First, let me start by thanking you for being in my life. You are the yang to my yin. You get me out more, meeting new people, having new experiences and stretching my comfort zone. You help color my external world with a vast richness that I would never find on my own. In return, hopefully, I show you the vibrant colors that exist inside you. I am an expanding being partly because of you and I am eternally grateful.
But there are some things I need to get off my chest.
Because I care deeply about you, I’m afraid that if I tell this to your face, I will see the hurt in your eyes and end up taking back what I really meant or making up half-truths to soften the blow. I’m afraid you won’t understand and my feeble verbal attempts to explain it will only make it sound worse than it really is. And mostly, I’m afraid I will do what I have always done in my life and make your wants and needs out to be more valid than mine.
You see, this is an extrovert world, and I have always felt like a visitor in it. I’m the tourist on the sidelines with the camera hanging around her neck, snapping photos of the loud, screaming players as they push, elbow and shove each other to get control of the coveted ball in the game of life.
I’m not part of that world.
The problem is I’ve been told that I’m supposed to be part of it, I’m supposed to want the ball, and worse, I’m supposed to be more like the other players in it. And as much as I tried in the past, I failed miserably. As a child and especially a teenager, I thought there was something seriously wrong with me. When all the other kids vied to sit at the most popular table in the cafeteria, I just wanted to eat my ham sandwich in the corner in peace and quiet. When all the other kids wanted to go to the mall, I just wanted to go home and read my books. When all the other kids had sleepovers, I yearned for the quiet comfort of my own bed.
You might have thought I was shy or stuck up, but the truth is I didn’t care.
Actually, I did. But not for the right reasons. I wanted to be more like you because that’s what everyone told me I should be. I wanted the attention you were getting because that’s what everyone said makes a person important.
Introverts may not want popularity, but they want to be important too. They need to know they are important. And that same attention that energized and gave you a sense of importance, when turned on me, gave me a sense of inadequacy. I knew I was supposed to like the attention, but instead it drained the life right out of me.
That’s because I was pretending to be who the world told me I should be because who I was evidently wasn’t enough.
The world told me that those who raise their hands often, speak up and engage in the class or in the meeting are the ones who are going somewhere, who have initiative and are team players. Those who go to parties every weekend and have 500 “closest friends” are the ones who matter.
And I tried to be one of those people. I tried to play in your game and be a part of your world. I gave it all I had. And frankly, it’s utterly exhausting. Truth be told, all I have is not good enough. It’s not good enough because I’M NOT A PART OF YOUR WORLD. I’M NOT LIKE YOU.
My best will never be good enough when measured by your, or anyone else’s, standards. But that’s a wonderful thing! That means I will never be good enough at being someone I’m not. And I absolutely love who I am. A tree will never be good enough at being a rock, no matter how hard it tried or pretended. A tree is a tree and a rock is a rock, and that, my friend, is good enough!
So now, dear extrovert, I’d like to be unapologetically honest and share MY world with you. I’ve put down the camera and I’m playing smack dab in the middle of my own game, in my own field. And I find that there are many players on this field too, all playing the same game, just for the fun of it, all on the same team, laughing and sharing the ball with each other.
Maybe it’s my 40+ years of life experience that has taught me that my world is just as valid and important as anyone’s, or maybe it’s because I’m home alone right now, recharged, energized, feeling frisky, confident and secure in who I am, that I want to let you in to my world.
Whatever the reason, here are five things you should know about me.
1) When you invite me to parties, social gatherings, or anywhere there is basically more than two people, I cringe inside.
I do. I know. I’m not sorry. You might think it’s a good thing to be invited and I should be grateful, but I’m not. While you’re asking me, I’m thinking of excuses to get out of it and pray that I have a good one by the time you finish your sentence so that it seems genuine. If I don’t come up with one, I’ll tell you I have plans and hope you don’t press further. If you do, I’ll have to be honest and tell you that I plan to be alone. If that’s something you won’t understand or will be hurt by, then don’t press further and respect my response without explanation. I’m not asking you to stop inviting me, I actually appreciate that you like me enough to want my company. I’m just saying that when I turn you down four times out of five, it’s because I’d rather be alone more often than not and sometimes being around others makes me morbidly uncomfortable and ironically, lonely.
2) While you get energy from being around people, my energy depletes around people.
It’s just the way it is. I’m probably good for two, three hours tops, then my battery starts flashing red. While you might recharge by surrounding yourself with even more people, I recharge by finding solitude. To me, solitude after an evening of social engagement is like a sweet hot chocolate topped with melted marshmallows after a long hike in a blizzard. On Mount Everest. Naked.
3) I really don’t enjoy talking on the phone.
In fact, I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a phone than talk into one. You’re interesting and all, but can we just catch up when we see each other? Or can you just text me so I can respond in my own time and not have to drop everything I’m doing “just to chat”? Unless there’s a clear purpose for talking or a reason to dive deeper verbally, I don’t see the point. This applies whether it’s on the phone or in person. See #5 below.
4) When I’m in the middle of doing something and I’m interrupted, I get irrationally homicidal.
To be clear, “doing something” basically means “anything.” In other words, when I’m in the middle of anything, like reading, writing, thinking, staring into space, anything, and the phone rings or you knock on the door to ask me a quick question, something inside me rages and a volcano of hot flames and lava erupts from deep within. It’s instant and automatic. And I have no idea where it comes from or how to stop it. It might have to do with my high sensitivity (we HSP’s startle easily) but all I know is one moment I was at peace, enjoying the bliss of being alone in my own thoughts, and the next, you were there and an enraged fire dragon spewed out of me. I know it doesn’t make sense, but that’s what happens. It only lasts a short moment, and if I can get over it without having to understand it, hopefully you can too.
5) Silence is not uncomfortable, it’s welcomed.
I would rather ride the elevator up in complete silence than engage in idle chit chat simply to fill the space. I promise I absolutely will NOT be hurt if you don’t ask how I am or if I’m enjoying the weather. If I look uncomfortable while you’re idly chatting with me, it’s because I am. Your chit chat is an intrusion in my space. While you may not hold that space sacred, I do. So if we must talk to fill the space, can we at least talk about something deeper and more meaningful?
How are you?
How was your weekend?
HOW IS THAT POSSIBLY BETTER THAN THE SWEET SOUND OF SILENCE?!?!?
Now that you know these things about me, maybe we can play together in a blended world where my extreme is as respected as yours, in a game that accepts and appreciates all its players for who they are individually, embracing and recognizing that it’s their differences that bring balance and harmony to this wonderful game of life.
I invite you to express yourself and share a part of you and your world with me, as I did here. I would love to learn more about you. Just don’t call me. A letter would be better so I can read it on my own time in my own space at my own pace. Because that’s how I play ball, and I love that about myself.
All my love,
A Happy Introvert
(OK now stop reading; I need my space.)
A version of this article was originally published in The Huffington Post.