Sunday, August 23, 2015

On Being an Introvert

I am so glad that being an introvert has become fashionable. At least, I assume it has -- one can never tell whether what you are interested in has become popular, or if it's just showing up a lot on your Facebook feed because of your interest. 

At any rate, it turns out that being an introvert is okay now. 

Image result for introvert people

"But, Sisiggy," you say, "Here you are blathering on about being an introvert -- but you are blathering in a very public place -- the internet."

Yes, but my original blather is as I sit at my computer alone (but for Topper-get-down on the bed spewing noxious fumes and Dirtman  a few yards off muttering sport statistics that have no basis in my reality).

This isn't about the obvious attributes of introversion, but the most common is that introverts find large gatherings draining -- which sounds to me like I'm being accused of snobbishness ("I find these people so tedious, Dah-ling!"). It is actually the opposite of that. I think, when faced with a large gathering, we introverts become extrovert-wanna-bes.

What? You think we want to huddle in the back, pretending to be talking on our cell phones? (Prior to cell phones, the most we could do is dive into the bathroom.)

I manage a teeny, tiny remote portion of a very large non-profit and, therefore, have to attend meetings where I know, if I'm lucky, only one or two people out of hundreds. I am there with my boss's directive to "network."

Networking -- the person who invented this activity should have a flat tire on I-395 outside of Arlington at 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday; they should encounter a locked bathroom a half hour after having consumed bad guacamole; they should get in a checkout line at the grocery store behind someone with a fistful of coupons, only some of which have not expired, requiring further examination on behalf of the clerk and the supervisor, called to pass judgement on the wording on several of the coupons.

My boss is a networking superstar. She works a room like Auntie Mame and makes small talk sound like the Gettysburg Address. I am in awe of her as I follow her around, smiling politely as she introduces me, while the entire time I'm just thinking up an excuse to go home or, perhaps, go help out the caterers (thereby at least accomplishing something).

This actually came in handy recently. I escaped during a break in a meeting where we were told to "introduce ourselves" to at least one other person from outside our department (since I'm a department of one, this meant everybody). I would argue, as an introvert, that this was not actually, then, a break, but a continuance of the tortuous interactive meeting. So I headed to my car with my phone plastered to my ear. Blessed silence! To fill out the time, I decide to clean out my glove compartment and noticed that I needed to print out a new insurance card.

See? Introversion has it's purpose.

Usually, though, when faced with such a meeting, I scan the room for someone like me -- usually sitting at the back row or table, pretending to be texting someone. This is where I will sit. We introverts have an understanding with each other. We will exchange names and, if asked, we will both have someone to refer to as "a connection" we made. Then we sit in silence and pray for the event to be over.

Later, though, I always swear that next time I will enter the room with a, "Hello everybody!" And everyone will give an exclamation of delight as I enter the room, my arms outstretched to encompass all these people I consider friends -- because what extrovert doesn't consider as a friend every person with whom they've made eye contact?

I will not have to introduce myself to anyone because everyone will be coming up to me, unable to resist the gravitational pull of my charm and folksy eloquence.

And there I'll be, in the center of all those people...those people whose names I, of course, remember*...who expect me to...what? What do they expect of me? Read their expressions, right? That 's how you tell what they want from you. But they're all smiling. That's it. Smiling. And talking about...what? I can't understand what they are saying, they're all talking at once...saying things and smiling...

It requires focus and listening. But it's always someone who talks too quietly and you lean in and still can't hear and ask, "What?" and still can't hear, then give up and just smile and nod until you notice a look of horror on their face and you realize that they've just related to you about their recently-deceased grandmother who raised them.

Or they ask me a question. Oh no!

I make a noise, nothing like speech. Like any good Italian, my mouth doesn't work without the aid of my hands. And I'm off, babbling and gesticulating like an idiot, running out of air at the end of sentences and laughing at my own stupid jokes. I go on and on because I don't know how to end it, so I say (and I'm not exaggerating; this is honestly how I've ended some of my more inane diatribes), "I'm done now."

Then I chuckle, pretend to suddenly notice the refreshment table and say, "Oh! Water!" and hurry away.

And speaking of the refreshment table, what demon of Satan's thought up the idea of having to eat, drink, stand up and talk, all at the same time? (I suspect it's the same person who came up with sing-alongs, high school gym class and those silly games they make you play at Tupperware parties -- all, ironically, activities at which extroverts excel.)

So, you see, in a way, it's a blessing I'm an introvert. No one, not even the most annoying extrovert, should have to witness that embarrassment.

So, Extroverts of the World, I have a deal for you: If you will just leave me alone when you see me sitting placidly off to the side at some event, next time I'm completing some mundane transaction like gassing up my car or buying a pizza, I won't punch you in the head when you command me to, "Smile!"

*I have, under pressure of speaking to someone I didn't know, forgotten the name of my husband. Recently. We've been married 27 years. And the question, "Is it 'Jean' or 'Jeanne'?" confused me because I didn't know who they were talking about.


Leslie Shelor said...

I was such an introvert as a kid that to this day I meet people from my home town that have no idea that I even exist. I still hate parties and gatherings, even when I know everyone there, but I work retail and getting behind a counter is just like becoming an actor. Go figure.

Sisiggy said...

I know...right? I work with volunteers all day and, while I'm very grateful for their help, it's absolutely draining to be "on" all the time. But no one will pay me to hide in the house. I marvel at people who do things after work. I'm usually so exhausted, I can only manage what must be done to keep house and pets happy; then I just crash.

tiffibug said...

Yes! People and gatherings are so exhausting. I'm extremely awkward and introverted. It was one of the deciding factors for me on not becoming a public school teacher. I just can't handle it, being "on" all the time is ridiculously draining.

Sisiggy said...

...particularly a challenge when married to an extrovert. Chuck works a room; I check my watch and remind him how long it's been since the dogs went out and, "don't we need to get home?" But it does come in handy when something very public needs to be done. He handles bureaucracy for me!