The I’s Have It

With a few notable exceptions (Johnny Carson and Audrey Hepburn being two of them), most celebrities are extroverts.  They crave the spotlight and they shine in it.  They like to be surrounded by other people, and are happiest when they have a lot going on.  Their philosophy is, “The more the merrier!”  This approach to the world confounds introverts, but the evidence everywhere shows that society values extroverts much more than us reserved hermit types. 

We quieter people prefer our own company, for the most part, and sometimes that of a chosen close friend or two.  To us, dinner with our spouses and perhaps one or two other couples, at most, is about all we can comfortably tolerate.  The thought of a boisterous crowd of ten people around a table gives us the shivers.  Many of us — though not all — tend to be shy around new people, especially in multiples.  If we are nagged into going to a party, we will stay on the sidelines, hoping there might be one other person who we can approach for conversation.  We will most often talk less than we listen.  Brainstorming in groups leaves us cold; we’d rather sit alone and come up with our own ideas, then present them to a superior and/or communicate them electronically instead of in person.  E-mail is our godsend, now that letters have gone the way of the dodo.

In some situations, we fare better than our “people person” counterparts.  In Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain describes introvert traits.  We’re usually better listeners and are more skilled at tuning out distraction and nonessential noise, for instance.  We focus more readily and can sustain long periods of intense concentration.  There’s even some research that shows we function better than others under sleep-deprived conditions.

I would say that, in the world as it is now, with isolation a requirement throughout much of the globe, introverts have a distinct advantage, for once.  We thrive in solitude.  We can work effectively by ourselves.  We don’t necessarily need or welcome constant input from others.  In other words, we’re not dependent upon external stimuli and motivations. 

In a September 10th article in Medium, Tara Haelle reports on her investigation into the whys and wherefores of our rocky emotions during the pandemic and lockdowns.  She found that some analysts see our situation as akin to the grieving process.  We miss our rituals and routines, along with close contact with friends and families.  Our minds are having difficulty accepting the restrictions and the aloneness, the chance to escape mentally and physically.  High achievers are especially affected by the lack of interaction with colleagues and the absence of a “work” milieu.  I’d restrict that finding, however, to those achievers who work in public professions and who are normally highly visible.  The guy with the green eyeshade, in a corner crunching numbers, is probably quite contented to be working at home, as is the writer cranking out reams of prose.

Among Haelle’s reporting, there is a mention of some possible “self-care” practices that are no longer available:  “pedicures, massages, coffee with friends, a visit to the amusement park, a kickboxing class, swimming in the local pool.”  When I read that section of Haelle’s article, it struck me that, with the possible exception of the last one, all the activities in the list involve interaction with others, which seemed to me to be somewhat at odds with the idea of “self” care.  As in, the person who goes to the nail salon or the coffee shop or a martial arts class is not only venturing outside the home, he or she is depending on other people to complete the experience.  Certainly, an exercise class is self-improving by definition, and in broad terms, it’s caring for oneself, but to me, self-care is a solitary pursuit involving homely things.  It means a bath with scented oil, or a refreshing facial, or a long afternoon with a beloved book and a cup of favorite tea.  It means baking a treat, cooking something superb, or puttering with a hobby, or binge-watching old movies, or a leisurely stroll through a park.  In short, it means being alone with one’s thoughts and taking time for oneself.  A companion or spouse could be included in front of the TV or on the walk, but then the psychology changes a bit, as room must be made for someone else. 

Cue the introvert.  We’re at ease with no one else around.  We don’t feel caged if we can’t go to parties and classes.  We don’t need constant feedback from people in the surrounding cubes to keep us going and spark the next breakthrough.  In a strange way, the lockdowns and forced isolation have not been as damaging for us as for people who get their energy from being around others.  We miss friends and family, but we can make do with connecting on Zoom or Skype, if that’s the only option we have.  I don’t believe we’re grieving as much as the extroverts, in short.  In my case, other than not being able to go to restaurants and the theater, things haven’t changed much since March. 

Garrison Keillor has written a number of essays recently in which he extols the pleasures of living in New York in the pandemic world, and I’m made just a bit uneasy by his rather cavalier attitude, in view of the continuing debacle this country is going through.  Yes, he’s a self-described introvert, and has volumes of sage advice to impart about simple joys.  I realize, as well, that he believes it’s important to eschew the gloom and doom into which many other writers have sunk.  Even so, I’d prefer to say that we introverts are blessedly lucky to be who we are right now.  There’s nothing great about lockdowns and quarantines, but for once, our natures are helping us, and for that, I’m profoundly grateful.

4 thoughts on “The I’s Have It

  1. I find great satisfaction in hearing that being an introvert is a plus instead of a frowned-upon failing. I have been one all my life. I was an only child for the first 5 years of my life until my little sister came along. Then it was just her,& I. I never minded being alone, or with just one more person. My relationship with my wonderful late husband proves that.
    We just enjoyed each others company,& did things together.
    While I was growing up my dear Mother always ‘had’ to subject us to the big family gatherings. In my case, that meant about 15-20 cousins. Some of them my age, or older, but most of them much younger. All those little munchkins running around, climbing on everything, jumping,& squealing just about drove me nuts. I would disappear upstairs,& duck into a closet in either my grandma’s bedroom, or the medicine closet in the bathroom. I’d hide in there relishing the peace,& quiet until I heard my folks, or other relatives calling for me. I would re-emerge like the Golem from his sleep,& come up with a lame excuse for my whereabouts. My parents came from very large families.
    Therefore, I had an awful of cousins to deal with.
    I was an odd one in school as well. I wasn’t one of the pretty, or popular ones,& I never followed the crowd. I was doing my ‘own’ thing long before it was fashionable to do so. I could occupy myself for hours playing guitar, recording myself, drawing, or reading. Whereas my sister is the opposite. She is the extroverted one. My Mom reasoned out early on how to punish us individually. Clever lady! Me she could threaten with a spanking,& I would immediately behave. Grounding me had absolutely no effect cause “I”” could easily amuse myself. My sister, on the other hand blew it when she told Mom that she’d rather have a spanking cause it’s over with quicker. Aha! The light bulb appeared over Mom’s head. She figured that the grounding method was torture for my sister, lol. Her methods worked1
    I guess I was always shy,& afraid to assert myself in my youth. As I got older, though, I realized I cannot please everyone so just ‘be myself’. Those who accept me, fine. Those who don’t, that’s fine, too. No skin off of my nose!
    This pandemic really hasn’t bothered me as much as those who are socially active. I call my loved ones,& send emails. I play guitar, write songs, enjoy reading,& watch some really good old movies to my hearts’ content. I’m not going to live in fear of this pandemic, but I take the proper precautions,& Trust that God will get us through all this. This world survived the one in 1918,& I believe we’ll survive this one. I don’t mind adding, with God’s help, we’ll get through!

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  2. Yes, marrying my husband was a culture shock for me, even though his family isn’t that large. About 30 people with all the cousins, in-laws, and close family friends at gatherings. But when all the 20-somethings would bring their screaming kids….9th circle of hell. Fortunately, they’re all pretty much scattered now.

    And yep, I was the wallflower all through school, teased mercilessly. As you say, though, when I got older, I realized it was a cool thing to not follow the crowd, so I’ve been happy doing my own thing since I graduated high school. Really glad I accepted my individuality relatively early in life.

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