Dear Introverts, We Need To Do Better. Signed, A Fellow Introvert
Well, well, well.
It looks like the shoe’s on the other foot now, introverts!
After a lifetime of “outsider”-ness, we’re suddenly living in a world we’re naturally well-suited for, while our extroverted friends are losing. their. shit.
It’s bizarro world. It’s the Upside Down. It’s ironic. (Don’t you think?)
For years, introverts have identified with (and, let’s be real, embraced) the idea that this world wasn’t built for us.
In fact, that right there is one of the foundational concepts of introversion as we understand it:
Our Western, capitalist, patriarchal culture tends to favor the qualities of the extrovert — outgoing, smiley, “team players” who live for networking events and just loooove an open floor plan — while devaluing and/or stigmatizing the introvert as misanthropic, standoffish, shy, and sullen.
Before we go any further: I’m talking here about introversion and extroversion, and our cultural understanding of what those terms mean, specifically as they apply to women & femmes. (An introverted *man*, as we all know, is a mysterious genius, aka the “strong, silent type.” 😉)
There is truth in this, of course. About 76% of my childhood, teens, and early adulthood consisted of people telling me I looked “too serious” when I wasn’t smiling, or that they thought I “didn’t like them” when we first met.
(Hey, assholes. I WAS THINKING.)
And it’s also true that quiet, think-y people might get passed over for promotions sometimes, or miss out on opportunities that would otherwise further their careers, because the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and introverts are very much NOT squeaky.
But that version of things is both limited, and limiting. (Case in point: the “extroverted introvert,” the “introverted extrovert,” and all the other ways in which the human experience insists on defying such simplistic definitions.)
In an age where so many of our pre-pandemic habits, beliefs, conveniences, and blind spots are being called into question and reevaluated (do we really need 2-day delivery? is that gym membership actually worth it? etc.) our understanding of introversion and extroversion is also — finally — showing some cracks.
What I’m saying is: introverts, some of you have a real stank attitude right now. 🤨
Imagine if extroverts posted sh*t like this pre-pandemic?
“I’m so great at going places and talking to people. Suck it, introverts!”
And okay, yes. We (introverts) have had to constantly navigate a culture that demands our constant availability, unflagging engagement, perpetual positivity, and big, attention-getting energy.
And yes, that can be exhausting sometimes. And yes, extroverts seem to have less trouble managing it all.
That was never the extroverts’ fault.
And more importantly — nobody was FORCING introverts to go out. There’s always been a great deal of social and professional pressure, and some not-insignificant consequences for opting out… but none of that is the same thing as a government mandate.
So, yes, introverts — it’s definitely a challenge to thrive when your basic nature seems to be in conflict with what society prefers. Nobody’s trying to take that away from you here.
But perhaps we’re in that stage of development where we’ve spent enough time looking inward in an attempt to understand ourselves, and are now ready to look outward and try to better understand others.
Or, if we weren’t there already, perhaps this pandemic can be the catalyst to get us there.
So, let’s talk about extroverts for a sec.
Our collective culture, for reasons that are beyond the scope of this essay, seems to want a binary definition of these things: You’re either THIS, or you’re THAT.
And if THIS = good; then THAT must be bad. If you are one of the things (say, genetically female, thin, able-bodied) then you can’t ALSO be the other one. You can’t be thin AND fat, for example.
There are about eight hundred rabbit holes we can explore at this point, all of which are worthy discussions… but let’s stay focused on introversion vs. extroversion.
A binary constrains us.
It makes it impossible to celebrate BOTH introversion AND extroversion as necessary, complementary personality traits that the human race needs in equal measure (which they are, and we do).
Instead, it becomes a zero sum equation: Introverts are under appreciated and intelligent! Therefore, extroverts must be vapid and oblivious!
It reminds me a little of when the ideas around Health At Every Size and anti-fat-shaming started to enter “mainstream” consciousness — and instead of embracing every body, which is what those movements are about, you saw people and media turning to the skinny people (ahem, women), shaming THEM for promoting unhealthy ideals.
Hi! Not the point.
(h/t to all the body justice writers, activists, and others who have been actively engaged in those principles since long before the mainstream culture got “woke” to it.)
If you think I’m wrong, ask yourself this…
Who’s been talking to extroverts about how THEY can thrive? Anyone? (Bueller?)
Who’s educating THEM on what makes them the way they are, and the vital role they play in human evolution, and what THEY need to do to achieve balance in this life?
Crickets. We’re talking to them about how they can be better friends, parents, partners, and teachers to introverts.
What a drag, amiright?
When you’re trying to correct an imbalance like this, it’s only natural to tip the scales the other way for awhile. And you know, I feel like we have. On the whole, introverts seem to be better respected and more widely understood than they were like, ten years ago. (If for no other reason than we now have better, more accurate language with which to talk about it.)
Read: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t’ Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
*This link will take you to IndieBound, a site committed to supporting local booksellers. 🙂
But now we’re in a global pandemic, and introverts — we’re being called to do better. Our extroverted friends need us now.
And unlike us, they have NOT had a lifetime of practice at this.
So. Can we try to remember what it was like to be on the other side of this equation? It’s not like it was that long ago…
Can we appreciate that, as an introvert living in an extroverts’ world, we had multiple options at our disposal, while the extrovert stuck at home does not? We could choose to stay home, decline invitations, hide in the bathroom for ten minutes (my go-to move, by the way), turn off our phones, leave early.
And even now, we’re recoiling from all these Zoom calls and group texts, lamenting the loss of solitude as our homes are permanently occupied with spouses and kids (not MY house, but you know, people).
We’re telling extroverts to “get creative” — but no amount of creativity will change the fact that they aren’t allowed to leave the house and socialize, which is what they really need right now.
Nobody can blame you for taking a second to luxuriate in the sudden role reversal, if for no other reason than the sheer novelty of it all. (It really is so fascinating, right?) And I know how easy it is to get swept up in the snarky humor of social media culture.
But real talk, my extrovert friends take really good f*cking care of me. And while it might not be in my nature to throw them a party, or… do other “extrovert” things (?)—I’m trying my hardest to take care of them now.
Here are a few ideas. You can have them, too. 🙂
- Being more flexible with my boundaries. I’m normally on a pretty strict lockdown during work hours — phone on silent, messaging apps closed, noise cancelling headphones, the whole deal. These days I’m relaxing my edges a bit, so I can be more available to my friends when they reach out. (This is a work in progress.)
- Dropping in for spontaneous video calls, every day (or as close as I can get). We use the House Party app for this because it allows you to bust in on each other without having to bother with sending links and whatnot.
- Regular “checking in” texts. And also just a lot of texting about un-serious things, like scrunchies and funny Reductress posts.
- Sending random barrages of gifs and video clips featuring people partying, riding the subway, and otherwise congregating / doing things.
- Expressing my love and appreciation for them more often, more vocally, and with less inhibition.
- Being mindful of the content I share & support. I’m not liking, sharing, or reposting any “smug introvert” content, because it hurts my friends’ feelings, and not hurting my friends’ feelings is more important to me than making other smug introverts laugh. 😏
- Actively pushing back on any incorrect assumptions and/or attempts to stereotype my experience (or anyone else’s) right now. I LIKE LEAVING MY HOUSE, okay? A lot. I like seeing my friends. I like chic hotels and funky coffee shops and wandering around in bookstores for three hours. Isolation isn’t my dream scenario, either… AND I’m an introvert. Deal with it.
- Trying to listen, understand, and treat my extrovert friends with the same patience, care, and kindness that *I* want to be treated with. This one seems obvious? But hey, here we are.
So yes, let’s all revel in Introvert World for as long as it lasts, even if it does sound like the most boring Westworld theme park of all time.
But while we’re here, let’s also think about what we want our world to be like.
I vote for one where everyone is welcome. Introverts and extroverts, living together.
Everyone in between the lines and everyone outside the lines and everyone who thinks the lines are bullshit to begin with.
Everyone except Donald Trump. Let’s leave his sociopathic cheeto ass behind.
(h/t to my friend Kelly Terry, for bringing this to my attention, talking to ALL the airport strangers, and being an excellent fucking friend. I love you.)
(and to my client & friend Carmen Cool, for the concept of living outside the lines.)
Samantha Pollack writes creative copy (mostly emails) for feminist companies and/or thought leaders who are working to build a fairer, more connected culture. She’s also the founder of The Highly Sensitive Entrepreneur, a 6-week course that helps HSP business owners create healthier, more sustainable systems in their work.
She publishes frequent essays on feminism, privilege, pop culture, entrepreneurship, the creative process, and more on her website, cultofpersonality.co. She currently lives in Asheville, NC, and while she can *technically* work from anywhere, she prefers her adventures laptop-free.
Emails for cult thought leaders.
Want to learn how to craft emails that inspire action and engagement WITHOUT the “tried and true” (cough: patriarchal) norms we’ve all been taught?
I’m doing it, and I can show you how to do it, too.
(But sometimes, I also like to write about the books I’m reading, or the creative process, or the entrepreneurial experience, or why I hate Steve Jobs, or how I met my BFF. I’ll send you emails like that, too.)
*Just kidding. It’s only an email list.