I Am Not a Turtle (Or, Lemme Outta This Box)

I no longer want to be forced into the introvert/extrovert boxes. 

I am way too much of both to feel comfortable choosing a side.

So please stop generalizing and cramming me inside those parameters.

Please and thank you.

I posted the above text recently on Facebook because so much conversation seems to revolve these days around the introvert/extrovert debate, and so many people excuse or explain away behaviors and mannerisms by slapping one of those labels on it.

However, I, for one, don’t feel comfortable being labeled and dismissed. I am not one dimensional. I am complex, and so are you. Sometimes I display introvert tendencies, and sometimes I display extrovert tendencies. Either way, though, everything I do overall is just an Audra thing. I do what I do because I am who I have become. Sometimes that matches up with introversion and sometimes with extroversion and sometimes it’s a combination of both and sometimes it’s something way out of left field that nobody has bothered to define yet.

I’m also tired of the fact that (as this Gawker article so hilariously pokes fun at) introverts want to be left alone but whine about being understood. Introverts scream for space but post a million things a day online about how to understand them. Introverts have more of an online presence than most extroverts I know (myself excluded), and yet they whine about needing to be left alone. What I’d really like to say to introverts is, if you want to be left alone, don’t remind us all that you’re still around by posting online forty times a day. Out of sight, out of mind. If you disappear, we’ll leave you alone. Promise.

The reason a lot of extroverts don’t have an engaging online presence is that they’re out in the world, doing something, being their extroverted selves. Introverts, on the other hand, stay home – because “that’s where they get their energy,” but then they apparently use up all that energy arguing with people on the internet because, by the time I ask them to hang out next, they’re too tired, and need alone time.

Now, all of that is a little tongue in cheek. However, my friend Elizabeth wrote about her introversion the other day in a kind, unassuming, personable way. A way that made me want to try to understand introversion, and her, better. And in the comments she and I had an exchange wherein she said:

Now you’ve got me wondering what it is that introverts assume wrongly about extroverts, though . . .

So I decided, without being a researcher, to write some things about extroverts that introverts either don’t know or don’t seem to understand. After all, if introverts are allowed to publish eight internet articles in the last month about themselves, surely the web can handle two about extroverts, right? (We can’t produce more than that because we’re outside, though, doing things. Case in point: Once I click ‘Publish,’ I’m going out for a run.)

Without further circumlocution, here are ten things that the word extrovert does not mean.

1) Extrovert does not mean limelight.
Just because I’m an extrovert does not mean that I want to be the center of attention at the karaoke bar, or the regular bar, or the work party, or anywhere that a large crowd is gathered. Enjoying being around people does not mean enjoying having all those people look at you and expect something from you all at once. Now, it’s most likely that the majority of entertainers and performers are extroverts, but that’s not a two-way thoroughfare. Being an extrovert does not mean one wants to be or is an entertainer or performer.

2) Extrovert does not mean Energizer Bunny.
Introverts seem to think that extroverts never get tired and never need a chance to recharge, which is simply not true. Our recharge times and activities may look different, or not take as long, but they are needed and important nonetheless. At the same time, though, extroverts understand that time does not stop, and the world still spins, despite the need to recharge. They are more willing – and possibly more able – to continue to live life in normal ways, pausing occasionally to recharge but knowing that optimal recharge isn’t necessarily always feasible. Extroverts are willing to run on lower than full battery for longer than introverts are because they know that a world where everyone shuts down at once would not be a world worth living in. (Take Mexico, for instance. They place prime importance on the afternoon siesta. When was the last time you heard someone describe Mexico as having a “booming economy” ? Or even the last time you heard someone say, “Mexico. They’ve got it figured out.”)

3) Extrovert does not mean clingy.
Yes, extroverts enjoy your time and attention. Yes, they probably make you feel like they would take as much as you are willing to give, but there is a limit. Just because you haven’t found it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Extroverts are capable of being discerning, boundary-observing human beings, and they do not need your attention 100% of the time. It helps to establish clear boundaries so that they know when and when not to ask you for quality time. And quality time is, in fact, they key term here. When extroverts are engaged in activities they deem quality – meaningful conversations, fun outings, etc. – they do get excited by that, and energized. Whereas introverts seem to have a mercury thermometer that starts at 100 and goes down to 0 beginning when the activity starts – no matter what the activity is – extroverts are able to discard the thermometer as soon as any interaction enters into the realm of quality. It is not interaction for interaction’s sake that energizes the extrovert. Quality time feeds an extrovert’s “feeling loved and worthwhile” bucket, so extending those interactions only makes it overflow, and who isn’t a fan of that bucket overflowing? Extroverts don’t want to spend endless time with everyone, so if they continue to want to spend lots of time with you, take it as a compliment.

4) Extrovert does not mean afraid to be alone.
Extroverts do not fear solitude and silence, nor is it always necessarily viewed as unproductive. Extroverts are not afraid of the proverbial dark. They are capable of being alone, and lots of them even enjoy it. For me personally, I have learned that my extroversion is better served if I live alone. I enjoy being out and about in the world, and I take opportunities to leave my house as often as I receive them. (When I lived in Oklahoma, for instance, my dog learned to train his bladder for long hours alone. I think the longest I ever left him alone was 28, possibly 36, hours. No accidents in the house. But we did stand in the grass for a looooong time that day after I arrived home.) The point is, I might go out six days of the week out of seven (or not, at this age). But when I come home, that is my space, and I have no desire to invite anyone into it. I am going to take off all my clothes and turn up Pandora really loud and dance around the house completely naked. Or I won’t. I’ll make some tea and cuddle under a blanket and read a book. Or I’ll sleep in my bed. Whatever I do, though, it’s important that it be done alone because once I shut my front door, solitude is what I crave.

5) Extrovert does not mean Party Animal
When I was a younger, springier chicken, going out six days a week out of seven might have meant carousing around and painting the town red (but, knowing me, likely not). But more often than not, for the extrovert, it just means being out and about and participating in life and the world around us. Going to a library function, an art festival, the zoo, a baseball game, etc. These aren’t grandiose affairs to be experienced once every six months. These are Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday. Just because we can handle being busy doesn’t mean we want to attend and get drunk at every party at every bar in the city. It rarely (if ever) means that, in fact. Someone who wants to go out to the bar every night and get drunk every weekend is not an extrovert. That person is simply 22. (And if that’s the type of person you’re trying to avoid, then do what the rest of us figured out a long time ago, and stay away from Kansas City’s Power & Light District.)

6) Extrovert does not mean attention-deficit.
Extroverts are totally capable of finishing what they begin. It’s just that doing so does not always feel necessary or important.

I hope you’re able to take some of my sarcasm and some of my truth and come to a little more of an understanding about extroverts. One time, I complained that I was tired of reading about introverts all the time, and how come nobody ever wrote anything about what extroverts need, and I got a response (from an introvert) along the lines of: “Because, you’re too needy, and you’re loud, so everybody already knows what you need.” Or something like that. It was a joke, I believe, but it felt careless too. The implication was that introverts know everything there is to know about extroverts, and that extroverts are easily understood because they’re shallow, and loud, and obnoxious. It’s true that some extroverts are those things. But nobody likes to be generalized.

And maybe everything I’ve written here is wrong. I know that I have introverted qualities. Supposedly being a writer is a sign you’re an introvert. (Whatever.) Maybe my explanations here are more true for me, someone who tries to balance identifying with both sides, than they are for blue-blooded extroverts. Take from it what you will. But my main goal is to help introverts know that, just as they feel the need to be heard and understood, so do extroverts feel the need to be un-labeled, un-boxed, and un-generalized. Because as soon as you make a generalization, you dismiss someone. And as soon as you dismiss someone, you strip that person’s dignity and right to a complex personality.

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Filed under bloggy, irreverent, writing exercises

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