More than Just a Label

The graphic below was making the rounds, recently; co-incidentally, around the same time that I was moving into a new place with a roommate. It was particularly relevant for me because a severely reduced income made it necessary for the first time in three years for me to move into a place with a roommate. Luckily, I was moving in with someone who I had been friends with for almost two years, so it was someone who already understood me and my introversion pretty well (particularly since he’s an avid reader of this blog – Hi Vincent!)

It was my then-future roommate who first showed me the graphic, wanting to address some of the points it brings up (especially the part about hugging – he’s a hugger). It was a nice gesture, but ultimately unnecessary because of how long we had known each other.

When we talk about introverts and extroverts, we have to remember that you can’t reduce an individual to one characteristic. I’m an introvert because I’m usually quiet and usually like to stay home. But there’s so much more to me.

Graphics like these are fine for dealing with introverts in general, like when you meet someone new, but never forget that they are a complete person.



A Comment on 27 Introvert Problems

Today’s list was taken from this post. I will admit that the title could be its own hashtag, but #introvertproblems reminds me of #firstworldproblems. Do extroverts make lists like these? I’m as addicted to as the rest of us, but even I sometimes want some sort of action beyond enumeration and naming things like the gods we are. The concept of introversion as a different type of personality has existed since Jung after all.

As such:

1. When you need to take breaks and recharge after socializing for too long.

This is why I burn some incense sticks for the person behind this initiative (US only for now. Wish it were here up north already). Being able to go on vacation in any random city and instantly find a quiet spot? Priceless.

2. When people mistake your thoughtful look for resting bitch face.
3. When your friend wants to invite more people over, and you don’t want to sound like a dick by saying no.

I can’t help but consider this a diversionary move when someone “suddenly brings” someone new to me on the spot. It’s as if my acquaintance, friend of family member felt awkward meeting up alone with me for some reason at that particular moment and bam! Here’s a witness. Now I’m definitely feeling awkward. And resentful. If you want to invite people, ask. Odds are very high that I’ll accept if I’m asked. Odds are very high I’ll be annoyed if I’m not involved until the deed is done.

4. When spending a heavenly weekend alone means that you’re missing out on time with friends.

If this happens, it means we’ve both poorly planned our time this month. Let’s prepare for next month. Does that work for you?

5. And the fear that by doing so, you’re slowly turning into a hermit…

Too late.

6. Who will likely die alone.

Everyone’s afraid of this. Everyone. Even the nastiest people you could think of do not want to die alone. Even if you think they deserve it.

7. Having visitors stay with you is a nightmare, because it means you have to be on at ALL TIMES.

I’m facing this later tonight. I just finished spending the last 21 days at a film festival (i.e. 21 days of socializing) and now I’m having my in-laws over for a week. I enjoy their presence in my life, but I’m also grateful that my mother-in-law is a fellow introvert and so lets me spend time alone over extended visits.

8. When people stop inviting you places because you keep cancelling plans.

I’m not really this type of person. Are you? I’m more likely to suggest alternate arrangements if they don’t happen to work out for me and I will invite people to do activities.

9. Too many social obligations + no alone time = a total grump.

It can become a problem if I don’t realize it right away. Once I do, I’ll prepare solo time the moment it’s open. I’ll schedule dates with myself to do nothing.

10. When you’re asked to do a group project, and know that you’re going to hate every minute of it.

It depends who are my colleagues. It’s a lot easier to pull this off over paid work than school projects. Your colleagues are as invested in you as you are in them.

11. When your ride at a party doesn’t want to leave early, and no one seems to understand your distress.

Everyone seems to make this mistake once (OK, a few times). Then they learn to not depend on other people for travelling arrangements.

12. When you hear this question, and your palms start to sweat with anxiety: “Wanna hang out?”

My response to that question is usually “Right now? (Are you mad?)” And I worry that these undefined plans will ruin the rest of my evening with long, awkward pauses and chitchat to which I cannot add anything but nods, followed by the asker’s declining respect for my lack of social skills.

13. When you hear, “Are you OK?” or “Why are you so quiet?” for the umpteenth time.

This is the nicer alternative to #2. Do you want to be angry or sad? Let’s flip a coin.

14. Trying to be extra outgoing when you flirt so your crush doesn’t think you hate them.

This one sounds like a “girl problem”. It smells like one. I generally like to talk to my crushes so I can get a more rounded understanding of their personality. I don’t know if that’s common.

15. That feeling of dread that washes over you when the phone rings and you’re not mentally prepared to chat.

We get so few visits that I nearly hide whenever the bell rings. And I always get shocked for a second whenever I receive a phone call.

16. When you have to deal with that one friend who ALWAYS wants to hang out, and you ALWAYS have to say this: “I kind of want to spend some time by myself.”

This variety of extroverts seem to get bored with me pretty fast. Not that I’m hunting them down as particular prey.

17. When you have an awesome night out, but have to deal with feeling exhausted for days after the fact.

Ah yes, the Fear of Missing Out, my old friend. You too are one of Extroverts’ friends.

18. When people pressure you to be more social, whether you like it or not.

I will sometimes give in, but I need a payoff. I will socialize so that my job is a little easier to do. I will chitchat with the people who I see every day, like neighbors. I will regularly meet up with my love or with my in-laws because I enjoy spending time with them.

19. When you’re really excited to go out, but those good feelings don’t last long enough.

Another common friend of ours and Extroverts.

20. When you’re trying to get something done at work, but you can’t, because everyone else is talking.

Worse: when you talk about it to your boss trying to find a solution and he tells you “Oh, that’s just _____________ (noisy person).” and waves you off. Your productivity keeps going down because of the noise and then your boss asks you why your productivity has gone down. You tell him you can’t concentrate because of the noise. He looks at you and leaves the room. Sigh.

21. When someone calls you out for daydreaming too much.

It hasn’t happened yet! People forget I’m there.

22. When you carry a book to a public place so no one will bug you, but other people take that as a conversation starter.

I love books. I am tempted to interrupt you to gush about the book that’s in your hand, but I know how it feels to be interrupted in the middle so I will look longingly in your direction.

23. When people make you feel weird for wanting to do things by yourself.

People try to make me feel weird for all sorts of things. They want me to feel weird because I don’t have kids or because I’m a nerd. They want me to feel weird because I’d explore the woods next to my house and build forts from branches. They want me to feel angry and crazy because I’m a woman and “Women are all crazy b***ches.” (Yes, a few idiots have told me this in those exact words.) In my hometown, they wanted me to feel bad because I don’t go to their church. Other people want me to feel weird because of the way I dress, of the way I wear little makeup, of the way I don’t wear designer shoes or designer bags. They want me to feel weird because I don’t listen to the music they happen to like. Being an introvert? Wanting to be alone? I’d consider it a sane reaction to social judgement if it wasn’t part of my nature already.

24. When someone interrupts your thoughts, and you get irrationally angry.

I have walked out of a coffee shop in the middle of writing once. I was sitting down peacefully, jotting something highly convoluted in my notebook, when a man dressed like a beggar approached me.

Him: “Do you want to see my paintings?”

Me (not looking at him): “I’m busy.”

Him: “It will only take a minute.”

Me: “No.”

Him: “Please.”

Me: “Not interested. Busy. Go away.”

He left for a few minutes, only to approach me twice more with the same request. I get fed up with situations like these, so by the third time I stood up and said:

“Look, I’m writing. Writing is what I do. This is my art. Do I interrupt you when you make your art? No. Leave me alone!”

He started arguing with me so I picked up my stuff and left in the middle of the conversation. I even complained to the owner and she said “Oh, it’s just (person).” (Do you see a pattern?) That piece of writing is entirely lost now. He broke my concentration and once you break an introvert’s concentration, it cannot ever be completely restored.

25. When people can’t seem to grasp that being in small groups is where you excel the most.

Small groups are excellent for introverts for the simple reason that we are not overstimulated (groups) nor are we doing all the vocal legwork. We can choose to speak or listen in small groups, while we are relatively restricted to either of these roles in larger or smaller settings.

I know the original list has 27 points but number 26 is repetitive and number 27 works better in visual form.

Finding Quiet Spots

-David Mein

It’s hard being an introvert if you live in any sizeable urban area. You’re surrounded by people as soon as you leave your front door, so if you want any solitude, you’re pretty much confined to your house. Of course, introverts are the last people to dislike the idea of staying in, but every now and then, you need some fresh air. The difficulty then becomes finding a spot where you can be alone, and the bigger your town is, the harder that is to find.

It took me a while to find mine. I live in Montreal, a city with about four million people, so it’s almost impossible to be alone. I did eventually find a quiet spot, though; Mont-Royal, the hill right in the middle of the city.

Of course, Mont-Royal is a major park in the centre of the city, so it gets a lot of visitors, but if you go early enough in the morning, it’s a big enough place that you can easily find some empty paths. The last time I was there, I went at around 5:30 in the morning. I still passed a few joggers on the main, wide paths, but as soon as I turned onto the much narrower paths that went through the woods, I was completely alone.

If there are any hidden, quiet spots like this in your town, I’d love to hear about them.

The Ice Princess

– Alexia Larcher

A few days ago, David asked me what it was like to be an introvert woman. I told him that in all honesty, I don’t know. I have a tough time sifting my life experiences to pin down what is specifically due to my being an introvert woman versus an introvert, a woman, or a nerd.

If I were to sew a thread through my introvert life, I would start when I was eight years old. One day, I was looking over the playground, watching everyone running after each other back and forth while I wanted to do nothing more but read and I thought to myself “I’m weird.” Of course adults gave me flak for not playing with others, but it was not a matter of play. I spent quite some time doing sports, even at that age. No, the problem, if you could call it that, was that I had few friends because I didn’t talk very much. I didn’t feel like talking unless I had something different to contribute from what had already been said, so I would rarely say anything. I would listen, but I wouldn’t speak.

Most of my classmates were surprised if I even talked to them, but I only saw myself as an outsider whenever I’d actually try to interact with them. Several people thought I was hitting on them just because I happened to wish a good morning to them. Some people thought that this was a clue that I was easy to boss around due to my being a woman: non-imposing, generally shorter. Yet if I happened to do something independent, I would be labelled a “bitch”. It didn’t matter to these people that they never even talked to me. In their minds, I “had to” follow them and nurture their every meager desire. These interactions were strange enough to me that I would feel even more disinclined to socialize.

Every once in a while someone would say something that interested me so I would add something to the conversation, which seemed to surprise everyone in the vicinity. People were so shocked that they would rarely respond to what I said. The moment would be lost. One girl in my math class, where we had been placed into groups of four, started ranting at me that I “thought I was so much better than her”. My sin? I had not said anything that wasn’t related to math class. I actually liked that girl’s company too. I found her interesting. Sometimes I wonder what happened to her.

I’ve usually made a larger number of male friends than female friends not because of any particular inclination, but because the male friends never expected me to be chatty or to display constant overt friendliness. Interestingly, it’s become a lot easier for me to find women who enjoy the same hobbies as I do because of the internet.

It took me a long time to understand why any of this was consistently happening to me (I knew it was something I was doing.) I only discovered the notion of introversion in my early 20s, about the same time I discovered the existence of Carl Jung. By that point in my life, I had other things on my plate and so I forgot about it for a few more years, when I was finally making enough money to support myself and start thinking about going out in public again. Because in one way, that has always been an issue for me. As a woman, I have always had to dress according to a certain standard. I always have to wear makeup when I go to work. I have to wear high heels as often as I can. I have to exaggerate my visibility, partly because I am quiet. These are the basics in society to be accepted as a woman.

Being quiet as a woman in a group of women is a hurdle of its own. If I am openly ignored in a group of women, it means that they have deemed me unacceptable company. I know I am being judged even as the other women are skating words around me and ignoring my presence. It’s the silent truth. They have passed their irreversible, final judgement and it’s a negative one. If they have dubbed me an outsider, they are also likely to make my life more difficult in great and small ways.

Some women seem to believe that my silence means I am ready to backstab them and some women actually enjoy my listening skills enough that they tell me that they believe all women are backstabbers. (My response to these confessions is to stay quiet but wonder if these women expect a reply to that statement.) A certain amount of my time is spent dealing with the fact that my being a woman restricts the amount of personal power I will ever yield over others, nevermind my being quiet as an extra hurdle. If I am going to end up spending a lot of time with a person, for whatever reason, I am even less likely to speak my mind. Strong opinions vocalized offline are more likely to bear harsh consequences to the detriment of personal relationships. I am more likely to try to smooth out disagreement and ignore microaggressions. I recognize them and I wish they wouldn’t happen, but I try not to contribute to long-term problems.

Some women are the grown up versions of the girls who believed that I am easy to control because I am quiet or that I cannot have opinions that are different from their own. They try to tell me what I should do (cook), who I should befriend (always someone who is poisonous to me), what I should like (their favorite TV shows) or what should I like doing in my free time (cooking for other people so they can discuss what I’m eating over lunch). If I say no to any of these things, they say “But I’m your frieeeeeeeeeeeend!” No, you are not. You are my enemy. Go away before I throttle you with cringing Maritimer politeness. Hiss.

Some extroverted women do not understand why I do not try to befriend all their friends (or all their work friends). These women are always extroverts. They always have at least a half-dozen extrovert friends, most of whom think and treat me like the most boring person in the world. These groups never try to ask me questions or engage me in anything other than the most basic small talk. The first friend eventually gets fed up with my “stubborn refusal to fit in” and dumps me in a string of painful passive-aggressive moves.

Although I have mainly listed negative consequences from being an introverted woman, ultimately we share the same things that anybody who has felt alienated from society go through. We are more likely to think independently of others. We are more likely to become observant. We are quite aware of our difference and can choose to “pass” for normal according to the other labels that people have given us. We are more likely to create new ways of living. All of this happens because we don’t fit.

Some more thoughts about common introvert women traits here.

Where I like to pick who I share my thoughts with (Warning: mild swearing)

-Alexia Larcher

Do you ever get told you’re quiet as if it were a problem? Do some people continuously expect you to contribute what’s on your mind so that you can prove to them that you’re worthy of respect? Do acquaintances tell you you look “angry” or tell you to cheer up when you’re busy thinking about what you’ll have for supper? Then you might be a sufferer of Chronic Bitchface.

Now I will be the first to point out that Chronic Bitchface is a choice, to some extent. I don’t smile as much as people want me to because I’m generally content with my present situation and my happiness does not take the form of joy. It means I’m feeling serene. Joy is what I feel when my present situation is better than what it normally should be. I’m pleased when I’m feeling serene, but I don’t smile.

Here’s another reason for my few smiles: since I spend quite a bit of time in my head, my smiles frequently reflect what’s on my mind, not what’s in front of me. The only times my smiles relate to you are when we’re having a pleasant conversation. Else, I’m likely thinking of something that amuses me, like the idea of Zeus being a judge on a reality show singing contest. Or Camus’ biting description on the city of Oran in the 1940s. Usually I catch myself before I smile at the empty space in front of me (don’t want witnesses who will later testify to my being mad) but I’m sure I lost a few smiles in the wilderness of public spaces. I know I have odd tastes and I’ve talked about it before.

Here’s another: in North America, smiles are considered an invitation for conversation with strangers. If I’m in a setting where I want to meet new people I will smile, but there are only a half-dozen settings in which I want to meet new people. Even at these settings, I don’t talk to everyone unless it’s a small group. Everywhere else is off-limits, either because odds are higher we will not click or it’s too loud for me to hear you. (I’m not the only introvert who feels this way. If you want to bring an introvert somewhere, here’s a short list of ideas for quiet public places.)

It also does not help that, as a woman, my smiles may be misinterpreted as flirting by the men around me. A few times I’ve ended up having to make narrow escapes from creeps who followed me over several hundred meters just because I was thinking about something and smiling in public. It’s an unfortunate part of the experience of being a woman. (For the record, if I were single again and wanted to flirt with someone, I would do more than just smile at them; I would approach them and try to engage in conversation.)

Just know that ultimately, it’s not about you whether I smile or not all day. “This introvert wouldn’t have broken into the meeting to speak, for it would have seemed a disservice to her ideas to shout them out above the noise of the others.” One person’s fleeting emotions should not affect you this much. Ask yourself: is it really up to other people to regulate your “positive attitude”?

Don’t take this whole introversion thing too seriously

-David Mein

Do you think you might be melancholic? Does this description match you?

Melancholic people are often perceived as very (or overly) pondering and are both considerate and very cautious. They are organized and schedule oriented, often planning extensively. Melancholics can be highly creative in activities such as poetry, art, and invention  – and are sensitive to others. Because of this sensitivity and their thoughtfulness they can become preoccupied with the tragedy and cruelty in the world and are susceptible to depression and moodiness. Often they are perfectionists. Their desire for perfection often results in a high degree of personal excellence but also causes them to be highly conscientious and difficult to relate to because others often cannot please them. They are self-reliant and independent, preferring to do things themselves to meet their standards. One negative part of being a melancholic is that they can get so involved in what they are doing they forget to think of other issues. Their caution enables them to prevent problems that the more impulsive sanguine runs into, but can also cause them to procrastinate and remain in the planning stage of a project for very long periods. Melancholics prefer to avoid much attention and prefer to remain in the background; they do, however, desire recognition for their many works of creativity.

How about phlegmatic?

The phlegmatic temperament is fundamentally relaxed and quiet, ranging from warmly attentive to lazily sluggish. Phlegmatics tend to be content with themselves and are kind. Phlegmatics are consistent, they can be relied upon to be steady and faithful friends. They are accepting and affectionate, making friends easily. They tend to be good diplomats because their tendency not to judge and affable nature makes reconciling differing groups easy for them. Phlegmatics prefer to observe and to think on the world around them while not getting involved. They may try to inspire others to do the things which they themselves think about doing. They may be shy and often prefer stability to uncertainty and change. Their fear of change (and of work) can make them susceptible to stagnation or laziness, or even stubbornness. They are consistent, relaxed, calm, rational, curious, and observant, qualities that make them good administrators. They can also be passive-aggressive.

These are descriptions of the melancholic and phlegmatic personality types taken from the Wikipedia article on the four temperaments. The other two are Sanguine and Choleric. I took these two temperaments because, according to the Wikipedia article, melancholic people are also known as “task-oriented introverts” and phlegmatic people are also called “people-oriented introverts.”

The idea of the four temperaments comes from the days when physicians thought humans were filled with four types of fluids or “humours.” The theory, of course, is no longer taken seriously by the scientific community, but you will find blogs and websites where people discuss these different personality types and identify with one or another. Personally, I think I have more of a melancholic personality.

There is nothing scientific about this particular system of categorizing personality types, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it. We no longer believe that different personality types are the result of an imbalance of humours, but the theory of the four temperaments was an early attempt at explaining something we all intuitively understand; basically, that some people are like this and other people are like that. Science has gotten better at explaining why people are different, but the fact that we are different isn’t exactly news.

I brought up the four temperaments because I think there is too much talk about the science behind introversion and extroversion. I don’t mean to disparage the science behind it, but we are always learning new things, and two thousand years from now, the way we talk about the brain will no doubt sound just as silly as theories of humours sounds to us.

On the other hand, I do mean to disparage your understanding of the science (and by you, I mean anyone who isn’t an actual doctor or psychologist). I’ve read various articles, including the part of Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, that discusses the science behind introversion, but that’s a far cry from the four years (or more?) it takes to get an actual degree in the field.

By saying all this, I don’t mean to imply that science knows nothing, or that it’s pointless to learn about a subject if you’re not going to become an expert in it, but rather that we shouldn’t take this whole “introvert” stuff too seriously. Of course, reading about the psychology behind introversion is interesting as a way of understanding more about ourselves and how we work. I know it’s also usually very liberating to find out that there’s nothing wrong with being quiet and that introversion is just another personality type.

The important thing to keep in mind is that the science changes and we still don’t know everything about how the mind works, but it’s never been a secret that people are simply different, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Introvert, Interrupted

– Alexia Larcher

Often, in interviews, I tell my future bosses that I have spent most of my life honing my focus and, in doing so, my ability to flit from project to project is dulled. I can’t handle having a million ideas on the go and stay healthy at the same time. Many bosses don’t believe me until they see it, until they see me struggle grimly and quietly under the weight of too many emergencies. I don’t say anything because it’s not in my nature; asking for help on my workload is something that I have recently learned for my own sanity and even then, it’s not my first impulse. If I carry too many counter-balancing ideas in memory for too long, I will topple and break down.

It’s the nature of my work as well. Most of my days are spent thinking or trying to think and interruptions slow me down, which frustrates some. One colleague only talks to me to place large and further disruptions on my entire week’s routine. I spend a lot of energy trying to diplomatically negotiate his interruptions.

“I cannot do X *right now* because I’m doing Y, Z, A, and B for our boss and your X will take up the next few days. However, I can start doing X at *time*.” He frowns. He’s never done my job but believes, for some reason, that he knows my entire schedule. You’ll always meet people like this in life. He comes back days later, having ignored what I told him today. I hold my ground. He’s not trying to pull rank on me, he genuinely chooses not to understand. Every time he interrupts me, it slows me down. It keeps his work from getting done. He chooses to get annoyed at me instead of trying to understand. We can’t help our neural pathways. I have the same problem with strangers.

When I meet strangers, I’m always in the middle of some thought that regularly leads to bizarre What-Ifs like this one or this one. It’s my default mode. I’m well aware that sharing such thoughts off-cue makes for a disconcerting (or negative) impression. For instance, just before I wrote this part of the post, I was thinking about reading a few more pages of a book I’ve borrowed, on the future of wild fish reproduction, and generally pondering whether we could “re-wild” certain areas of the globe for that specific purpose. Now that’s not too strange of a thought for me. Neither is what I thinking about a few hours before that: the general decline in the quality of affordable women’s shoes and how it reflects the ever-growing greed of speculators, of which most of us are unwittingly part of, public pensions et al. And then I wonder whether public pensions could live beyond an era of continuous capitalist growth, followed by wondering how we could possibly sustain modern comforts in a post-consumerist, post-capitalist, non-communist society and what that society would look like if it weren’t The Culture. That’s where it starts getting weird.

The internet has worsened this introvert trait because of the ease with which we can get fast answers to easy questions. When I was younger, I regularly spent most classes daydreaming because I understood the material fast enough to complete my homework in class. Now I spend several hours at my job flipping between 4 or 5 entirely different computer programs with entirely different internal mechanics, adding information to databases and possibly worsening the info glut. It’s the modern datastream workflow combined with as-flat-as-possible hierarchies. After work, I indulge in link-jumping free from the tracking gaze (and potential judgement) of the IT department. Another colleague once asked me the origin of Newfoundland dogs and next thing you know, I’m reading the history of cross-breeding large dogs in the Americas.

This vast, internal, self-sufficient landscape is also a con for introverts in respect to our relationships. We are sometimes so wrapped up with our thread of thought that we give the impression we don’t care about others. Unfortunately, as a rule of thumb, people care less about you if you seem to care little about them when you first meet. (And if you appear laid-back, they start thinking they might be able to take advantage of you.) The pool of people I end up leaving an impression on is much smaller than I’d like because of my relaxed silence. I’m definitely a Canada.


-David Mein

Introvert Files has a Twitter! You can find it here.

Now, if you are one of the many people out there who aren’t quite sure what to do with Twitter, one thing it’s good for is letting out some minor aggravations and finding others who feel the same way. One way of doing that is searching hash tags, and one I enjoy browsing is #IntrovertProblems. I usually find something I can relate to, such as;

Alex seems to be of the generation of introverts that I feel especially sorry for, the one that grew up with cell phones and were expected to be in contact with their friends at all times. Being a tired, old, decrepit twenty-six year old, I’m not expected to answer a text right away. I suppose I’m expected to answer the phone when someone calls, but screw that.

It costs more, but I love living alone.

I dream about stuff like this. I’ve discovered, though, that if I go to Mont-Royal early enough (really early, like 5 AM) and stay off the main paths, it’s almost like I have the whole place to myself.

More proof that nothing good comes from leaving my house. Not that I needed more proof.

I don’t know if this is an actual introvert problem, but it’s one I totally relate to.

Neighborhood Extroverts

– Alexia Larcher

A new bar opened in my neighborhood. It’s a nice bar, a micro-brewery; it’s not as if you could have too many of those at this point. It even has a large back patio and I’m sure it will be crowded and enjoyed by us patrons. Yet I know it will be loud and I can’t help but wonder if the neighbours will enjoy the noise. The location and existence of the bar itself is not a surprise, in fact, this bar was supposed to open last summer. Potential neighbours had not only plenty of warning, but plenty of time to find a new abode.

I will probably head there myself soon. I enjoy some amount of alcohol every once in a while and I can spend some time savouring my glass. Yet like every human being who has ever heard of alcohol, I know bars are a package deal. It’s noisy and crowded and dark, there’s some sort of music, and you’re expected to participate in the general merriment. It’s not like a festival where there’s fresh air and you can drift among the crowd and escape. It’s not like you can step in a bar, order your drink, pull a book from your bag, turn on a reading light, plunk in some earplugs, ignore the crowd, and read. You’re just “asking” for interruption of one sort or another, unless you’re looking at a well-known machine and tinkering with it.

Our interactions in these semi-public areas are scripted to some degree. Our species has always included introverts and extroverts and everyone in between, and we understand that often people do not want to talk to strangers. Some of these social scripts are targeted to men so they can approach women and flirt with them without being told off in public. Some are cultural rules for specific places, such as malls, schools, and churches. Yet all of these scripts address not whether or not you want to be approached, but how you should deal with others when you are approached or when you approach them. The unspoken assumption has always been that you go to these places to meet people. If you didn’t want to deal with people, you stayed at home. It’s only in post-industrial cities that we’ve been able to “enforce” anonymity through the sheer impossibility of meeting everyone in large cities. The default mode for most of our history has been to spend time with others outside of your home.

This is why introverts rarely appreciate the strong loneliness that grips extroverts whenever they are left on their own or with our silences (at least that’s how it’s been described to me). We think to ourselves “Why is Extrovert bothering me now, when I’m burnt out from being in the world all day? There’s a million other people just outside that door who would be glad to talk to Extrovert.” We don’t really think about the conventions that restrain most of these public interactions, all those small barriers that slow down potential conversations and budding friendships. We don’t really think about the time extroverts spend all day talking to people who don’t care because they don’t have the time to care or are too self-absorbed or the extrovert feels self-conscious or shy or anxious about the quality of the interaction. We know the effort it takes to meet people who share our interests but we wrongfully presume that extroverts don’t have that problem.

Some more about an extrovert’s perspective.