“Some of us are… introverts. That means we need alone time to recharge. Like a battery. Not like, say, a serial masturbator.”
“Why are you so quiet?”
I don’t know; why are you so loud, bigmouth? The words are awesome in my head, but my lips don’t move. The probe has been launched before an audience, and now my classmates are leering, looming, all saliva and mouth-breath. I feel affronted. Hey, I’ve been making an effort to talk. I remember to regularly ask how your dumb weekend was, or whether your stupid goldfish is still alive, even though your response is always inane and unnecessarily long. I’m not the one that erratically spits out three-words-a-second monologues like a possessed Kalashnikov.
I’ve probably fielded this question three dozen times. Frankly, it’s a stupid question. But it cuts, so I’ve researched it. Turns out, some of us are what twentieth-century psychologist Carl Jung would refer to as introverts. In layman’s terms that means we need alone time to recharge. Like a battery, and not like, say, a serial masturbator. Jung saw introversion (internally focused) and extroversion (externally focused) as two ends of a continuum, with most people living somewhere in the middle, and extroverts living near a pub.
I’m on the opposite end of the scale, so once every week or so, I’ll have an experience like this: People. People absolutely everywhere, filling up rooms, riding on escalators, taking up headspace, piping their opinions in the office, on the street, and under my skin. Wherever I turn, there it is, that same chorus of collective ego crushing like kryptonite; my thoughts muzzle, ears hiss, temples burn. Chatter, chatter, chatter. My day was hell, I’m running low on juice, so I snap a response at a friend’s text and shoot evils at a baby. Where am I going? I cross the road to avoid the surge and then cross back again to enter the station. Chatter, chatter, chatter. On the platform, an apparition of faces in the crowd; birdshit on a wet, black bough. The train arrives, ninety-six to a carriage, so I splice myself to someone’s armpit and shut my eyes to the roar. People bundle past. I stare them down. There! a seat. I collapse, deflated. And breathe. Chatter, chatter, chatter. I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to – what’s that? A dog with its nose in my crotch and its owner in my business. Aw, isn’t he precious? No, I scream internally, he’s Harvey fucking Houndstein.
And that’s just the stress people cause by existing. There are other sticky things to navigate too. Like their expectations. For example, friends are great until they expect you to do stuff. It’s Friday – you coming out or what? You say you’re not sure, but what you really mean is: look, mate, I don’t want to spend my entire evening listening to you verbally castrate your boss. Don’t be a buzzkill. So off you trot and it’s shit like you thought it would be, but everyone else seems to be having fun. There must be something wrong with you. You’re a loser. A boring, shy loser.
Shy because a) introversion is seen as tantamount to shyness, and b) shyness is seen as a problem to solve by people who speak too much. Whatever your defect, this is an extrovert’s world. So if you’re not loud and obnoxious you’re boring, and you’re antisocial if you’d rather watch Jon Snow throw a punch than your mate throw up outside of a Chicken Cottage. Just look at our cultural barometer – TV. It’s full of big, bold Americans, with big, brassy voices, banging on about their friends, banging on about their enemies, and banging anybody in between. Still not convinced? Here’s a non-exhaustive list of synonyms thesauraus.com throws up for extrovert: character, gregarious person, life of the party. And here’s the list for introvert: brooder, loner, narcissist.
But the bias doesn’t end there. If you’re quiet at school you might get told to speak up or simply ignored, and if you’re quiet at work you might get overlooked for a position of authority. Which raises questions about what actually makes a great leader. Or innovator. Or figure of cultural influence. For the record, Albert Einstein, Barack Obama and Rosa Parks are or were all introverts.
There’s no golden rule for introverts to live by because everyone is different. But, as Susan Cain, author of best-selling Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, puts it: “Solitude matters. For some people, it's the air they breathe.” Sadly, unless you’re Siberian, finding solitude in the modern world can be like trying to find god at a Donald Trump rally. But you can follow some common sense pointers. For example, don’t live in the middle of a massive city. Do live near the outskirts for easy retreat. Don’t be afraid of saying no. But do sometimes say yes. And always be honest about your motivations.
Best advice, though, is to remember that labels, when applied often enough, can take on a life of their own and cloud the truth: introverted, extroverted, quiet, loud, shy, bubbly – they’re all just noise in the face of individuality. You know what you need best. So just do you. Me, I need time away to create, to meditate, to ooze all the people out from under my skin. If I don’t, I go a little crazy. Just ask my ex-girlfriend.
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