By now, I've lived life on both sides. Up until just a few years ago, I thrived on opportunities to be social, and was the picture of misery when my outgoing personality characteristics were not being fed and stroked by plans, phone calls, and general "happy hour" style adventures. I always needed to "be" somewhere, and preferably with others. And this wasn't just a function of age and some sort of ill-defined lack of maturity; I simply needed opportunity after opportunity to feed what was a deeply extroverted side to me. If social opportunities did not "appear" organically, I did what I could to create them, and had a really hard time when my efforts fell short.
I no longer recognize that person; in other words, I've crossed over, and now loathe the very opportunities/activities/social energies that used to feed my sense of self. And because I have experienced life on both sides of this fence, I now know the guilt associated with maintaining an introverted lifestyle.
Yes, I am a guilty introvert.
Susan Cain, in her revolutionary take on introversion, compellingly captures the essence of an introvert's guilt:
Now that you're an adult, you might still feel a pang of guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favor of a good book. Or maybe you like to eat alone in restaurants and could do without the pitying looks from fellow diners. Or you're told that you're "in your head too much," a phrase that's often deployed against the quiet...
Having experienced both sides, I can say the following with confidence:
Extroverts do not have to explain why they detest the phone; why they dread long phone calls; why they dread even picking up the phone. Extroverts do not have to explain why they send 99% of their phone calls to voicemail (yes, even those from Mom) because they probably do not send 99% of their phone calls to voicemail (and especially not those from Mom). Extroverts do not have to explain why it might take them several days to return messages, and why they sometimes opt to send a quick text instead.
I moved recently. And it occurred to me in the weeks leading up to the move that the aspect I most dreaded was the fact that I knew I needed to call AT&T to have my internet switched over to my new address.
Yes. Having to make a single phone call (AT&T would not handle my request online, despite only moving a mere half mile away) was the most dreaded aspect of packing up an entire home and moving it to a new locale. Because I am now painfully introverted, and absolutely despise when communication cannot occur on my terms.
Extroverts do not have to contend as much with fitting in with "happy hour" style social norms, and with anti-social labels. I do enjoy being social, but I enjoy--require--privacy and quiet more. I have stopped attempting to explain this to people--usually extroverts--who construct me as antisocial. But the labels and "advice" remain, usually in the form of an unhelpful "You need to live a little."
Perhaps most devastatingly, extroverts do not have to contend as much with the guilt of failing to meet others' social and communicative needs.
In January, I had to send out my cell phone for repairs, a process which took over two weeks. I received the following "helpful" advice from those who knew I would not be accessible for a little while:
"Why don't you get a replacement for the time being?"
"Why don't you get a new phone?"
"Isn't that going to be difficult, to go all that time without a phone?"
"What about emergencies?"
"What the hell is wrong with you?"
Now we're talking. Got three hours?
Spending the better part of a month without a phone was glorious. No, I did not worry about "emergencies," and no, I did not worry about "keeping in touch." For one thing, I'm not the "what if" type (this mentality takes far more anxious energy than I am willing to give it) and email took care of the "keeping in touch" piece to the extent that was necessary and reasonable.
Perhaps there is something wrong with me.
However, knowing my phone was soon to return was knowledge that brought with it some new anxiety: If I were not careful, I was going to have to conform to the expectation that I spend considerable time catching up on phone calls. Which begs a new question:
When did two and a half weeks of limited contact come to be defined as a big deal?
I am pretty good at establishing--and sticking with--boundaries. But there is always a bit of guilt that goes along with this flavor of steadfastness. Meeting an introvert's needs for quiet and privacy, for many extroverts, has become a zero-sum game. Moreover, meeting an extrovert's needs, and failing to, can result in considerable guilt on the part of the introvert who fails. Resentment abounds, on both sides. And removing yourself from the competition can have negative consequences for relationships, a reality I have experienced firsthand.
Finally, the life of an introvert is not quite as black and white as I've probably made it seem. For example:
I am a teacher, and I am an introvert. Although, based on my course evaluations, you'd never know it.
I am a writer, and I am an introvert. This also seems a bit oxymoronic, doesn't it?
My life, in all its capacities, requires some sort of public performance or another. I am an introvert.
I perform extroversion, but am naturally introverted. And I would love to hear from other introverts who constantly balance who they are with the extroverted expectations that consume their daily lives.