OMG, but you’re like the most outgoing person I’ve ever met!
I get that all the time. Usually right after I have tried to explain to someone how shy and uncomfortable I often feel in social settings.
And I get it, it doesn’t really make sense. At first glance, I am an extrovert. I talk and laugh and socialize, shaking hands and making jokes, often the life of the party.
And it is absolutely exhausting.
I have been like this for as long as I can remember. As a small child, I would suddenly walk out of play dates, locking myself in my room when I felt I had enough and needed to breathe.
As an adult, you can’t really do that. When I feel socially maxed out at a party or in a meeting I can’t just walk out or lock myself in my office, leaving my boss to explain to the other grownups that I’ll be back when I’ve recharged.
The adult world is challenging to us introverts, because it seems to be constructed for people who can work in groups and who don’t need a week to mentally prepare for a party.
But now and again we find a person who gets us; someone who sees beyond the surface and lets us be just as difficult and awesome as we need to be. The common denominator of all these people is that they know the following things:
1. When we cancel on you, it is not because we don’t want to see you. It is literally not you, it’s me. Inside an introvert there is a constant battle between the side of us that loves socializing and the side that fears it more than death. There’s no knowing which side will win from one day to another. This leads to many cancellations and at least a week of anxiety and guilt over disappointing whoever we were supposed to see.
2. We work best alone. Introverts are usually, in my experience, overachievers. We work hard and are highly intelligent. But we excel when left to our own devices. Almost all of the introverts I have met have jobs where they are allowed to manage their own time and they get more done before noon on Monday than most people do all week.
When I am asked to work in a large team, most of my energy goes into handling the social situation and very little is left to put into the task at hand. I am the happiest when I get to close my door, start my project, and not talk to another human being before I am done.
3. We do not hate you. Many, many times I have heard it said that I am angry, distant, and that people think I dislike them. That is usually not the case. I just live in my own head — a lot. And when I decline an invitation it is not because I don’t like you. I just have a very small amount of social energy to be portioned out over the course of a week.
4. Don’t judge a person by their feed. Introverts excel in social media. There we are allowed to control the output and input. It’s being social while sitting alone at your desk, building relationships where we are allowed to blossom. But it’s important to remember that if you know an introvert on social media, you do not really know her.
5. Introverts are awesome. We are worth the effort. When we befriend someone (and here I mean a real-life, flesh-and-blood friendship), we are fiercely loyal and loving. We have few friends, mostly because there are so many layers to get through and so many hurdles to jump. Once you are there, however, we reward the effort. When we love, whether it is romantic love or friendship, it is for life. The same goes for introverts in the workforce. It takes a special employer to see and accommodate us. We don’t love common lunches or coffee breaks, but on the other hand we need very little hand-holding and thrive under the freedom we are given.
6. What you call a weekend event we call a living hell. Destination weddings, weekend conferences, and three-day sleepovers with friends: this may all sound like great fun to you, but to me it is like being trapped in The Shining. Most introverts have an on and an off-level. When we are on, we are superb; entertaining, charming, and sociable as few others. And even though we enjoy these interactions, they take massive amounts of energy. The perfect situation for an introvert is a three-hour party, knowing you get to go back home to hide and recharge afterwards. To switch off and be alone. A three-day event means being on, constantly bleeding social energy.
7. We will call you back. I sometimes go a week without answering the phone. I may be socially maxed-out, or I may be working on something, needing to economize my social energy. This does not mean I do not like you. I will just call you when I am ready to be on again. This is, by the way, how I knew how close my best friend and I were: the fact that we could be on the phone for hours, usually not saying much of any importance. I had found the one person I did not need to always be on with.
8. We are not sad. ‘Social’ does not equal ‘happy,’ people. I always get confused by the adverts showing large groups of people doing things to music. If someone wants to sell me a soda, they should show one person sitting alone in a room full of books, enjoying it in complete silence. I’m not depressed, I promise. Nor am I an anti-social weirdo destined for evil plots or letter-writing campaigns urging the government to allow single-person households to own more than 25 cats. I just really enjoy my own company. Happily so.
9. We fear your judgement. I can’t tell you how often I have wished I was like the others, the people who don’t need recharging or periods of silence; the people whose best friends aren’t books. I also kind of fear that I will never ever meet someone who will love not only the exuberant and social side of me, but also see — truly get and appreciate — the loner within.
10. We don’t want you to give up on us. I know that being friends with an introvert doesn’t sound all that tempting after this list. But believe me, it’s worth it. Don’t give up on us. What seems like rudeness — the cancellations, not picking up the phone, or acting aloof at the most inopportune time — it’s just how we are. And remember: the more of it you get to see, the closer we are to letting you in and the more we trust you. So don’t stop inviting us, don’t stop calling, don’t give up. Please?