Tuesday, June 26, 2012


"There is no doubt that solitude is a challenge and to maintain balance within it a precarious business. But I must not forget that, for me, being with people or even with one beloved person for any length of time without solitude is even worse. I lose my center. I feel dispersed, scattered, in pieces. I must have time alone in which to mull over my encounter, and to extract its juice, its essence, to understand what has really happened to me as a consequence of it.”  
--May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude

I've been meaning to blog for a while now about a really interesting article by Carl King, published on June 13th on The Creativity Post, entitled, "10 Myths About Introverts."

King argues that Introverts are not only socially misunderstood, but also culturally devalued.  In a world where extroversion is applauded, people are repeatedly encouraged to "get out," "go out," "sell out"--oh, wait, sorry, I slipped--"promote themselves," "network," and "be noticed."

If you don't do this, or if you can't, it is typically perceived as a problem.  The solution to this inability to "get out," "go out," etc. is to tell the person to "get out," "go out" and, in short, "just do it."

Drawing on Marti Laney's The Introvert Advantage, King notes that Introverts aren't simply people who "fail" at being Extroverts.  Instead, recent science suggests that Introverts may respond differently to the neuro-transmitter Dopamine.  Whereas Extroverts can't get enough of the stuff, Introverts may be more sensitive to it.

As a result, large doses of external stimulation--the kind of interactions Extroverts crave-- may bother Introverts in ways that we haven't fully assessed or appreciated.

I definitely fall into the "Introvert" category.  While I've developed some extroverted tendencies in order to survive, in most cases, I've simply learned how to feign extroversion in order to get people to leave me alone, so that I can be my own introverted self.

Luckily for me, my friends consist of fellow-Introverts (many of whom think I'm just a big social butterfly) or understanding Extroverts.  While my extroverted friends don't always understand my preference for being alone, they clearly recognize that it is in fact something I thrive on and they tend to identify it as a plus.

The guys I've dated are usually thrilled.  Finally, they don't have to worry that the woman they're dating is out flirting and chatting with someone else.  Really.  It's not an issue.  Quite frankly, they're lucky I even agreed to talk to them.  (Occasionally, I've very much regretted it.)

In fact, the only people I've ever met who were critical of my introverted tendencies ended up eventually not making my short list of friends or getting booted as boyfriends.  I don't like being told what to do, and I really don't like being told I should be something other than what I am.

What I find interesting about King's article is the notion that Introverts find happiness--you heard that right, folks, happiness--in solitude.  A friend once told me that she envied my ability to "be alone without ever becoming lonely."  I think that sums up introversion quite nicely.  Introverts are more at ease in smaller groups or singular situations because they crave the opportunity to process stimulation more than the stimulation itself.

I remember once fleeing a Best Buy in mental anguish.  I simply could not shop there.  Every single TV, stereo and computer was on at (in my opinion) high volume.  I am not used to that much noise, and I really couldn't take it.  (I tend to think that big-screen TVs are the bane of human existence.  How big does a TV need to be?  It's a TV, for god's sake, and there's usually nothing on.)

Similarly, I agree with King's claim that Introverts need to recharge and process what they've taken in.  If I have a busy social week--meetings, social interactions, classes, etc.--I often get a bit cranky.  I really don't like being around people all the time, not because I don't like the people, but because I feel like I'm falling behind on my thinking.

It's difficult to explain to someone who craves social interaction, I know, but I find that I only enjoy social interaction if I'm connected to someone I find interesting in a meaningful way.  I like talking to students.  I like talking to colleagues.

But I simply cannot network.  I gave up on it years ago.  To me, if feels like I'm being asked to feign interest in someone so that I can use them to further my own personal agenda.

Really, does that sound like something that's right and true and good?  Why am I required to do it?

I prefer to wait until I have an opportunity to interact with the person about something that actually matters and has substance.  If we're on a committee with a specific task, for example, or if I've heard them present an idea that I find intriguing.  Otherwise, I feel like I'm being asked to be shallow and superficial, and I really don't like that.

It just isn't how I want to define myself.  And to me, self-definition is very important.

That said, though, I don't mind social pleasantries.  They don't make me uncomfortable, although a lot of my more introverted friends find them particularly frustrating or annoying and uncomfortable.  For me, small talk is a kind of social glue--it's a way of showing that I'm willing to be a member of a community.

I particularly like how King reverses the terms of the debate, stating, "there are still plenty of techniques an Extrovert can learn in order to interact with Introverts," in order to show how much we tend to assume that extroversion is the norm with which Introverts must comply.

I think the people I know who are happiest as Extroverts share an important similarity with Introverts: in both cases, the focus is on the quality of the relationships forged, not the quantity.  My extroverted friends don't simply crave shallow or superficial social interactions.  In fact, they're committed to finding deep, meaningful and intimate connections to others, just like Introverts.

They just go about it in very different ways.


  1. I can network only online. I can't do it in person. Thanks for an enlightening article!

  2. It's so much easier online, I think, because you have a chance to think about what you want to say and how you want to approach someone. You can do all of the self-conscious agonizing privately, and focus on making sure you don't make any embarrassing typos. :)

    I really like Sherry Turkle's book, Alone Together, because it cautions us about the negative impact of technology, but I'm now rethinking some of her claims through the lens of introversion... Although I didn't realize it initially, her ideas do assume that extroversion is not only a common denominator, but a definite human good.


Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."