Friday, October 30, 2009

A Note To Introverts From A Recovering Extrovert.

It's interesting to me how introverts and extroverts always come together like magnets. I figure the introvert is looking for someone to take the edge off and produce small talk for them. And the extrovert is looking for someone to listen to their incessant rambling without interruption. It actually works quite well. What's interesting is that both of these, when severe, is considered social anxiety. They're just on opposite sides of the spectrum.

My husband and I were the perfect example of it. We used to go to parties and when we got home I would ask him, "Do you think I offended any one of the million people I was talking to tonight? I just rambled on and on about my thong because I couldn't stand the silent gaps. At one point I started talking about our checking account and I rambled off our PIN number. Dammit. I'm sure they think I'm a coke addict, but I hate those few seconds of silence when no one talks..."

To which my husband would reply, "Are you kidding? I was in the corner rocking myself in the fucking fetal position because I was so terrified of all the small talk. There is no way I can monitor your conversations when I can't even greet someone. Christ, I'm exhausted."

I overcompensated to relieve my anxiety and he was catatonic. We made quite a pair. I was busy jamming persectives of myself into people's heads: "Please see me as a strong, independent, witty woman!" I forgot that what people think of me is none of my business. My husband on the other hand, couldn't even peel himself off the wall to care about perspective. He just wanted to make it through a party without being petrified.

The thing about parties and the socially anxious extrovert is that we can't imagine someone not wanting the spotlight. So we exhaust ourselves, trying to gush and shine our intense light on every introvert at the party to make them feel welcome and happy. We don't realize we're terrifying them, we think we're making them feel special.

You see, the anxious extroverts of the world want to make sure you introverts are getting enough attention. Because frankly, we can't seem to get enough of it. If you return from a trip, we want to shower you with attention and maybe even burst out in a "Welcome Home" song for you (I have done this). It's difficult to let you slide into a room without creating a big party for you. Because if we create a big buzz, we get to share the spotlight with you. So you see, we're not actually doing it all for you. It's more about producing attention-getting schemes so we can bask in the gregarious social cluster with you.

I'm happy to report that my husband and I have outgrown our social anxieties for the most part. However, if I have an intense listener that takes more than 4 seconds to respond to my babbling, I tend to fill in the excruciating silence with meaningless babble. And if there is a social gathering of strangers, my husaband may take a few bathroom trips to break up the pain of it all. But for the most part, we enjoy ourselves without exhausting all our energy.

I've recently learned to sit back and listen to other people. It's heart-warming to discover how incredible people are. I had no idea I had such amazing friends. I was so busy talking, I didn't have time to learn about their hopes, dreams, and challenges. Nice friend I was. But hey, everyone is work in progress right?


  1. Thank you for explaining my MIL and SIL's constant rambling Q and mostly A sessions that make holidays so D@MN painful for my socially awkward self. Back to rocking in the corner now ;)

  2. You and Derek may feel like that on the inside but to those of us who have been to parties with you...You are WONDERFUL party guests! Every party needs BOTH extroverts and introverts, we need talkers AND listeners, you guys are a perfect balance and always welcome at my parties! I love your rambling! :)

  3. Lisa,
    Thanks for posting and giving me a laugh!

  4. Thanks for the laugh (at you as well as my wife and I). There's a 20 minute comedy sketch in her somewhere for sure -- it's such a universal truth everyone can see themselves in it.

  5. ShaySL,

    Thanks for posting! I swear, I have terrified so many introverts out there. And you're right, it could totally be a Saturday Night Live skit. "The Extrovert That Terrifies Introverts".