Right now it’s pretty chic to be an introvert. There was the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World Which Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, which put introverts on the cultural map in a big way. Since that book came out, there have been approximately one billion Buzzfeed articles and other various listicles explaining introverts to the population and to themselves.
I read a good-sized portion of those articles, because I have always identified as an introvert. I have tested as an introvert on every Myers-Briggs test I have ever taken. I hate most big group situations. My husband thrives on walking down crowded city streets; I get overwhelmed by the mere existence of all those people. I don’t mind being by myself.
But since we got married, a weird thing happened. Andy started accusing me of being an extrovert. We would go out with a group of friends and I would come back bouncing with energy. When I see my family I get so excited that I am insanely hyper for over 24 hours and sometimes I get so amped up that I give myself a migraine (As Lisa says, it's for love) . I like to plan big parties. My husband looked at all these behaviors and diagnosed: extrovert.
I denied it vehemently. Surely I had not taken all those Myers-Briggs tests in vain! But then I started thinking about it. In my reading of those articles, I learned that being an introvert is not the same thing as being shy. The authors of these articles would write as though shyness were a deadly disease or a devastating insult. “We’re not shy!” the authors insisted, with a disgusted shudder. “How dare you even suggest it?” We are introverted, which is not at all the same thing!!! Introverts gain energy from being alone, but they're not afraid of people!”
Well then, what if I wasn’t introverted at all, but shy? I started looking at the data. I remember crying on several occasions during my childhood when my mom wanted me to call an adult on the phone. Once I needed to call a friend’s mom to see if I had left a retainer at her house after a sleepover. Once I had to call a store to see if they had any similar products to the invention that I was making for the Young Inventor’s Fair. I wailed for HOURS about both of these situations, begging my mom to not be so cruel as to make me talk to strangers! On the phone!
I hate talking on the phone. After college I had an internship in an office and sometimes I had to cover the phones over lunch. I was freaked out, and tried to explain that to my boss, but he didn’t get it. “Anna, you’re friendly, you’ll be fine!” And I was, but I was in constant panic mode over those phones. Thankfully with enough repeated exposure I have mostly grown out of that, although if I can avoid phones I will.
I always got nervous, and still do get nervous, in new social situations. I went to summer school, for fun, as a child, and as I didn’t know any other children who were attending summer school for fun I had to make new friends. I was terrified. I managed to make one acquaintance so I had someone to eat my snack with, but accomplishing more than that was beyond me. Now that I think about it, most of my friends initially reached out to me, because I’m usually too timid to make the first move.
So yes. Shyness seems like a fair diagnosis. But I never thought of myself as being shy growing up, because I’m not particularly quiet. Once I get comfortable I am friendly, sociable, and a talker. Someone should probably write a billion Buzzfeed articles about how just because I’m shy doesn’t mean I’m quiet! But I’ve learned that you can be all those things and still be scared of new people and new situations.
My other quality that made me test as an introvert is that even though I’m not particularly quiet I like quiet activities. I love reading, and crafting, and watching movies and tv, and napping. For the introvert that is the solitary time they need to recharge. But I realized for me these activities recharge me not so much because they are solitary, it’s more that they’re quiet. I actually love doing all those things with other people, and prefer to do them in a group. One of my favorite family activities growing up was when a lot of us would all be in the same room reading different things. Another one of my favorites was family nap time, when we would all take naps at the same time on Sundays so we didn’t have to worry about missing out on anything.
So I am shy, and I like restful activities. Am I an extrovert? When I am with my family, or people I really like, then sure. I get so much energy from those situations. But if I am in a crowd situation, or smaller situations with people I don’t know, or unstructured small talk situations (church coffee hour, anyone?), or talking with just about anyone on the phone, it drains me like nothing else. I guess that’s just my shyness (and maybe a phone phobia?), and if I weren’t shy, those things would probably energize me, too. But I am shy, so they don’t. Not one bit.
After all this analysis, I guess I can no longer identify as one of those chic introverts. I’ll just have to identify as a qualified extrovert. The kind of extrovert who loves reading quietly with other people and hates talking on the phone. The shy extrovert. Maybe someone will write a book about us, and another billion Buzzfeed articles will follow, and I will be able to recover some chicness.