Friday, May 16, 2014

31 Flavors of Fearless: Three -Being an Extrovert on an Introvert Internet

#31FlavorsofFearlessThere are very few people who are truly extroverts.

There are very few people who are truly introverts.

Like so many parts of our lives, it's a spectrum, a scale with extremes on both ends with the vast majority of people falling somewhere in the middle. But, as so often happens, social media has no time or use for a spectrum.

So, the camps are carefully divided. The lines are drawn. You're either an extrovert or an introvert.

And, it seems, most of the internet is compromised of introverts.

This morning, when I sat down and checked my newsfeed, I counted six separate articles or posts on introverts by introverts. There are ways to care for introverts. There are things introverts are doing right. There are signs you're an introvert. There are cartoons explaining introverts. There are posts about being an introvert raising a child. There are articles on introverts surviving conferences.

I clicked on most of them, curious. I closed them, stunned and not a little hurt.

If we are to believe extroverts are on the opposite side of the scale as introverts, then it's not a leap to believe the traits of introverts are on a somewhat opposite side as extroverts. As someone on the extrovert side of the scale, I'm a little shocked at how we're being portrayed: flightly, thoughtless, self-centered, soul sucking needy people who don't have a deep thought in their brains and who have an inability to be alone.

I did a quick search and found very, very few posts and articles on extroverts - quite a few of which were focused on teaching extroverts to help introverts, but not the other way around. I can only come to the conclusion we're either a) not nearly interesting enough, or b) we're not nearly as comfortable as introverts writing about how our inner being works. Which seems somewhat, well, ironic.

So let me tell you a little bit about being an extrovert.

Just because I can engage in small talk does not make me an over-sharer nor does it mean I don't have deep thoughts. Small talk is, by its definition, conversation that hovers on the surface. My deeper, more emotional conversations are confined to a few trusted friends. This means I don't post a lot of in depth, emotional information on my blog or on social media not because I don't have those feelings but because they are private.

Which leads me to my friends. I have a lot of acquaintances and a few carefully selected friends who know me so well I need not fear alienating them. I've often said I'm one of the shyest people I know. When I confide this little tidbit, my confidant looks at me in shock. After all, I'm a karaoke singing, belly dancing, chit chatting, dragging people to the dance floor woman. But, and here's the thing, I'm absolutely terrified of offending someone or hurting them in any way.

As, Rowen Badger wrote in one of the few posts on extroverts I could find,
"Many extroverts suffer from various forms of social anxiety, compounded by the knowledge that if we do or say the wrong things, if we are perceived to be thoughtless or undesirable in a social setting, we'll be unwelcome in the group. If that happens often enough, a necessary part of our psyche will starve and fail."
Let's face it. I, as do most extroverts, have a bad habit of saying something that causes The Look: a mixture of horror and pity, combined with shock. Yes, kids. I'm the one who sat at a playdate, so happy to be with moms of babies my own son's age and said, "I don't know...having 18 kids just seems a little excessive." not realizing I was at a Quiverfull playgroup. And yes. That happened eight years ago. And yes. I still remember every detail clearly, including the sting of humiliation and the stomach twist of discomfort. I remember every social mishap, every blunder, every time I've unintentionally hurt someone.

Because of instances like that, I walk through life worried I could lose the social interaction I need, not because I can't be alone, but because I derive pleasure and energy from being around other people.

In fact, I love spending time alone. I always have. Every Monday night, I come home to an empty house. I make my dinner in the silence, breathing in the quiet. I feel the stress of the previous week wash off my shoulders and find myself often cozying up on the couch with a book or alone in the garden, planting and weeding. I ignore my phone and I allow myself to breathe.

As an aside: I also hate crowds. Hate them with a passion. I avoid large festivals at almost any cost. You'd think as an extrovert they'd be in my wheelhouse, but honestly, I find them overwhelming and draining. Interestingly enough, my ex - who is most definitely on the far side of the introvert scale - loves these events precisely because he enjoys the anonymity of being in a large crowd.

Another common misconception with extroverts is that we are careless with other's feelings. To me, that's more of a sign of a lack of compassion that extroverts vs. introverts. Every extrovert I know, myself included, feels pain for our friends as they struggle. We take great strides to not be careless with the people who trust us, perhaps because we so value our closest friends and can only assume those who confide deep thoughts, emotions or feelings to us see us as a close friend.

By the way, I listen to you. Very carefully. I listen to not just your words, but your actions. As an extrovert, I've become adapt at reading people and sorting information which means I know when I'm being bullshitted and I know when I'm being covered with false praise and have little to no patience for it. When I do give praise, I'm not blowing sunshine, but mean it genuinely.

This also means I'm highly uncomfortable promoting myself. My dear friend and fellow extrovert summed it up nicely on her post about being an extrovert:
"The idea of being perceived as being pushy, poorly informed, gauche, needy, foolish (not silly, I’m great with being seen as fun and silly), or unwelcome flat-out terrifies me. Physically. My stomach knots up and I get shaky and my thoughts spin, leaving me unfocused and mildly headachey."
Writing this post terrifies me. I actually started it several weeks ago and have been adding, deleting, editing, changing, and otherwise sitting on it. I'm afraid of alienating a large portion of the internet, of my blogging connections, of my tribe. Worse, I worry over hurting their feelings. After all, a few of those posts were written by people I like and respect and if there's one thing an extrovert's the fear of isolation and ostracization caused by the virtual equivalent of The Look.

So my extrovert friends, know you're not alone on this big introverted internet. And introverted friends, be gentle with us. We feel rather deeply as well.


Cameron Garriepy said...

Yes, I know you quoted me, so it's all meta for me to say it speaks to my experiences, too, but I'm saying it. Because reasons. :)

John said...

Good on you -- I still calorie count, but it's been effective (though, with a concerted effort to eat less bread, I'll admit that the calorie counting has been even more effective over the past month).

Keep it up -- if, for no other reason than reading how excited you are to write about how you're feeling gives me renewed focus in keeping up my own healthy promises to myself.

Cameron Garriepy said...

Apparently, I too am afraid, but you're awfully inspiring :)