It’s silly, sometimes, the things that provoke me. I realize that. Consider it a character flaw. I’m working on it.
A while back, for example, a couple of friends were talking about being introverts and then referred to me as a “textbook extrovert.” Which, ridiculously, made me defensive. (I should mention that when everyone was posting those things-to-know-about-an-introvert lists on Facebook, I was also annoyed, so maybe what I really am is misanthropic.)
They, of course, were right. I socialize often. I throw parties. I instigate lunches, drinks, walks, coffee, taco nights. I host brunches and book swaps at my house. I have a writers’ group. It’s not unusual for a band to crash on my couches, although less common since my days covering the music scene ended. So, yeah, all evidence was on their side.
But still, there’s something about the label that feels wrong. Maybe my discomfort comes from my outgoing manner being something learned – working as a journalist helped – rather than a reflection of my innermost self. Guys, I said, I’m super shy! Being around people is exhausting! I only make plans with people I really like! I’m insecure about all kinds of things! I spent most of my childhood hiding in the closet reading Star Trek paperbacks and fantasy novels about dragons!
I’ve found that the appearance of confidence is the next best thing to truly having it. Acting like you know what you’re doing, like you’re not bothered by criticism, allows you to attempt things you might not otherwise try – and when you survive the small failures and embarrassing moments, you realize they’re less a big deal than you thought. And real confidence grows. I have embarrassed myself a lot and people still like me, hang out with me, hire me, treat me like a person who knows what she’s doing. After years of this, I realized that the part of my brain that continued classifying me as a hopeless loser didn’t have a leg to stand on – because brains don’t have legs! Ha! – and I had to face something that surprised me: I’m doing all right.
The transformation from geeky awkward child made fun of for her big eyes and advanced vocabulary to the sort of person whose birthday is announced on a theater marquee took effort. Not all of it was positive – I traded in concern about my grades for caring about where the parties were and spent way more hours fretting about my weight than my IQ. Much of my need for social capital was driven by lack of actual funds – I spent most of my adult life struggling to pay bills, but the decades have always been flush when it comes to friendship. Also, having three small children meant adult connections served as a way to preserve my identity as a person – motherhood tends to swallow that up. My family’s distant; if I hadn’t cultivated friends, I’d have almost no one.
So, introvert becomes extrovert to survive. I think this is why those how-to-treat-an-introvert posts bugged me – and this is so, so, so embarrassingly hypocritical, but my knee jerk reaction was, oh right, like a true introvert would broadcast their innermost self on the internet and also, jesus christ, people, it’s not that bad, you’re not that special, suck it up, invite someone over for coffee, maybe get offline and go look at the outside long enough to stop feeling sorry for yourself.
This was a dickish and stupid reaction. Because – hello, self-awareness – I have made a semi-career out of writing about My Personal Issues and because jesus christ, Jennifer, people are just trying to be real and share and connect and who are you to judge how they do that?
One of the problems with being an extrovert is once you habituate to being the sort of person who puts herself “out there,” you risk the people around you informing you you’re kind of a jerk. Like I said, I have a lot of experience embarrassing myself.
Another complication is you might, as one of the more extroverted people in your crowd, be the primary orchestrater of social moments, which can sometimes frustrate you, because you spend far more time suggesting get-togethers than being invited to them. You have to remember that not everyone is driven to socialize on the daily. (Although, like exercise, cooking, mediation, reading and writing, it’s good for you!)
Others threats include rejection, becoming overcommitted and the horrible realization that while social commitments distract and friends fulfill, loneliness will still pierce your very being from time to time. You can extrovert all over the place all day long, but 3 a.m. is 3 a.m.
That’s the point I wanted to make to my friends. They might be introverts, but I see them as confident, kind, talented, successful, brilliant people who allow me to lean on them for support and goofiness equally and always. And I might be an extrovert, but I’m always questioning myself and what I’m doing in the world and I text them all day and make them go to lunch with me because without those connections, I might become unmoored. We’re not that different, guys! Call it what you will.