I love being an introvert. I love the strengths this disposition affords me (introspection, focus, calmness, gentleness, critical thought), and I embrace the fact that while some activities come more naturally to me as an introvert (writing, quiet study, listening), other—seemingly simple—daily activities are harder. And extroverts just don’t seem to understand. But why should they unless we allow them to see through our eyes? So, extroverted friends and colleagues, here is my small attempt to show you a typical day through my introverted eyes.
I stop for coffee on my way to work at a large public university. This is a frequent (okay, almost daily) habit for me, and I know the baristas. At least, I know them by sight, and they know me (and my drink order). But as far as I know, they don’t know my name. I walk in and see that it’s the dark-haired girl with Hindi writing tattooed on her forearm making drinks. I only know her name because of her name tag. It reads “Ellie.” She is nice, and I like her. But do I rejoice that I will get to talk to this nice person whom I like? Nope! Instead, all kinds of thoughts are running through my mind. When should I say hello—right when I see her? She looks busy—I don’t want to distract her. And should I say my drink order at the register (it’s the tall blond-haired guy, Gavin, working the till), or do I assume that he remembers it when I hand him my reusable mug?
I overhear another patron asking Ellie about her vacation. Apparently she went to Chicago over the weekend. Do they know each other outside of the patron-barista relationship? How, in interactions that last a few minutes a day, did they get to the point where they know about each other’s lives? I don’t know how to do that. I can make conversation, but it’s restricted to the niceties and talk about the weather, which, granted, in Minnesota is actually an interesting topic, but still.
My interactions with Gavin and Ellie as I go about getting my coffee are cordial but superficial. They make excellent coffee—an introvert’s best friend.
I get to work, settle in, and open up my email. There it is: the little red light on my desk phone indicating that I have a voicemail. As I listen to the message, I evaluate whether I can justifiably respond by email instead of calling the person back. Maybe the caller will leave an email address in their message, thereby giving me permission to respond by email. No such luck. Or maybe it’s one of my students who has questions answers to which require web links or attachments? Nope, it’s a parent—strike two. Even worse, they don’t specify their questions in their message. It’s just: “I have some questions for you. Please give me a call.” So there’s no chance I can just call and hopefully leave the answers on their voicemail. No, there is simply no way around it. I’ll have to have a phone conversation. There’s no rational reason to be nervous, but there’s something about this method of communication that causes me stress. It’s infuriating.
Time for a meeting. Meetings are a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I don’t mind the chance to listen, absorb, and contribute thoughtfully when I have something to add. But I’m always aware that my silence may seem to some as if I’m not engaged or have nothing to say. And that’s not true. I just think things through before I say them, and sometimes I realize the point is moot or the idea won’t work before I say it, so I don’t say it. Other people think aloud, and that’s fine, but it’s not me. Also, if someone else makes a point I was going to make—and this happens often because others are more forceful speakers than I am—I don’t repeat it. Some people feel the need to make their point whether it has already been made or not, which strikes me as a waste of time and frustrates me to no end.
The workday is over! Wa-hoo! I am very excited to retreat to my car, put on my music, and sing the tension out of my shoulders.
It’s Friday night, and I have a social engagement. I should be leaving in a few minutes…but suddenly I feel reluctant to attend the activity that sounded fun when I agreed to it. If my husband were going with me, it’d be fine. But tonight my spouse has to work the night shift, so I’ll be going alone. I consider whether I can bail without causing too much inconvenience to the people I’m supposed to see. If it were a big party where I wouldn’t necessarily be missed, maybe I’d skip it. But no, it is a gathering with just a few friends. I had better go. I always have a good time when I get there, but for some reason this reluctance crops up, and it’s a hurdle I have to get over to get myself out of the house.
I’m having a good time, but I’ve been here for 2 hours now, and it’s enough for me. Can I leave now without being too rude? Most likely I’ll endure for a bit longer, even though my participation in the conversation is starting to peter out, and then make my excuses. But my friends understand—they know me!
I’m home. My husband is at work, and I have the house to myself. Alone time at last! I change into my pajamas and curl up on the couch, wrapped in a blanket. My dog jumps up and settles in behind my legs, his chin resting on my calves. I cue up the next episode of Orange Is the New Black on Netflix and settle in to wind down before going to bed.