I’ve recently come across a blog written by a Kentucky-based talk radio host named Matt Walsh. He’s young, opinionated, Christian, and fairly conservative or libertarian or something. Whatever it is, reading his stuff is often like reading a much smarter, more articulate version of myself. (What an interesting mix of surprise and not-surprise-at-all when I learned that he was a fan of Ron Paul). I was planning on doing a blog post about how so many people, especially people without children, seem to consciously refuse to understand how children are and what parents can do to “control” them. It was going to be based on some ignorant comments I got in an ill-advised, YouTube-based argument I had a few weeks ago, but I’m not going to write it now because Matt Walsh nailed it better than I could have. So read that. Then come back and we’ll proceed.
So he wrote a post that dealt with three different topics. The first was homeschooling vs. public schools, then there was our society’s faux “diversity,” and lastly there was a discussion on his introversion and how it is to live in what he perceives to be an extroverts’ world. This, as was the case several times before, was something that I’d meant to get around to writing about. Except this time I landed on the opposite side of where he was coming from. I’m a very extroverted person, and over the last year or so I’ve learned more about what “extrovert” really means other than just being a person who feels energized by socialization. The more I’ve learned, the more irritated I’ve become at the audacity that so many “introverts” seem to have about how poorly treated they are by society, and how “extroverts just don’t get them.” In a broad sense, I compare this to how Feminists have written the rules for accepted gender interaction in our culture over the last several decades, but will still blame everything on “patriarchy” and don’t stop to consider what kinds of issues men face. Though please understand that’s an extreme comparison and I get considerably less angry by the introvert/extrovert thing.
Since Walsh so perfectly set up the kinds of points I was intending to react against, I left a lengthy comment discussing and defending extroverts such as myself. It’s gotten a surprising amount of praise from both self-described introverts and extroverts, and I like it enough that I’m going to share the meat of it here. What follows is a mildly-expanded version of the numbered points of my comment.
This is addressed to any introverts who think that extroverts don’t understand them, drain them, and/or confuse them:
1. In social situations I have a nearly-uncontrollable desire to be liked.
Not to be the center of attention–that person hogging all the attention is not demonstrating their extroversion but instead their insecurity. No, I just need to not feel like the other people around would prefer I leave. To the point that if, at the end of a given interaction, it seems that I’m not thought of well, it can haunt me for days and in some very real cases, years. As an introvert your reaction to this is likely dismissive, saying, “you shouldn’t care what other people think!” Save it. I’ve heard that since middle school and spent nearly two decades of my life feeling bad because other people’s impressions of me is something that I can’t help caring about. A lot. I can’t let go of that any more than you can just suck it up and learn to love meaningless small talk.
2. Extrovert is not synonymous with party animal.
When it’s said that extroverts need to be around people to feel energized, many introverts imagine someone like me needing to hop into a massive party and dance the night away to techno music while downing Jaegerbombs and filling the gaps with huge, steaming piles of useless, surface interactions. That could not be farther from the truth. I can’t speak for all extroverts but I can say that large gatherings are worse than being alone to this extrovert. Recently my wife and daughter took a trip away for a week while I stayed home. I got sick right before they left and as a result spent several miserable days at home alone with next to zero interaction with anyone. By the end of it I felt some considerable depression settling in. Thankfully a cookout had been planned by a small group of friends and I was able to attend. I got re-energized in the best way possible by spending quality time with a handful of people I like, and we simply ate and talked. We talked about politics, pop culture, nerd culture, and personal stories and shared memories. If that gathering instead had been a large number of people interacting on only a superficial level, I would have been worse off than if I’d stayed home. I need interaction and socialization to feel energized, but it has to be real and meaningful.
3. Do you get exhausted by your extroverted friends? Guess what. . . .
I wish I had known more about all this introversion/extroversion stuff when I was in college because in those days my closest friends were at least in part introverted, in the proper sense. If I had my way, we’d have spent every possible second hanging out and talking and laughing both in large and small groups. Instead I was regularly made to feel awkward by these friends (and somewhat shameful, though not intentionally on their parts) because they would get “peopled out” and need to spend a weekend in or something. That’s fine for them but I always felt drained and abandoned at the sheer mention of this. We extroverts don’t always have a couple spare sets of extrovert friends waiting in the wings to spend time with us when the introverts need some alone time. As an adult now I understand that this is just the nature of things when introverts and extroverts are friends and compromises need to be made for everyone. But the point is that if you feel drained by extroverts, understand that it goes both ways. (And which do you think is easier? To insist on more alone time? Or to insist that your friends spend more time with you?)
4. Extroversion is not synonymous with confidence.
I’ve been a socially averse and shy person my whole life. Not a great combination with extroversion, let me assure you. I’ve had plenty of people that I’m comfortable around make the incorrect assumption that I can walk into any social situation and own it, because that’s how I am around them. I’ve also been annoyed by people I don’t know who observe how quiet I am around them and assume that I “must be introverted and needs to be left alone.” This is currently a problem area for me because my church is one that is huge on being outward-focused, so a lot of emphasis is placed on meeting new people on Sunday mornings and not just chatting with your friends before and after service. But my shyness (and fear of not being liked or coming across as awkward–see #1) regularly prevents me from doing this. I’m still riling over a handful of terrible examples of such interactions that took place about ten years ago, too (see #1), so that’s another hurdle.
5. Extroverts often need to process externally.
Do you find that, in order to finish your creative or critical ideas, you need some quiet time alone? Well I have found that I can only ever get so far with a story idea, or a song idea, or with mapping out my thoughts on a social, theological, or political issue, by working on it by myself. I have to discuss it with someone else, or tell someone about it, and as I walk through it to them the ideas fall into place, I work out kinks in the logic, and I can begin to find some structure. I have a LOTR-style fantasy story I’ve slowly developed since I was 12, and the times I’ve filled in the biggest gaps and ironed out the biggest plot holes were the times I convinced a friend to let me tell them about it. The bands I had in the past–the best songs I wrote we’re ones that came about by interacting musically with my band mates. I’ve not been in a band for 9 years, now, and I’ve only finally been able to write again in the last two months. It took that long to figure out how to do it 100% alone. I’ve known songwriters who can write whole albums by locking themselves in a room for a weekend–take a guess if they were introverted or extroverted. So maybe that extrovert isn’t wasting your time, but is trying to work and process through something. That said I don’t defend people needlessly talking to strangers. That annoys me. Don’t get me started on strangers at work asking me about my lunch.
In conclusion, before you go off about how the world thinks that all introverts are creepy loners, take time to see if you’re doing what so many others do and viewing extroverts as inch-deep blabber mouths who can’t get through the day without going energy-vampire on some poor, innocent introvert at the coffee shop. Half of being understood is understanding those around you better.