Although neither of us is extreme, I’m introverted and my boyfriend is extroverted. The biggest difference (and the hardest thing to understand) is how we react to a fun social event. He gets charged up and wants to stay as long as he can (pretty much up to the point where it would be rude to stay). Then he is a total chatterbox all the way home. I get worn out and want to leave much earlier. And I really don’t want conversation on the way back.
We both have fun at social events (I’m not so introverted I can’t go out, and I do like people), but deciding when to leave and the ride home can cause hurt feelings on both sides. Sometimes I think we should take separate cars!
I don’t even like that. presentations at school were extremely nerve-wracking. even to this day you tell me I have to stand in front of a group of people and speak at them and I get all twisted. Hell, we had some stupid thing at work a couple of years ago for “take your kid(s) to work day” where I had to give this spiel about stuff to a relative handful of kids who likely couldn’t have given less of a shit about what I had to say, and I was still a wreck.
I’m an extravert. I like being with people, because I find them fun and interesting. I don’t mind putting it out there, I quite like giving presentations, I used to be an actor, I have played guitar and sang for money, I love socialising (though as I get older I find I am less comfortable at a huge party, and prefer a more intimate soiree).
But it has a flipside: I really don’t like being alone.
I have done a lot of soul-searching over the past couple of years and realised that such was this extraversion that I actually was scared to be alone. Almost pathologically so. I hated my own company, and in the past I have sought out and put up with people who act like dicks just for the sake of having someone around. I eventually realised that solitude was one of my worst fears.
Which is why I did what I did: in order to confront this and see if I could conquer it, I subjected myself to living as a recluse for six months. And after the first couple of weeks I really started to enjoy it. It was like a little self-observing, judgemental voice in my head finally got silenced.
I haven’t totally been able to avoid having a social life - I have inadvertently made a few friends along the way - and have posted to the SDMB a lot in lieu of company, but the day-to-day hours of just being with myself have been really refreshing and no longer hold the kind of concern for me that they used to.
I’m not sure which I am, really. I always thought I was the extravert with social anxiety, but I’ve learned over the years that I’m not unhappy being by myself. The reason I say this is that I definitely felt the urge to be the center of attention, to be popular and well liked. I was always up for talking to new people, except when my anxiety got in the way.
I say all this to say that I may straddle the fence, so I’ll try to answer a few things. Talking to random people just helps you feel connected. You know what’s going on, and you know that you are well liked. It’s a way to satisfy my curiosity of the world.
A desire to be the center of attention is harder to articulate. Basically, it’s because, the few times I’ve experienced actually being the center of attention in a positive way, it’s been amazing. I feel like I no longer have any limitations. Anxiety is gone. I’m interacting with everyone, and everyone likes me. In that moment, I feel like I finally fit into the world around me. I guess there’s a control issue, but honestly, part of the fun is not being in control, and that not bothering me. For the briefest amount of time, I’m just experiencing life.
Then there are the more mundane times where I’m just playing or singing in front of people. That is just more about being appreciated by others. The feeling that, of course I like myself, but it others like and appreciate what I do, that means something more. That’s not the same as the feeling like the center of attention, as it’s much more nerve-wracking.
Now whether this is how a true extrovert feels, I don’t know. But does it at least make sense why it might be appealing?
I think this is the ultimate social mystery to me.
How do you do that?
How do you, in the moment, decide who to approach, what to say, what not to say? I can only conclude that there must be a substratum of body language or something that I just don’t pick up.
My mother was like that too. She could talk to bank presidents or dockworkers. And she was politically active. And her clients–she later worked as a welfare caseworker at the Ministry of Community and Social Services–all trusted her.
My father, on the other hand, was a classic reserved introvert. I now understand this much better.
Fine, fine… I too like to know that my ideas are being considered on their merits. But I don’t need to speak to transfer them; a carefully-crafted image or piece of text will do the job just as well.
But this assumes that the people will appreciate you. For me, during most of my life this was not the case. My early experience of crowd attention was uniformly negative: if I was the centre of attention, it was only because they wanted to destroy or shame me.
The idea that being the centre of attention could be a good thing was utterly foreign to me. If I hadn’t experienced such attention once in my life, I’d be disbelieving of it still.
Once I was on a week-long retreat with other members of a study group. We were having dinner, and, incredibly, I was telling jokes and the timing was perfect and the others were laughing hysterically. Granted, they were people who knew me well, and we’d essentially been locked up with only each other for company for five days, and we were in each others’ pockets and in each others’ brains by that point, but still… If I could figure out what it was that I did differently that night, that I had never done before, and bottle it for sale, I’d be a billionaire.
And that there is a sector of people for whom this is normal and essential, that’s difficult for me to feel.
I figured out the best way to explain this to my friends is to tell them I have social batteries and they need to be recharged more frequently. I think extroverts recharge their social batteries by being social, where introverts drain their social batteries by being social.
I take after my mom, we’re both introverts. But my dad and my brother are both extroverts who have done sales and been involved in politics.
Think of it this way. When you come back home from your trip, what kind of story do you want to tell? Do you want to say, “I went out to this restaurant; I tried the [local specialty]; then I went back to the hotel.” Or would you rather say, “I went to this restaurant where I met this lovely couple from the neighborhood… they recommended this dish and told me the best way to prepare it at home - not to mention how to pronounce it correctly. Then they clued me in on the best bar in the area, and they even gave me their email in case I wanted to meet up with them again on my next visit…”?
Granted, seeing the value of such an interaction does not presume one is actually comfortable initiating it, but I think that is basically where the urge to address strangers comes from.
For me, the biggest reason I travel is to experience other cultures. Scenery is neat, but for it’s, well, scenery. Architecture is cool, but only in as much as it reflects the culture that created it. What I really want to do when I travel is to get a taste of other ways of life, other ways of understanding the world, and to know what it’s like to live a life that is so different than my own. For me, it’s all about people.
I’m shy, so I don’t tend to walk up to strangers to often. But I look harmless and approachable, so people tend to naturally open up around me. I think it’s easy for people to confide in someone that is obviously foreign and removed from their social circles, and of course they are often curious as well. I do my best to stay approachable (no headphones, dress appropriately, travel solo) and people come (on busses, in cafes, at markets, waiting in line) to me and tell me the most amazing stories.
I think it’s on the Dope that someone said people are like a short story written by god. That’s how I feel when I travel- like I’m reading a series of fascinating short autobiographies.
And when I remember my travels, what I remember most vividly is the people I met along the way.
I’ve heard that from others in varying degrees. I’ve seen it too – friends who literally couldn’t function unless there was somebody else’s presence nearby. Other friends had to be on the phone if they were alone. Like the concept of eating alone I explained upthread, the concept of being home alone with a good book or in front of a computer is completely lost on them.
I suppose my having the TV on when I’m by myself if something akin to this. I don’t watch TV very often, but I have it on for noise. It makes me think I’m not the only person in the house, even though I actually am.
Good God, yes. Extroverts, for all their stereotype of being the socially adept “people person”, seem to be largely insensitive to the feelings of anyone who isn’t exactly like them. It’s like they can only see entire rooms, not individual people.
jimm, I’m curious about the 6-month long recluse thing.
Do you mean you just lived alone for 6 months? Or did you go all “Into the Wild”?
I guess you can say that if it weren’t for work and my once-a-week yoga class, I’d be a recluse. I typically go the entire weekend without speaking. I rarely make phone calls or shoot people social emails. I’m going to the see the Lion King this week, but I will be all alone. I bought the single ticket without giving it a second thought.
I’m aware this makes me weird, and I’m not exactly proud of it. I do feel my cheeks grow warm when someone asks me who I went on vacation with. I was scolded the other day by the office secretary when I told her I was going to see the Lion King. “It never occurred to you to INVITE someone! Girl, what’s WRONG with you?” (She treats me like her “special” child…so there was some love there.)
The thing is, I could never see myself doing what you did and flipping the script on my life. Maybe it’s because even the deepest introverts are regularly exposed to people, so there’s little mystery for us? I don’t know. But you’ve got mad respect from me. Most people aren’t brave enough to challenge themselves like you did.
Several years ago, when I was living in northern NJ, my ultra-extroverted sister called me up. I was about half a year into my graduate program, and she was asking me about all the friends I had and what I did in my social life.
She was not at all satisfied with my answers and expressed concern about my solitude, saying it was very abnormal. This kind of ticked me off. I hadn’t even brought up this line of conversation and here I was being berated for simply being honest. Something I’d never really been with her before.
So I told her I was concerned about her. I asked if she’d ever gone to the movies alone or dined in a restaurant alone. Crickets! I told her that while I agree being alone all the time is abnormal, NOT being able to be alone is just as equally weird. And incredibly, she agreed with me!
So a few months later she came up to visit me, leaving behind her entourage. Her expressed goal was to go into NYC and spend the day all alone. Not even with me. I was impressed that she was actually following my advice. So she set out for the day and I crossed my fingers.
The girl only lasted an hour! She was on the A train where she befriended some teenagers and was soon incorporated into their “gang”. A 30-something mother of two, hanging out with some teenagers she didn’t know! We laughed about it. After that day, she’s never given me a problem about my social life (or lack of) and I have tried to be more understanding (and forgiving) of her personality.
The flip side of that is introverts tend to be inwardly focused, so they tend to prefer smaller and more intimate interactions focused specifically on them.
Extroversion/introvertion (as defined by Meyers-Briggs) doesn’t really mean “loud insensitive borish party animal / socially retarded friendless agoraphobe”. It’s just a tendency to get energy from other people or from being alone.
There are different degrees too. For example, I like to be out among people partying it up Friday and Saturday night. But I also like to spend my Saturday or Sunday afternoon mostly relaxing by myself.
I’m in month five, six weeks left. Here was my original plan. In actual fact I’ve been considerably more exposed to civilisation than I planned, and I curse myself and the day I worked out how to hack my phone to get internet. That wasn’t part of the plan. But still it’s been a massive learning experience.
Thanks. I’m very glad I did it. In Jungian theory, while there’s a dichotomy of preferences, it is possible to ‘flex’ oneself to the other side, but some people never try, or find it too much effort to try. I thought I’d give this one a go. If only I could flex the bits of myself to do with concentration, dedication and organisation too. Still I’m on course to finish the first draft of a novel.
jimm, I’m trying to imagine how I would do what you’ve done, only in the reverse.
Rent out rooms to boisterous college kids?
Go dating…with multiple men, sometimes at the same time?
Throw house parties every week?
Start chatting up everyone in my office, whether they want to talk or not?
Even reasonable “baby steps”–like making a friend and actually sticking with them for longer than a week–seem impossible.
This isn’t just a trivial question for me. Because I am similar to that “extreme” introvert, who doesn’t want to share the sidewalk with anyone, who will walk five miles rather than call someone for help. And it is a tough existence (though I think it sounds worse when described on paper). I would like to change…and I am changing in some ways (like going to see the Lion King!) But I still feel like I live behind a wall. Every time I step out from behind it, I only crave it more.
monstro, for you maybe the baby steps are the massive change. Have a chat with one person. Ask someone if they would like to have lunch - or organise a general lunch out for the office and accept whoever comes. Ask someone for help if you need it. If you enjoy the Lion King, maybe go to another show and ask someone to go with you.
The craving is probably the same - when I was first alone I craved company so much it was almost painful. But that wore off within a couple of weeks, and eventually it was OK. I suspect you may find the reverse would work.
Well, it’s not like going to a show with someone is any kind of meaningful social interaction in and of itself. I mean, you’re sitting in the dark not looking at or talking to each other. At that point, it honestly doesn’t matter if the person sitting next to you in the dark not looking at or talking to you is a stranger or someone you brought with you. Granted, most folks would get dinner or something before or after, which is a meaningful social interaction, but still.