I’M LISTENING, STOP LOOKING AT ME: Grumpy’s Reflection on Craving Connection

Hi Grumpy!

I was wondering if you had any advice for an introvert who loves people but has difficulty making deep connections.

I constantly feel like I am searching for something in others, but I have no idea what that might be. Although it leaves me feeling drained and I’ll need a few days to myself to recover, I can play the extrovert and have no problem meeting new people. I have met quite a few people with whom I share similar interests, but I still feel as if I want something “deeper.”

Do others feel this way? Could it be my sensitivity as an introvert which makes me want to seek out that “something” in others?

I could use some of that Grumpy wisdom.

Yours,

Connection-Seeking Introvert

P.S. I don’t mean that “something” as a lovey-dovey romantic thing.

Dear CSI,

So, I have a hunch. Not, you know, like Quasimodo. But a big, fat, juicy thought in my belly about your letter.

Maybe, my connection-seeking friend, the problem lies not in other people. Maybe, just maybe, you’re having trouble connecting deeply to yourself.

[Ed. Note: That’s WAY too self-helpy.]

[G.I.: OR IS IT?]

[Ed. Note: What? You can’t just answer with “OR IS IT?”!]

[G.I: OR CAN’T I?]

[Ed. Note: This had better be good.]

It sounds like that introvert soul of yours is hungry. Starving, maybe, for that elusive “something more.” And I do think this is a very common state of mind for many introverts. Our internal world is our primary (and preferred) residence. We’re far less concerned with what’s going on outside of us than what’s going on inside of us. I read a lot of letters from introverts all over the globe. What I’ve discovered is that the introverts of the world seem to be constantly, relentlessly seeking meaning—profound, glistening, Holy Grail meaning—in every facet of their daily lives, from work to play to relationships.

So, what do a lot of us introverts do to feed our ravenous souls? Like you, many dyed-in-the-wool introverts borrow a page from the extrovert handbook and engage in more interactions with others. Sometimes, this hits the spot. That’s because it turns out that our extrovert pals are on to something: actual in-person human interaction keeps us, well, human. I can’t believe old Grumpy here is admitting this, but life is richer when we nudge ourselves out of our comfort zones and spend quality time with others.

[Ed. Note: Who ARE you?]

[G.I. I’m channeling my inner Yoda. Hush.]

But in your case, it seems like these interactions have been less than satisfying. Metaphorically speaking, you’ve been nibbling on granola bars and greasy packs of airplane peanuts instead of reveling in the lush five-course meals you seek, and you’re downright peckish right about now.

Yes, YES, you say, I WANT THE FIVE-COURSE SOUL MEALS, PLEASE.

Well, get in line, buddy. But in your case, maybe the line starts in a different place.

You say that you want deep connection, that you’re looking for “something” in others. I sense you’re frustrated by your own inability to be more specific, to articulate what you need, exactly, to make your introvert soul feel more satiated.

And that’s okay. You don’t have to know. I would wager that you don’t know, not yet. It’s easy to fill your stomach; it’s a lifetime process to figure out how to fill your soul.

It’s time for a little self-discovery, CSI. All that human interaction is commendable and worth continuing. But I think that pesky soul hunger you’re feeling is about your relationship with yourself.

And I’m not suggesting you have a crummy relationship with yourself, either. You sound thoughtful and proactive and self-aware. You want more, but you don’t know what that looks or feels like, yet.

Allow the Grumpy to share a brief, but hopefully relevant, anecdote. A year ago, I was feeling similarly hungry, CSI, for something I couldn’t quite name. All I knew was that I wasn’t finding it in my friendships, my family, or my work. I wasn’t finding it in romantic relationships. I felt adrift, and I felt downright lonely. (Don’t tell anybody about my soft underbelly; I’ve got a rep to protect.)

Here’s what I did: I let everybody else off the hook and decided this one was all on me. I sat down with a notepad and made a reverse bucket list. My reverse bucket list was a list of the absolute best, most soulful, most meaningful experiences I’ve had in my life thus far. Here’s the really interesting takeaway, one I think might pique your curiosity: Not only did this little exercise ground me and make me feel pretty darn grateful for the life I’ve had, the list revealed to me that most of my blissed-out, connection-rich life moments have involved travel.

My grumpy, grayed-out soul had a lightbulb moment: ahhhhh. Maybe my soul needed more travel—its favorite food—to find equilibrium. Maybe I needed to hit the reset button with a trip to a new place. So, I yanked out a credit card and booked a solo trip to Montana, a place that had been whispering to me for years. I spent a week in a rental car, driving through mountains and alpine meadows and bison ranges and dusty towns you’d miss if you blinked. Most of that week, it was just me and my camera. But I was doing my soul thang, and my nervous, incessant wanting of more connection, more love, more everything just plain ceased. My head and heart shut up, CSI. I was alone, but I wasn’t lonely. And when I arrived back home, back to my usual life programming, that sense of soul-fullness stayed with me. I expected less from others, and my interactions with friends and family became less about what I needed and wasn’t getting and more about enjoying what was.

So, CSI. I offer you this rare Grumpy anecdote in hope that you will be intrigued by the idea of a reverse bucket list. Maybe travel is not your soul’s currency; maybe it’s mountain-biking or writing or music. You’ll know it when you see it on your life list because, I guarantee you, your soul will say ahhhhh, too. Dive into the ahhhhh, CSI, and you might just find that this slippery question of connection becomes a moot point. And how lovely would that be?

Yours in Grumpy Soul-Searching,

G.I.

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  • William Williams

    where is that wall paintin?

  • Kellie Schieber

    This is fantastic- I have also found that travel always, without a doubt, soothes my soul. I’ve been feeling incredibly restless as of late- I need to go somewhere! This issue that I tend to run into is that I have no one to travel with. I have a wonderful boyfriend who would go anywhere with me, but his current job allows him little to no time off. I, luckily, have a generous PTO package, but no one to share it with. I find it impossible to make meaningful friendships with other women. I even make an effort to invite those that I find potential in to hang out, but no one ever takes me up on the offer. This is a huge struggle- I honest to god have zero close friends. The few, semi-close friends I do have are uninterested in travel. I am not opposed to traveling alone, but at times, I would rather share those memorable travel experiences.

  • Carolyn Barry

    Thank you for sharing your story Jennifer.

    I can defintely understand superficial interactions because without trust it is always going to be “superficial”. What is having a small group of friends/associates or just one friend/associates you can make a deep connection with to only find yourself standing in the corner because your punishing yourself for “getting to deep”.

    So you learn to be more cautious than just throw yourself out there when it comes to meeting folks. Some may have your best interest while some, well, not so much.

    Honestly, I enjoy the small talk at work with co-workers. Some conversations have me in “awe” asking myself, “where have in been, on the porch with Forrest Gump”. While some comversations make me question the intentions.

    Over the years, I have leared to enjoy my own company. Finding things that make me happy. The peace after a long day at work. The calm after the storm. The light upon my face as I look in the mirror with a smile. If the world was to end today and I was the last woman on earth. As long as I had the simple things and GOD. I am happy.

    So I do not go searching to deep anymore for the simple things because they have been here all alone.

  • Ingrid Loennecken Lindstad

    Ahhh, that was just what I needed to read. I need to make a reversed bucket list! Wonderful!Thank you so much for bringing this up right now. 🙂

  • Nakul

    i have tried this reverse bucket list thing.

  • marianamagg

    I can totally relate to this. Sometimes it gets really hard not only to find new interesting people but also to connect with close friends and family. I guess traveling can be therapeutic, at least is one of my favorite things to do as well, and I should “hit the road” again soon. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • elmef

    This is so right…I feel that most contact I have with people is too ‘lightweight/superficial’ to be satisfying. Recently I took up the threads of past life (i.e. got involved in several things I had been really absorbed in thirty plus years ago before family committments took me in the direction of Scout committees, School boards etc). I have met a whole lot of people I had never crossed paths with before, and have got back a sense of self I didn’t even know I had lost! Similarly, my husband has got more involved in his great passion which had been put on hold for years. The original feeling was lack of real contact with others, but the REAL issue was loss of contact with ‘self’. For years the needs of others had to come first, and our own real interests got lost in the rush.

  • Mildred

    This. Is. Awesome! Thank you, Grumpy (with the soft underbelly), for this sage advice. I recently went through a similar state of general discontent, and found my happy place again by going back to doing the things that I enjoy most: posting to my blog, reading, meditating, baking, road tripping, getting in on random acts of kindness to unsuspecting folks. We do forget so easily the things that make our hearts sing, in the “busy”-ness of life.

  • Regina

    I have the same feelings. I can be comfortable meeting new people but I’m always searching for one or two who may turn out to be some of my best friends. Then there are some people whom I want to connect deeper with because we totally hit it off. It’s like deep down I know that person is going to be a really good friend whom you can pour your heart and soul. But at the same time, I’m afraid they’ll find me weird if I ramp up our interactions. So I take it slow. Just like how I would prefer others to do the same to me.

  • rahulfow

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Margdalena

    Thank you, it’s just what I needed right now!

  • Anny Liao

    I did something like the reverse bucket list. Great name! One other thing is to play the detective and observe your own reactions. I realized way back that it was a lot to asked for deep conversations and connections from just a few people. I started to measure how filled I was in my connection bucket after various conversations with different people. As I become more aware of my own connection levels I find that I find deep meaning even in a one-time-stranger-talking-to-me-on-an-airplane. Those connections are a snap shot in time but rewarding and filling nevertheless.

  • Janja

    I really like this whole column. It certainly is true that superficial interactions are just what I “need” at particular times, and am often happy with brief extrovert-like interactions that do not develop into lengthy extrovert-like interactions.

    But I get unhappy if I do not have occasional lengthier introvert interactions. The problem is that many people are not wired for such. when I was younger, I sometimes tried to be my “true self,” only to find that people became confused or uneasy by my intensity. I learned to tamp down my true nature in most instances, trying (unsuccessfully) to “be” an extrovert, still in thrall to the childhood lesson that it was not normal for me to be otherwise.

    Then one night I spent an afternoon with a woman I had met in my new job at a publishing company. We got into some deep discussions. I got worried.

    “I’m really intense,” I apologized.

    “I look for that intensity in my friends!” she told me.

    That was the beginning of my meeting more introverts, joining and starting some small groups that were all introverts or mostly introverts. What a great life it is. We welcome extroverts to our groups since we now have the well-being and confidence to appreciate what they have to offer while not feeling we have to pretend to be extroverts.

    My point is that there are many people who are not comfortable with offering what it is you are looking for. But there are also some who are.

    My only caution is that if you have a tendency for depression, a conversation between two introspective, analytical introverts can spiral down into depression. But it does not have to be that way. I am living proof that one can be a happy introvert even after being raised by a mother who tried to change her daughter into an extrovert.

    So what do I do when I crave deeper meaning in my life? I work on my watercolors. I start a book discussion group. I meet with one or two or three or four friends who also look for deeper meaning. I join a small art group. I even have a deeper connection with my husband, now that I have learned how to talk to him in a way that does not make him feel that he is being accused. 😉

    Maturing Introvert

  • Quiet Revolution

    What do you do when you crave deeper meaning in your life?

    • John_Breckin

      Loved this piece.

      I head to the museum. Most major institutions have a day in the month or week when admission is free. Just wander around by yourself. Spend as much or as little time in front of the works you like. I did this last Friday. It was almost as good as vacation.

      I didnt think I’d agree with this article, but in my case it may be true: the person I want more rich, meaningful time with is usually myself – doing rich, meaningful things.