Jonathan Rauch wrote a short essay for The Atlantic in 2003 that generated more email than anything he’s ever written. It was titled, “Caring For Your Introvert” and explained what introversion is and how hard it is for an introvert to exist in a predominantly extroverted world.
I can relate.
I have always been an introvert, and unlike some people, I think I always knew that about myself. That might partly be because my only sibling is an extrovert and the contrast between us was just too hard to ignore. She and I must be something completely different and if she was an extrovert, which she undeniably is, then I must be the opposite.
Extroverts thrive on interaction with others, introverts can only abide it. That makes introverts sound stuck-up and anti-social, which they–and I–are often accused of. But it’s not that introverts dislike or consider themselves better than other people. It’s a matter of survival. And not only psychological survival, as in “she’s just driving me crazy,” but even physical survival. Introverts who are forced to act against their nature–in other words, like extroverts–can suffer actual physical conditions similar to those suffered by those undergoing extreme stress. Hence the frequent accusation that we’re also hypochondriacs or drama-queens.
My husband is also an introvert. This works out well for us, because we naturally give each other a lot of space–because we need it ourselves. We can spend all day in the same house and never speak to each other except when we pass each other on the way to the bathroom or when getting another cup of coffee. Our idea of a vacation is to have plenty of time to “debrief.” We wouldn’t mind going on vacation with each other–and no one else–because then we wouldn’t have to dance to an extrovert’s tune. Extroverts always want to be doing something. Introverts just want to be left alone.
Do we miss out on a lot of fun and excitement? Perhaps. But what good does it do to throw yourself around in a whirl of activities if it’s only going to make you sick? It’s not unlike having vertigo. We don’t feel dizzy exactly, but we do find it hard to find our equilibrium. That doesn’t mean that I never want to do anything; it only means that I have to have some measure of control over the situation. If I don’t, I am perfectly capable of going along for the ride, but don’t expect me to act like an extrovert. I may be able to, but as Rauch wrote in his essay, I’d feel like I was acting.
I never thought about it when I was having children, but I created the worst scenario for myself as an introvert: I had four children within six years, which guaranteed that for at least the first decade I could never even go to the bathroom alone. I was almost relieved when my children hit their teens and started to leave the house more, except that I worried more about them when they weren’t around, so it wasn’t much of a trade-off. Now that they’re all grown, I normally get the time that I need to be alone. It isn’t that I don’t like being around them. It’s just that, like when I’m at a party, I’d just rather sit back and soak up what’s going on around me.
And then, once they’ve gone home, take a nap.