Getting out of the introverse

There was a great cartoon I saw during the many COVID lockdowns that had a first panel where an introvert was saying ‘I just need some time alone to recharge my batteries’ and the second panel showed them after the lockdowns and they were glowing with energy.

It’s fair to say I felt ‘seen’.

Oh sure, COVID did bring with it; learning from home, existential dread, increased stress on families, financial hardship, an increase in people falling down social media rabbit holes without daily interactions from people who would normally tell them to ignore that stuff, and a regrettable increase in the number of people saying ‘Nice to eMeet you’.

But it did pretty much reduce to zero the number of times people were forced to attend social events where they had to listen to people talk about what school they’re sending their child to, or what their renovation plans are. In fact, you could just not attend any social events, and you were considered a good person for doing that. If the doorbell rang, you were under no obligation to enter into small talk with someone, because that person was just delivering a package…not there to interrupt your solitude.

For some introverts, this trade-off seemed almost worth it.
Not me of course…I love attending your events…and couldn’t be happier when you come to my door.

By late 2022 the glory times for introverts were over. While there was an initial stage of extroverts saying ‘Oh my God, I think I’ve forgotten to be social! We had a few friends around and I was exhausted!’ Unfortunately this empathy didn’t extend to ‘…and this is how some people must feel every time they have to be social…we should limit our get-togethers to once a month!’
Nope. Gatherings and meandering small talk were back baby!

Similarly, workplaces started spruiking how great it is to be back in the office so that you can have ‘meetings in person’ and ‘water cooler chats’…which to an introvert sounds like someone saying ‘It’s so great to be at this beach where we can enjoy seaweed and sunburn!’

This may have been more a case of Senior Executives (extroverts by and large) thinking ‘How can my employees survive without seeing my glorious self in person?! And besides, what’s the point of having an Assistant, if I still have to do my own printing and get my own coffees?! No, we really need to get back into the office!’

If 2023 was the year we ‘got back to normal’, it was also the year I realised that I have drifted a fair way from ‘normal’.
I would say my pre-COVID life was as an introvert who had developed skills and tricks to pass as an extrovert.
I can happily talk in front of a crowd (the trick here is not to see the audience as a number of different people…but as a single ‘crowd’ entity. That way, much like when I’m comfortably talking to one person, I’m now just talking with this single crowd).
I can make people laugh…and it’s amazing how many social faux pas people will overlook (“Boy, his hug felt it was in hostage video, and he just disappeared from the party without saying goodbye…but that joke about the current political situation and how it relates to Dachshunds…that was pretty funny!”)
Most importantly, I’m happy ask questions that allow other people to talk. Introverts are often happy to talk about something that interests them…and extroverts are often happy to talk. So people rarely think you’re introvert if they’ve been talking to for 45 minutes…even if they’ve been the one doing all the talking.

But during the lockdowns I didn’t have to do any of this any more, and the mental muscles that I needed to do them grew weak. So when we all swung back into the habit of socialising, I was like an athlete coming back from the off-season. Or worse still, I was like an ageing athlete about to start pre-season, and wondering if they were really willing to do this all over again.

There’s a great line in a Something for Kate song ‘Pinstripe’ where Paul Dempsey sings:
‘We thought we knew it so well,
We could do it with arms tide behind our backs
And our eyes shut tight.
I thought I knew it so well, that I stopped
Now I can’t start again’

I had definitely stopped, and I was really wondering if I needed to start again.
I mean, in a world where we’re increasingly becoming aware of the different ways people’s brains work, and looking for ways to accomodate that difference…why should I have to do the heavy lifting, just to fit in? Why do I have to go against what I do naturally?

Of course the answer is pretty simple…it’s an extrovert’s world. Oh sure, in 1966 James Brown sang that ‘It’s a man’s world’…but I’m quietly confident, that if it hadn’t been such a syllabic nightmare, he would have sung ‘It’s an extroverts world’. Extroverts are the heroes of our stories. They are the influencers whose lives we covet. They are the voice that says ‘I’m saying this pretty loudly, so I’m most likely right’ that cuts through to our overwhelmed brains.

They are of course, also incredibly necessary. I should know, I’m married to one. Extroverts are the ones who inspire people to follow them. Extroverts are the people who will doorknock the entire street asking complete strangers if they would support blocking off the street so that we could have a street party. Extroverts believe that people actually want to hang out with other people, and that any time this doesn’t happen it’s a ‘tragic missed opportunity’ (as opposed to the ‘exact outcome’ that many introverts were hoping for).
As much as it may be extroverts who feel absolutely fine about jumping on social media and saying whatever comes into their heads that encourages division…it’s also extroverts who are going to organise the event where a group of people meet in real life and realise how much they have in common.

For me there is also the very real issue of the example I’m setting for my kids. While I have found great entertainment in cueing up the line from the National:
‘Goodbyes always take us half an hour,
Can’t we just go home? play in the car as we depart a family function where the goodbyes have taken forever. I have also found myself on multiple occasions sitting in a quiet room with one or two of my kids as a parties goes on in the house around us. Withdrawing to solitude may be the easiest and most comfortable option…but it’s also going to preclude them from incredible opportunities with friends, and moments of connection with strangers.

So 2024 will be the year when I make a concerted effort to embrace more social occasions. To try and re-train my brain to embrace the outlook of the extrovert. And to show that introverts can actually be fun at parties.
But rest assured, no matter how much fun it may look like I’m having…I would probably prefer to be out on a run listening to a podcast.