I know it’s trendy to be an introvert these days. Or, perhaps the internet is just full of more of us than not. It was made for us, after all, the shelter of screens and keyboards and typewritten eloquence.
But I finally realized a few years ago that that’s exactly what I am. I mean, Myers-Briggs says I am one (I’m an INFP for those of you who are interested in those sorts of things, and which apparently means I’m perfectly suited to my job and somehow similar to the likes of Fred Rogers and James Taylor). But it never really clicked with me until I read this article about caring for the introvert in your life. And finally I could articulate what I’d unsuccessfully been trying to communicate to people for ages:
I’m not antisocial. But being social exhausts me.
I enjoy people. I like social events, and I can be incredibly outgoing in the right environment with the right people. But no matter what, once I’ve immersed myself in the people parade for a while and done the rounds of cocktails and such, I want out. I want to go away, turn off the noise, hide in a quiet room somewhere and get room service.
I go do talks at events, and I disappear. I do the conference thing during the day, but by night I prefer to socialize with small, intimate groups of people I know well rather than going to another dreaded networking social hour with bad wine and soggy fried wonton things. As a result, I’ve been mistaken for the snob who is “too good” to hang out with people, when really, I’m just intimidated, weary, and needing to replenish my emotional stores with the people I know love and care for me unconditionally (which are a very few, and I’m eternally grateful for them). It’s what equips me to go do it again the next day.
For conference calls, meetings, or those kinds of business things, I really have to get myself in the right head space. I need to leave gaps between meetings whenever I can so that I can readjust and prepare myself for the next encounter, especially with people that I don’t know well. And I always do manage to overcome it, but so many people are surprised when I tell them that.
“But you seem so social!”
I am social, when it’s on my terms. When the world thrusts situations at me, it takes me a few steps to adjust to them. I’ve gotten really good at it and you’ll never see me flinch. But inside, I am definitely having a conversation with myself (which, if you heard it, would make you even more convinced that I’d lost my marbles).
When I’m home – that is to say, not traveling for work or speaking or something like that – I am Home. I’m as home as I know how to be. I like my house, and the comfort of familiar surroundings. I have things I like to do, but I like to do a lot of them alone or with my daughter. I can’t imagine anything more undesirable than having a bunch of acquaintances in my house for some kind of cocktail party. I don’t know my neighbors that well, and that’s okay with me. They’d think I’m weird anyway.
My sense of adventure is found somewhere on an open road in a convertible holding the right person’s hand. Or wandering in the forest, or on the beach. Or having a quiet drink on a terrace looking up at the stars. I don’t crave adrenaline, or climbing a mountain, or racing down a ski slope. My appreciation for the majesty of my world is really rather found in a certain kind of solitude.
Oddly enough, my kiddo is the most social little critter ever. She hangs out the window of the car waving at passerby on the street and shouting hello. She always wants to bring cookies to the kid down the street she doesn’t know, just because “he might not have any cookies at his house, Mommy!”. She’s the center of attention all the time, loves being with other kids (and adults for that matter) and absolutely just can’t get enough of people and social situations.
It’s been an interesting journey for me, seeing the world through her eyes, given my discomfort with all things crowd-related. Watching her insatiable curiosity, her wonder at the world, her joy in simple things. Some of that’s being four. Some of that is the soul of my child, finding its purpose in the world, and I can see it in the depths of her cerulean eyes.
My “F” in my INFP is the whole foundation of my personality, and where I peg the charts. I feel. Deeply, at times painfully. To me, feelings and emotions are unruly beasts, but they are also sacred. And to be protected, which is why so few people see them up close. It’s why I can cry, watching my daughter make friends and bring joy to others. And it’s also why, while I may be home safely ensconced in my blanket on my sofa wrapped around a cup of tea or a glass of wine, I wonder what people think when I decline their polite invitation to dinner or lunch or a party.
At the lovely age of 36, I am finally making peace with my mess inside. With my powerful desire to be with and around a few special humans, and my resistance to being among the crowd. With my love for bombastic fun that can only and always be tempered with my need to find quiet and peace to reset. With my unbridled feelings that sometimes carry me places that I’d rather not go, and sometimes bring in the most catastrophically beautiful things that turn my world upside down.
I’m a hermit, sometimes. I am. It doesn’t mean I don’t see the world, or drink in all its amazement, or breathe in experiences and let them roll around in my spirit for a while. I just do those things quietly. I see you over there, too, and I watch in wonder while you tackle the world in a way that’s foreign to me. I love that it’s different. And while I have big words sometimes about taking the world by storm, in truth I’m likely over here contemplating something far less torrential, but with no less meaning to me. I indeed intend to change the world.
It just might happen mostly in my pajamas, with a good book, a dog on my lap, and warm socks within reach.