Dear Grumpy Introvert,
I admit it: My initial impulse is to avoid extroverts. Growing up, I had a “friend”—a classic extrovert type who demanded attention, especially from me. I’ve since lost track of him, but extroverted friends still continually push their opinions and preferences about things on me—politics, religion, restaurants—the “best” of EVERYTHING, no matter what it is. The assumption seems to be exactly what I faced with the bully/friend growing up: that I am responsible for making them happy by agreeing with them, entertaining them, and generally putting them first. And any failure to do so is evidence of my being unfit or unwell. Maybe it sounds selfish, but when is it my turn to be put first—or simply listened to? I’d settle for that.
I feel like unrestrained extroversion creates dominance, which makes friendship impossible. Such forcefulness does violence to my inner peace and opposes true community. I’ve found that most extroverts want to talk, not listen, which makes conversations a monologue I’m sitting through, not a dialogue. It demands fighting back for my quiet—my safe place. Otherwise, I feel like my peace will be destroyed.
Maybe extroversion is not immaturity and ignorance, but it sure looks like it to me. So basically, my question is: how can I continue to engage with extroverts without continually having to sideline or change my personality? Am I being too nice?
Peaceful Pastor’s Kid
Noooooo, kiddo. You’re definitely not being too nice unless your definition of “nice” includes seething in silence at the behavior of people who don’t even realize they’re driving you crazy. That, my friend, is a wee bit passive-aggressive. You’re laying a lot of blame at the feet of Extroverts-at-Large, who (in my humble and brilliantly grumpy opinion) are not the problem. At all.
Stick with me, PPK, and let me explain. It sounds like what’s really going on here is threefold and a lot more logical than your theory of crazed, pugnacious extroverts all out to ruin the lives of introverts:
1. You’re consistently choosing lousy companions.
2. You’re consistently expecting lousy companions to fulfill your emotional needs.
3. You’re consistently expecting lousy companions to fulfill your emotional needs WITHOUT TELLING THEM WHAT YOUR EMOTIONAL NEEDS ARE.
PPK, I get that you’re an introvert, but that doesn’t mean you get to be temperament-ist. That’s dangerous territory, son. Sure, we introverts can be kind of groovy, but that doesn’t mean extroverts suck. I need you to repeat after me, today and for all time:
Extroverts are not the sworn enemy of introverts.
They haven’t done anything wrong as a group. In fact, they’ve done a whole lot right: extroverts tend to get stuff done LIKE A BOSS. This world sorely needs its extroverts, or we introverts might just all think ourselves to death in dank corners or behind shrubbery.
This planet has a lot of problems right now—and I bet you spend a lot of time contemplating them and your role here because you sound like a contemplator, PPK—but extroverts are not one of those problems. It’s not extroverts you have your (as yet completely silent) beef with. Bad human beings, on the other hand, are at the very tippy-top of our planet’s list of problemos. And bad people will never come in neat 24-packs of a certain temperament, age, social class, religion, sexual preference, political party, or skin color. Bad humans with appalling social skills are the WORST. And it sounds like you’ve been in the habit of collecting them for years, like Pokemon cards.
[Ed. note: Never thought I’d see the day you used a Pokemon reference.]
[GI: I am large. I contain multitudes.]
You ask a compelling question—one most of us ponder at least a few times in a lifetime: “Maybe it sounds selfish, but when is it my turn to be put first or simply listened to?”
That one’s easy. It’s your turn to be put first when you decide it is and then make that choice known. That means like it or not, my shy retiring friend, you’ll have to speak up. There’s just no escaping that here, on Planet Earth. If you decide it’s your turn to be heard, you open your mouth, and speak. Loudly, clearly, and without apology. And if a lousy companion shuts you down, you shut them out. For good. Done. Game over. If you don’t make that a habit starting now, here’s what happens: You wind up reliving for the rest of your life the same unpleasant dynamic you had with your childhood bully and blaming it on extroversion vs. introversion. I call foul.
We’re not in the business of diagnosing over the interwebz here, so take this with a grain of salt, but methinks that “friend” was not so much an extrovert as a tiny narcissist-in-training. Those, along with Lousy Companions and Generally Icky People, are never going to care about intuiting your needs and responding in a validating and respectful manner. Here’s what I’m saying: cats cough up hairballs; dogs eat cat hairballs; and bad humans are always going to love the sound of their own voices. It’s just what those three species DO—
[Ed. note: That’s kind of disgusting.]
[GI: Bad Humans are kind of disgusting.]
[Ed. note: Fine. But no more with the hairballs.]
Bad humans are always going to shove their opinions down your throat. Here’s the secret: you don’t have to stand there with your mouth open, swallowing. Move out of the way. Or, if you can’t move, get loud. Talk back. Tell them exactly what you told me: that you have no interest in a monologue disguised as dialogue. Demand to be heard (always easier said than done, PPK, but it’s a life skill critical to self-care and inner peace). Speak your mind.
I don’t get the sense from your letter that you are already in the habit of confronting bad friends. I get the feeling that you simmer quietly till your pot is boiling and the smell of soothing self-righteousness and introverted martyrdom is filling your head. THIS WILL NOT END WELL. This will not make you a better human being on any level. I have faith in you, PPK. I don’t think you want to become one of the world’s Lousy Companions so silently wrapped up in your own frustrations and cranky points of view that you are no longer interested—or able—to hear out another human being in need.
Your true friends (extrovert, ambivert, introvert—it literally matters not a whit) will always want to hear what you have to say. The sooner you give up wasted time with loudmouthed bad friends, the sooner you’ll find those good friends. Maybe you don’t have them yet. Maybe you erroneously think they are all introverts. Or maybe some of your loudmouth extrovert friends will surprise you with how delighted they are at finally hearing you speak. I will tell you the dead giveaway: your true friends will nibble on their pizza slices and nod and wait patiently until you find the words you’re looking for.
And someday, PPK, I bet you will find that many of those who’ll end up being your dearest friends are extroverts who practice self-restraint—the way many introverts I know (cough, cough) must practice self-advocacy to set themselves up for a life of being heard, seen, and understood. Extroverts and introverts and ambiverts (btw, where are you, Ambiverts? WRITE ME) are all inherently fine the way they are as long as everybody’s honoring everyone else’s needs.
Be your own advocate, and do it above a whisper. There’s no need to compromise your own quiet approach to life or put your own inner peace at risk. But you’ll need to get in the habit of sticking your neck out for yourself and insisting on reciprocity in any friendship, any relationship. Soon, that will become second nature and won’t feel like an imposition on your reserved character. Because the right people will already be there to hear you the first time around.
Cheers, and good luck on the quiet roaring,
The Grumpy Introvert (otherwise known as Jennifer Mattern) is smarter than your average border collie, stronger than your morning coffee, and impervious to Comic Sans and all other forms of forced cheer. She has been an annoying know-it-all since the tender age of 8, when she first began correcting her teachers’ misspellings and offering copious amounts of unsolicited advice to her parents.