It’s not easy being an introvert in 2018.
We now inhabit a time in which people routinely and indiscriminately ‘share’ their entire lives on social media – everything they eat, sleep, breathe and think. Very little is reserved for the realms of the sacred or the personal, and the gossamer-thin veil that divides the public and the private has never been more tattered and fragile.
Sometimes it feels like a dysfunctional adult popularity contest. Social competition is not exclusively the domain of high school kids any longer. Facebook alone has 2.2 billion users in 2018, all attempting to curate their lives into fascinating, lust-worthy streams of consciousness. Facebook calls it a feed, but what is it actually feeding? Are we starving our souls to feed our egos? We’re playing with a stacked deck, but is anyone actually winning? After all, no one’s everyday life is crafted from a highlight reel. We’re comparing the drudging record of our daily lives against everyone else’s Greatest Hits album.
By all accounts, achieving social status has been a long-standing quest of humanity. It wasn’t borne from the 1’s and 0’s of the digital age. Just ask the protagonist of any John Hughes movie. But, it has become far more consuming in recent times. Even as fully grown adults, that unrequited yearning to be special, popular and envied never completely subsides. It lurks like a predator, cloaking itself in the darkness of our damaged places, waiting to pounce on the first easy prey. We are primed for the land of the likes, fodder for the lure of the love button. But are we actually better people for it? Do we truly ‘like’ ourselves more for all of our efforts?
Fact is, there are no social media awards for being boring, basic, and happier in a bookstore than a house party. To this day, I’ve persisted in an inexplicable, undying affection for juvenile coming-of-age movies. Even though I know they’re WAY below my age-grade, I suspect I’ve never really worked through the trauma and disappointment of being born nerd-girl and normal. There’s something richly satisfying and royally righteous about films in which the geeks triumph, the popular kids get their comeuppance, and oddball heroes emerge from the Moonrise Kingdom. Perhaps there’s a little Napoleon Dynamite in all of us.
So how do you deal if this popularity thing never panned out for you? How do you reconcile the fact that you are happier at home, curled up with a good book, than going to a rager of a house party? What if your happy place is snuggled in sweats, with your marginally stinky and slobbery excuse for a hound dog, rather than anything remotely ‘Sex and the City’? I’ve suffered being called stuck-up, anti-social, a snob, a princess, a loner, a hermit…..by fully-grown humans I might add, in case this all sounds very childish and churlish. And while it is indeed VERY hard to evaluate yourself impartially, I do not believe I do proper justice to any of those exceptionally lovely and flattering labels.
In fact, I like people very much.
Just in doses. Rather small doses.
There is probably nobody more curious about people than I am. I enjoy learning about them, listening to them, people-watching them, photographing them, writing about them, stalking them (just kidding lol) and occasionally spending quality time with them. I have an insatiable need to know what makes people tick. Even the ones I don’t particularly like. I just find people so darn interesting.
I think of my introversion like a glass of water. My goblet is nearly full, almost to the brim. My inner life is very rich and rewarding, so when someone comes along and tries to pour a lot more “stuff” into my glass, it gets messy fast. Too much noise, too much stimulation, too many people, too much activity……like a tempest in my teacup, wildly sloshing about. I feel taxed and irritated: moody, frayed and agitated. I can hold my keel steady for a finite amount of time, but it takes a concerted effort to do so. I can feel my energy draining, exhausting me, depleting my generally positive outlook.
Whereas, I think extroversion is akin to an empty glass, belonging to a person who is really bloody thirsty. Parched…….dying for more inputs, more stimulation. Louder music, more friends, loads of action, scads of excitement, beautiful adrenaline pumping. Too much is not even enough. “In the midnight hour she cried more, more, more – With a rebel yell she cried more, more, more.” Why do I think Billy Idol was crooning to the choir of extroverts here?
So, depending where you fall on the spectrum….and I do believe it is a spectrum, sometimes less is more, and sometimes more is more. This is where the actual problem arises, when you have to participate in the world, with other people, some of whom you care deeply about, some of whom are not introverts like you.
I’m always the first to want to leave a party, the first to be ready to call it a night. Dinner’s over? Giddyup, let’s go! Put in my two hours at the convention centre cocktail party? Whew…..glad that sucker’s over. Being at social mixers feels like being in the spin cycle of the washing machine. The longer the event goes on, the more earnestly my body and mind is crying out for sweet release. I’ve taken a lot of heat over the years from friends and family who just don’t ‘get it’. “Why don’t you want to stay?”, they beg. “But the party is just getting started” they sadly moan.
It makes me wonder if introversion is innate or tied to things like anxiety, insecurity and fear? Take the cocktail party example……..we’ve all been to conventions or business events that require social mingling. I’m instantly filled with trepidation, especially if I barely know anyone. Oh how I envy the people who thrive on meeting new faces. This is their great shining moment. It probably doesn’t help that I’m terrible with names. I’m going to meet you, and ten seconds later, I’m going to forget you. Doesn’t matter how many memorization tricks I’ve learned…..I will feel badly about my dismal failure, but I still won’t remember your name. Also, I’m notoriously pathetic at small talk. My mouth gets dry and I rack my brain uselessly for anything, and I mean anything, that might be remotely interesting, yet inoffensive to say. I’m so drained of the mind-numbing chatter about weather, celebrity gossip, and how about those Blue Jays for the pennant? Ugh. Most people try. Honestly, most people are inherently good, decent folks. I know that. But there’s always going to be that one shining star of mankind, who wants to dispute that global warming is even a thing. Seriously…….kill me now.
If I make it out alive, and despite my obvious misgivings, I always have……it will take me a few days to regain my balance after a large social occasion. I think introverts require more solitude and quiet time to replenish their metaphorical tanks. Of course, everyone is different. Personally, I enjoy a lot of solitary pursuits. I love to read and study and listen to music. I am obsessed with photography, though a somewhat reluctant editor. I’m a passionate futzer-arounder (admittedly possibly not a real word). I enjoy tidying and organizing my thoughts, puttering around on social media. Having an unnatural fondness for to-do lists, I achieve epic levels of satisfaction from crossing things off of them. All of these solo pursuits bring me back to a space of peace and sanity. Whole days can pass where I accomplish a whole lot of nothing except getting my head on straight. Lazy, Cozy Sundays – my ultimate happy place.
And yet, I do not suffer this social anxiety problem in small intimate settings, or groups in which I feel a core of genuine connectedness. When the conversation can go deeper, when it is more than just shallow surface chatter, that’s where things come alive for me. Nothing energizes me more than a really great discussion between like-minded individuals. That’s not to say that everyone needs to share the same opinions, just that there is respectful debate where all feel free to speak and all feel genuinely heard. An intimate dinner with a wonderful friend, a small gathering of great mates, flowing conversations, raucous laughter – these things feed my soul. These things make life worth living. Connecting with people I respect, in meaningful ways, is the greatest honour of my life.
Life has turned out to be the most challenging balancing act of all. Sometimes you put yourself out there, and sometimes you pull back. Sometimes you hide, and sometimes you seek. What I can say for sure is that all of the best people, all of the most magical experiences, and all of the greatest adventures of my life exist because I stuck my neck out there and took a chance on something.
And I have been magnificently blessed.
My cup runneth over.