– 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.