Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Answering Extroverts' Questions About Introverts

This past week, a question popped up on Reddit asking extroverts what they just didn't get about introversion... so I figured it would be cool to respond to some of these questions here on my blog. Some of these tap into common introvert misconceptions, while others are more a matter of "I get you guys, I just can't imagine wanting to be like that." So here goes:

Q: Why do you think introversion is related to liking books or being smart?
Caught Reading from Flickr via Wylio
© 2007 Jayel Aheram, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

A: Well, a lot of introverts are big readers. It's a hobby you can do on your own, and we like those. But a lot of it ties into the reverse stereotype that smart = nerds = introverts (also not always true). Many nerds do self-identify as introverts, so sometimes the assumption is that introverts are all smart nerds. Introverts also tend to spend a lot of time thinking and learning about specific hobbies, so they can be very very knowledgeable on specific topics. I've also learned that when you speak less (as introverts often do) and reserve dialogue for when you know you have something worth saying, people think you're smarter than you are because they don't hear the stupid thoughts that pass through your head first.


A: Maybe because you're yelling at me?

In all seriousness, the person who wrote this was frustrated by the fact that he couldn't get an introverted person to hold a conversation with him. If someone isn't talking to you, there's probably one of two things going on: 1) They're not only introverted but incredibly shy and don't open up very easily, or 2) They don't particularly want to talk to you, so they don't.

Unfortunately, with shy introverts, it can be hard to tell the difference between these two. What you absolutely should not do is push and push for more conversation and try to "break through" somehow. If they don't like you or don't want to talk to you, that'll make them more annoyed, and if they're shy, that'll overwhelm or intimidate them. Be consistently friendly but give them space, and if they want to come to you, they will.

Q: I don't get it when introverts need time alone to recharge themselves. Like what does recharge even mean in this context?

iPhone screenshot showing battery charging from Flickr via Wylio
© 2009 Jodiepedia, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
A: Exactly what it means for a battery: We run out of energy. For a lot of us, there's a physical shift we can feel. I start getting incredibly mentally tired, like when you've been reading or studying for a long time, and the process of listening or talking to anyone just seems like more effort than it's worth. Everything seems loud and everyone seems to be demanding your attention and you just want to go home and be quiet for awhile.

My favorite analogy is from Donald Miller, who compared introversion to having to jog during every conversation. That's absolutely right for me. Sometimes it's worth it, and I can jog for longer, but sooner or later I'm just exhausted, and I need to lie down by myself where no one is going to start asking me questions.

Q: Why are you more comfortable talking to strangers on a websites, but not one in a bar or real life?

A: I've written about this before on this blog, so let me reiterate some of the points from there. We often feel more comfortable online because there's no pressure on us to keep the conversation going. In real life crowds, we're very aware that we have a social responsibility to keep up the talk. Online, there's less of that, so we can relax and open up without scrambling for something to say in time, before they other person starts feeling awkward.

It also gives us the chance to really think about what we say. Introverts often process their thoughts internally, so they may not speak until they're certain they know what they want to say and how they want to say it. In real life, by the time we get there, the moment's passed, but online, it's easier to hold off until you're ready.

I'm almost equally comfortable talking with close friends who understand when I need to just sit and think and process for awhile, without pressuring me to keep talking.

Q: I can understand needing alone time in fact I quite enjoy being on my own sometimes, but I cannot grasp the idea that you can be alone ALL the time and not want to go out, meet new people, and ultimately open up new opportunities for yourself.

A: Well, most introverts don't want to be alone ALL the time. But one thing to consider is that what you may think is all the time, they may think is not. For example, if an introvert works with people, they're around people all day, and when they come home, they just want to be by themselves. I've known extroverts who feel like that's "being alone all the time," but for an introvert, they feel like they're with people all of the time, and we're claiming our last few hours of free time to recharge.

Also, introverts can be adventurous and open up new opportunities for themselves and want to go out without wanting to be particularly social. I've discovered it's really invigorating for me when my husband and I explore our local city on weekends. But that exploration is never going to include clubs or parties or socializing in bars. I seek out new opportunities, I'm just seldom interested in making it about socializing.

Q: I don't understand why you wouldn't put yourself out there when there are so many interesting people out there. Some of the people I've met in the most random situations have ended up being some of my best friends. It's true that strangers are just friends you haven't met yet.

WWW_D3_Mingle-35 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 worldwaterweek, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
A: This is one of the biggest differences between a lot of extroverts and me -- I'm extremely picky about my friends. I do have a lot of friends, but I can't connect with just anybody. There are people I've known and socialized with for years who I wouldn't say are my friends, no matter how interesting they are.

Not to mention the fact that the early stages of meeting people are the least interesting to me. It's the stage when there's the most small talk (which I find incredibly boring) and the least discussion of substance and the most uncertainty about whether I can be myself yet. That's a lot of effort put into something that certainly has no guarantee of a positive end result.

I just have a limited amount of energy, and putting it toward new "random situation" relationships that may or may not last is often a poor use of it.

Q: I don't get why introverts seem to have fun with other people and generally are cool to do fun activities yet they never take initiative to organize something like that, why do I as an extrovert always have to do this? It's not really a question, I'm just tired and feel under-appreciated.

A: Well, we don't tend to organize large group events because we don't tend to like large group events -- at least not enough that we want to have some of our own. We may tag along to others because we do want to be social (yes, it happens) or we want to spend time with certain people or we're bored, but it's hardly ever our activity of choice. We're more likely to schedule smaller group activities, or even one-on-one social times.

Don't think of it as "I'm doing all these things for other people and they won't do it for me either!" and think of it more as "I'm getting to spend time with my friends in a way I think is fun," and let them initiate the things they think are fun for them -- even if that never includes group bowling or a whole crowd going to the movies together.

Q: Are introverts really self-conscious or do they genuinely just like to be alone?

A: Well, sometimes we are really self-conscious, but I promise we genuinely like to be alone. It's marvelous and relaxing.

Q: Why? People are the best! I love people! I would get if you guys just disliked certain people for being douchenozzles, but as a general rule, I find that all the people I know are genuine and kind.

It's not that we dislike people so much as we dislike groups, and we dislike meaningless socializing. An introvert can have a great time with a deep one-on-one discussion about something they love, but most of the socializing we're called upon to do doesn't give us that kind of opportunity. It feels more like mindless work where we're all just trading pleasantries and never really get to know anybody. (I startled a friend of mine once when I said I didn't feel like I knew anyone if I'd only spent time with them in a group. But it's true -- I'm not good friends with anyone I haven't spent some kind of one-on-one time with.)

Because of that, it's much easier to retreat from typical social activities and to not socialize with people with whom we don't see potential for something deeper.

Coffee Date from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 York Berlin, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio
Q: What is an ideal date? A first date or thereafter? Sometimes it's really hard to tell if you're enjoying the conversation or are uncomfortable.

We like our one-on-one time, so anything where you guys can really spend time together. How that looks will vary from person to person. Personally, I'm all about dinner-and-a-movie, but preferably movie before dinner. That way we can do a fun activity together (seeing a movie) and have some good conversation about it afterward. As far as whether we're enjoying ourselves or now, we can take a little while to open up, so don't automatically assume we're not having a good time.

Q: Why they won't just share their thoughts. If something is inside my head, I spit it out (I filter of course so I am not rude). I've had it explained to me 30 ways to Sunday, and I will just never understand it.

There are two things going on here: Introverts not sharing their thoughts when you ask, and introverts not sharing their thoughts randomly. The first is less common than the second (typically introverts will respond if you ask them a direct question; that's just polite). So let me assume you mean the second.

The basic answer is because we're being polite and/or private. This sounds rude to say, but 90% of the time we just don't care about the random thoughts of the people around us. And in return, we assume they don't care about ours. I barely care about my own. Why would we subject you to a conversation we deem boring?

This also gets into the fact that a lot of us don't like filling the air with random speech. We prefer to speak when we have something to say. Sharing our thoughts out of nowhere with people we don't think will care (because those thoughts are just not that interesting most of the time) feels like a waste of breath and a crappy time for all involved. So we don't.

Q: Do you dislike all mediums of human interaction, or only face to face?

Again, this is hitting an unfortunate stereotype being perpetuated in this wave of introvert pride. We don't "dislike all mediums of human interaction." We don't even dislike face to face interaction. We find it *draining*. When we strongly dislike it, it's because it is taking up time and energy we can't spare. It's like being forced to run around the block every time you step outside. Sometimes it's refreshing and it feels good, even if you are tired at the end. Other times, you avoid stepping outside at all because you just don't want to run around the block for the fourth time today.

That being said, I personally find phone interaction more draining than face-to-face, but online interaction the least draining of all. That's not unusual among the introverts I know, but then most of us met online, so I'm sure there are many who feel differently.

Q: What's it like living on the other side of the fence? What makes you enjoy being a "homebody" type of introvert?

Oh, man, being a reserved homebody type of introvert is lovely. Whenever you get home from being out all day and you can just sit on your couch with headphones on and not talk to anyone, it's like kicking off uncomfortable shoes.

I'm not a homebody ALL the time. I like to travel, I like to try new things, and I do even occasionally like to meet new people. :-) But it's so beautiful coming home to recharge after all that. You walk in the door and all the defenses come down.
The Lonely Man from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 Mick C, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Q: Don't y'all get lonely?

Sure, we do. I wrote a blog post about that too.

Q: When I want people to like me I make them like me. How do you make friends?

Very slowly.

In all seriousness, it takes a long time for me. I told this to a classmate of mine in college, after we'd been hanging out in groups for a couple of months. She said, "So we're only kind of friends?" I said yes. From then on, it was a running joke that that year we were just "kind of" friends, the next year we were "almost" friends, and then our last year together, we were legitimate friends. And we joked about it, but that's kind of how it works.

As I said above, I also don't consider someone a friend unless we've spent some quality one-on-one time together. In practical terms, if I wanted to develop a closer friendship with someone, I'd probably invite them to do something just the two of us -- go see a movie together or grab lunch together and chat. That's the only way I feel like I get to know someone at all.

Q: What is so hard about saying "hi" and just talking to other people?

It's not hard, it's just exhausting, especially when the conversation isn't meaningful or interesting. Feigning interest in something that feels meaningless is a lot of work.

Q: Do you try to be an extrovert?

Yeah, that was the first 21 years of my life. I was terrible at it and then I felt bad all the time for being terrible at it because I thought that good people (and especially good Christians) were extroverts. That was a gross time of my life.

Q: Is being at a social event awful or can you be comfortable hanging around on the edges of conversations, etc?

There are degrees of awfulness. At social events, I'm very likely to just latch on to one or two people and have longer conversations with them. It may still be uncomfortable, but it'll be much less so. Being in the middle of a socializing crowd where I don't know anyone -- really, truly unpleasant. "I can't wait to go home" unpleasant. Or being in the middle of a loud crowd where conversation is impossible. *shudder*

Q: Going to a late-night movie with a group of friends & then sitting outside at an In-n-Out eating burgers at midnight is AMAZING. How can that "drain" you?

Young women reading aboard the shantyboat Lazy Bones from Flickr via Wylio
© 1947 Florida Memory, Flickr | PD | via Wylio
Hey, just like you're baffled by that, I'm baffled by how you would ever turn down a lazy Saturday watching movies at home in your pajamas without talking to anyone -- or ruin that day by filling it with busywork :-)

In all seriousness, though, you're assuming that amazing things can't be draining. We just hit our "too much of a good thing" meter much more quickly than you do.

One of the things I've tried to communicate to my extrovert friends (not always successfully) is that I do like to spend time with them. I do. I just run out of air more quickly than they do. And if you try to pressure me to stick around when I'm out of air, I'm not going to suddenly start having fun again. I'm going to get more and more unhappy because I can't breathe, guys, and you're not going to enjoy my company and I'm not going to enjoy your company. So the best method is for me to go home, breathe in my own room for awhile, and then be ready to hang with you again sometime soon -- which I'm much more likely to do if I know that you're comfortable with me leaving whenever I need to!

Those are the main questions from extroverts I wanted to answer. Extroverts, do you have any more? Introverts, do you have your own answers to these questions? Share in the comments!

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