There has been a massive “introvert pride” movement in the last couple of years. As a textbook example of an introvert who has always felt pressured by social norms to act more extroverted, I think it’s pretty awesome step in the right direction for our culture.
Let’s start with the definition of introverted and extroverted. It’s a lot more complicated than classifying people who are social and outgoing vs. quiet and anti-social. I think the best way to look at it is this: at the end of a long week, how do you like to “refresh” yourself? Do you like to go hang out with friends, go out to a bar, or meet new people? Or do you like quiet time, like reading a book, working on an art project, or chatting one-on-one with a close friend?
Introverts get their strength and recharge when they get to be in lower stimulation environments, such as spending time alone or socializing in small groups. Extroverts get their strength and recharge by spending time with others. (It’s worth noting here that many people are not purely one or the other. It’s a greyscale, not an either/or sort of thing. You don’t have to pick a side and stick to it.)
Western culture puts a high premium on extroverted characteristics. In job interviews, we like to hire people who are magnetic and charismatic. Our education system also favors extroverts, since American classrooms are high-stimulation environments where the most vocal children tend to get the most attention. Quiet children who like to play by themselves are frowned upon and pushed to spend more time socializing with others. We expect employees to be team players, and we reward extroverts who boldly speak up. We associate their outward confidence with competence.
I’m a classic introvert and my boyfriend is a classic extrovert. We actually make a funny couple in some ways, because our social needs are so opposite (our friends comment on this often). Our vast differences include:
- I withdraw in parties and crowds. I don’t know who to talk to and feel awkward. Reg has no problem inserting himself into a group of people.
- Small talk stresses me out. I much prefer jumping straight into a deep conversation, even with a stranger. Reg can chatter endlessly about anything at all, it seems.
- I can count my close friends on one hand, and I don’t make new ones very easily. Reg on the other hand don’t even have enough hours in the day for his 30 close friends.
- I rarely get bored and am perfectly happy spending an entire weekend home alone. Reg gets antsy after not talking to people for a few hours and needs social time more-or-less every day.
- I do well in a solitary career where a good portion of my job is working quietly. Reg is currently in a quiet, isolated job, and I think he’s slowly going insane.
- I like to think before I speak. I have a hard time expressing myself in an argument and will often think for days about how to talk about a difficult subject. Reg easily articulates himself in heated moments.
- I screen calls, even from friends. I don’t think Reg has ever considered not picking up the phone, even when it’s really not a good time.
- I shut down when I’m socially burnt out. I literally have nothing more to say to another human being, and develop a frantic “I have to get out of this party immediately” feeling. Reg gets the same frantic feeling when he’s been alone too long and needs social time.
Even though it can be frustrating how we have a cultural bias towards extrovert characteristics, I find being an introvert to be very empowering. I feel like I need less approval from others than extroverts do. Reg tends to stress out when he feels he made a social faux pas, but I tend to just shrug it off and not care much what others think. Also, I’m pretty good at just making myself happy and don’t need anyone else’s help. If I have a day where I have no plans with other people, I don’t mind – I work on a recipe or an art project or just read a book. Reg relies on other people to feel happy, though, which to me just sounds like a pain in the ass.
It’s taken me many years to feel totally comfortable being introverted. I feel like one of the biggest lessons of my early 20s has been accepting that I crave alone time and don’t thrive in big social groups. I no longer feel pressured to meet up with friends at crowded nightclubs or to go out on a Friday night because “that’s just what people my age are supposed to do.” In October, when the big SF music festival Hardly Strictly Bluegrass rolled around, I realized I didn’t even want to go. The crowds, the difficult transportation, the excessive drinking – it just didn’t sound as appealing as a lazy day of watching Netflix, working on art projects, and grabbing one-on-one dinner with a friend. And at the end of my day at home, I didn’t have a single ounce of FOMO.
Are you more introverted or extroverted? How do you feel about it?