Sunday, May 14, 2017

Why introverts can't be extroverts but really like to sit near them

I don't know this
person but I like her plan. 
A while back, when I was not an extrovert like my brother (seat-me-next-to) Tom, but wished I was, we moved into a new town and our kids started grades 0 through 5. If you've done this, you know these are prime friend-making years because you have an instant ice-breaker.
A year or so later, still an introvert in hiding, I organized a New Year's party for one-hundred and fifty people in the community. They all came. 
There is a photo of me standing with my true nature by the window that night as the cars approached. We don't look relaxed. 

One night a few years ago over a glass of wine, one of my favorite extrovert-friends, Maureen, asked me if I was going to some wine tasting event for a cause I don't remember.  
"No," I said.
"Why not?" she asked.
"Because I don't want to," I said.
"Ha!" she laughed. 
By now, I knew that the kind of gathering that energizes Maureen, makes me tired and cranky. Where I might have once slogged through it to be socially in the loop, now I wondered why I ever needed a loop at all. 

Part of this evolution occurred as I was learning about Meyers-Briggs and the study of their sixteen personality types. There is more to it than that, but tests can determine whether people are more or less intuitive or observant, judging or perceptive, feeling or thinking. 
According to Meyers-Briggs, I am an INFJ: Introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging. When I first learned that, I took the test again, because who wants to be classified as an awkward, humorless recluse? In time, I realized that we introverts aren't awkward and humorless people at all. We just feel that way when we're around extroverts who can start conversations with a phone book.  

Some things about introverts:
Introverts don't dislike people. We just want to know what makes them real. Oprah Winfrey is an INFJ and Oprah loves people but she loves their authentic stories more. Remember "A Million Little Pieces?

And we don't hate parties, we just don't feel comfortable launching conversation for the sake of talking, because while we are saying "I was really surprised at how much parking was available for this event," we're thinking, "How did you wind up here and where did you live before and why did you move and what kind of person were you in high school and how many times did you change careers?" 

We aren't anti-social, we're very social, but we have the most fun around people we trust, especially if those people are extroverts like my brother Tom or my friend Maureen. 
Introverts may be envious of extroverts. I have no data. But I do think some introverts don't like their own label. I think some of us make an effort to be more outgoing at large events because it's "what people do," even though we're at risk of saying something to a total stranger like, "You look tan, have you been away?" 

Some of us will stay in a conversation with a too-loud, self-absorbed, close-talker for too long, because we lack the knack for exiting without feeling impolite. And I know some of us sabotage our own success at small talk because we eavesdrop and often get caught doing it.

Introverts mix in an interesting way with extroverts. Nobody is more fun to observe than extroverts and we're actually similar in how we react to counter-intuitive opportunities. The introvert reaction to large surprise parties, large gatherings of unacquainted people (new co-workers, parents at a classroom coffee) or large public events is the same one my brother Tom would have if he were forced to spend six weeks in a tree house by himself with no electronics, a thing I would actually like a lot if I had bug spray. 
In that party picture of me at the window trying to be an extrovert, or less of an introvert, I can see how much it exhausted me to be out of step with my nature and later, I wondered what else I had expected. 

That is exactly the kind of problem introverts like to ponder in traffic jams while other people are giving strangers dirty looks, because we think all the time. Too much, too deeply maybe, but all the time. We are never bored. We daydream a lot. And like dogs and babies, we know when people are real and when they aren't. 
A few years after the New Year's party,  I gave myself a far tinier party for a milestone birthday.  I got an outfit and a new haircut and invited my favorite people. They all came and it was really fun. 
Maureen was unhappy that I hadn't given anyone a chance to surprise me. Then she told me she couldn't make it. Then she drove up the driveway to surprise me.  
Introverts and extroverts do things like that for one reason and it is because we need each other more than we want to be each other.  


  1. I am definitely an introvert...married to an extrovert. It's a miracle we are still married.

    1. Tomato, tomatow. I get that. And you're probably good at throwing tiny parties :)

  2. I used to be a complete extrovert. No idea what happened, unless it's just being more authentic. Maybe I was always an introvert and was trying too hard. I've been told I'm an outgoing introvert, whatever the hell that means.

    I think you and I would get along just fine. Long walks, chats about everything, and sitting at parties watching the extroverts walk on by.

    Love this post, Susan. Someday I should take that Meyers-Briggs test, eh?

  3. Interesting comment on moving from one to the other. Maybe it's as simple as a stage when it's more fun to talk than listen. I know I had my share of those.

    "Outgoing introvert," hmm. Maybe it's the introvert that's the life of the party as long as the party is small and the introvert has known them forever.

    And of course ditto, on what instant IRL friends we'd be!

  4. I am an INFX. People are always surprised to learn I am an introvert because I am very social and love to speak in front of groups. The Meyers-Briggs was super helpful for me because I learned that it's about energy. Extroverts get their energy from interacting with others. Introverts need to recharge. Great piece. I used to throw big parties. Now they are much smaller and enjoyable. My hubs is a shy introvert, so he really only enjoys very small conversation.

  5. Energy, yes! It comes from such completely different places for us!

  6. Oh my goodness, how I love this! I literally laughed out loud at your friend Maureen telling you she couldn't make it to your party, and then showing up in the driveway to surprise you! Seriously, I like that friend! (She's sorta like me, except, I expect she's probably more bold!)
    I also LOVE the Meyers-Briggs personality test. I can't remember what my letter thingy name is, but the description for me is "Entertainer." And I like it. ALOT. (I know that's actually two words, but, I like it better as one....)
    Also, I had been planning on writing a post very similar to yours, except from my perspective of course, so I'm super glad I read yours! I think I will share yours when I'm about ready to publish mine.

    I think we could be friends.
    And Maureen.
    I like her, too!

    1. I love this comment, thank you! And yes, Maureen is one of a kind, we've known each other forever. You'd like her very much.