverts out there like me, languishing in a surplus of home time, books, and soft conversation over cups of tea, take pity on your extroverted friends and give them a call. Their batteries will thank you.
Have a great weekend, everyone, and happy isolating this Easter.
On Tuesday: Easter. (I’m taking the long weekend off. Jesus would have wanted it that way.)