I like reading Dear Abby–sometimes as an insight into human behavior, and sometimes as a way of cultivating gratefulness that I’m not related to many of the people who write in (occasionally, I read to make sure I’m not being written about, but I acknowledge that’s a wee bit paranoid). Generally, even if I don’t agree with the advice (for instance, did you know that you don’t have to continue to deal with your damaging relatives? Even if they’re your parents? (again, grateful here), I’m interested in what’s being said, and Abby (this is not the original Abby, but rather a franchise thing) is pretty level-headed.
However, this column misunderstands something fundamental about how humans work. The lady who has written in deals with people all day and prefers to be alone, at home, instead of going out with friends. Abby says that friends aren’t a burden and the lady should be happy to go out with some friends. The lady is an introvert, obviously; just as obviously, Abby is an extrovert. The two find it very hard to understand each other, but, as an extroverted introvert, I’m going to try to explain.
Every job I’ve ever had has involved helping people, often in groups. I’m good at it. Some days, I excel at it. To supplement my income, I sub for other instructors, which means I go into a room full of strangers, talk to them as they stare at me, and wrangle them until we’ve done what we’re supposed to. This would be a nightmare for many, combining public speaking with being not-100% sure of what’s going to be happening for the time I’m in the class. It makes me a little nervous, but I still like it. I enjoy public speaking, improv, and interacting with all those new people.
However, at the end of my day, I want to get into my car alone. I want to drive home by myself, listening to NPR (yes, I’m a geek), singing along to the radio, or show tunes on CD (enormous geek). I do not want to have a conversation with anyone or even have to share my space. Sometimes, if I’ve had a particularly people-oriented day, I don’t even want to watch a tv show. I’d rather read because watching the actors is too much personal interaction and drama.
But I’m not un-friendly. I genuinely enjoy interacting with other people–as long as I get a break afterwords (or during, if it’s a long day). I need to recharge my people batteries. It’s how introverts function. We’re not unfriendly or misanthropes. We just need some space to breathe. Family and pets are fine–other people are probably not.
Okay, now extroverts–these folks find spending time by themselves pretty draining. The perfect solution to a stressful day for an extrovert is to spend it with friends, going to a party or club, or maybe chatting on the phone. It’s refreshing for them and torture for the introverts.
Neither one of these is better than the other. Certainly, if a person is an extrovert, working in an office far, far away from everyone else is going to be painful. If an introvert wants to make presentations all day, he or she should make sure that there’s someplace to hang out to refresh themselves. Extroverts are Lab/retriever mixes–everyone’s a friend and a walk’s a good time to meet everyone! Introverts are more like the stereotype of a cat–we need to feel secure before we get on a lap, and when we’re done, we’re going to take a nap somewhere.
The problem comes when–sorry extroverts–people assume that there’s something wrong with the introverts, that we’re pathologically shy, or need to be herded to a party, that we’re unhappy with how we work. Some may be, but most of us are comfortable with ourselves and know what we need to do. There’s nothing wrong with us. We just need a few quiet moments, okay?
And if I’m reading, I’m not lonely or bored, so you don’t have to entertain me!
So, how about you? Are you an extrovert? Introvert? Mixed, like I am? What irritates you about the other side?