Introverts of the World Unite?

Introverts forming a movement? As a self-professed introvert myself, that sounds kind of funny. It wouldn’t be a terribly noisy movement, that’s for sure. I picture of big group of people (assuming you could even get a significant number of us to gather) not talking to each other much. Funny as it may sound, it seems that Jonathan Rauch’s essay “Caring for Your introvert” (which I posted about a while back) has launched just such a movement (on the internet, of course, in typical introvert fashion), becoming one of the most emailed article at the Atlantic Monthly. According to Rauch himself, in a recent interivew with the magazine, it’s also generated a ton of email.

Then I got this overwhelming reaction in the mail. It’s been a bigger reaction than to anything else I’ve written. I think it suggests that a lot of people have the same experiences you and I do, and that they haven’t had a name for it or a way of understanding it. Having that is very valuable. It tells you how to understand yourself and-maybe even more importantly-it tells you that you’re fine and that, in fact, a lot of the problem is with the rest of the world.

People really do seem to be having a real “eureka” reaction to this. At some level, it reminds me of what it’s like to discover that you’re gay. Obviously there’s no structural similarity between introversion and homosexuality, but there is this sense of realizing that you’re different in a way that’s very meaningful. Understanding introversion as a concept kind of makes the pieces fit together. A number of people have told me that they’ve Xeroxed the article and given it to their friends, their families, their significant others, and so on, as a communication device.

Rauch goes on to write about how being married to an extrovert (his husband, Michael) helped in tune in to his introversion. Married to an extrovert? More power to him. It sounds exhausting to me. Fortunately, the hubby and I are pretty close to each other on the introversion-extroversion continuum. We both tend to prefer small gatherings to big parties. And if we’re at a big party we both more likely to hang back and spend most of our time talking to each other or two a few people out of the crowd. We’ve both had to learn (as most introverts do in an extrovert-oriented world) to “fake it” when necessary, so we have probably creeped closed to the cusp of introversion/extroversion.

The closest I came to the experience of being married to an extrovert was having a roomate who was a classic extrovert. That’s probably about the time it became really clear to me. He had lots of visitors stopping by the house. I had much fewer. He was on the phone a lot. I spent more time online than on the phone. And when we had a huge party at our house, he ran around talking to people as things were winding down to find out where everyone was going so that he could continue the partying elsewhere. On the other hand, by the end of the party I was just waiting for everyone to leave so I could have some peace and quiet.

It’s too soon to tell, I think, where Parker is on that same continuum. One one hand, he tends to hang back a bit in new situations, but on the other hand he warms up quickly, and seems to make friends with other kids pretty quickly too. That sounds neither extroverted or introverted to me.

And even though I’m close to the cusp, I’m default mode is still introverted. I pretty much live for my “alone time” and have learned to grab it where and when I can. I actually look forward to my commutes because I can turn on the iPod, stick my nose in a book, and shut everything else out for half an hour twice a day. That’s probably also the reason I’m a night owl and always have been. I’m pretty much guaranteed to have “alone time” once everyone else in the house has gone to bed.

But backto the idea of an “Introverts’ movement.” From Rauch’s decription it sounds like his essay sparked a “coming out moment” for a lot of people.

Part of the thrill of this article is that it seems to be helping introverts discover each other. It never occurred to me when I wrote it that there would be so many other people out there with whom this would resonate so strongly. But one of the main points I see over and over again in the mail I’ve been getting is, “I’m not alone! There are others like me.” This sense of empowerment because of not being alone is very important to people. That in itself, to the extent that that takes hold, would be a very important part of correcting the introvert/extrovert imbalance.

Sounds vaguely familiar to me, and as Rauch is a gay man as well it wasn’t lost on him either.

Obviously there’s no structural similarity between introversion and homosexuality, but there is this sense of realizing that you’re different in a way that’s very meaningful.

Rauch says he doesn’t know if anyone else is writing about this, but I came across The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extroverted World and snatched it up. I may write a review once I finish it. (I’ve got two more book reviews tucked away in my brain that I need to write sometime.) And a few years back I read The Highly Sensitive Person , which covers the same basic territory as I recall. Of course, there’s also Type Talk, with it’s chapter on INFPs.

Of course, there’s an argument to be made against the tendency to label and define every subtle shade of human nature, but I tend to think anything that helps people understand themselves better, accept themselves a bit more, and relate to the rest of the world more easily can’t be all bad.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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3 Responses to Introverts of the World Unite?

  1. E.C. says:

    My partner is an extrovert (and I’m not).  I don’t know if I feel like I need someone to balance me or what, but relationships with introverts just never worked out for me.  Of course, I find myself reminding him frequently of the way introverts work, when they aren’t as willing to make small talk as he is, consequently leading him to believe they’re unfriendly.  (Usually this takes the form of "That’s what most people probably think of me.")  So when we’re together, and strangers (or neighbors or . . .) come along, he does the talking while I smile and attempt to look as friendly as possible.And on a somewhat related topic, have you read Anneli S. Rufus’s Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto?  If not, I recommend it.

  2. The Heretik says:

    Long live the quiet revolution.

  3. ryan says:

    I’m the extrovert in a yin-yang relationship, and though it does cause some friction between us at times, it really has helped us both to understand other people – and it’s tempered the preference in both of us (I actually find myself appreciating alone time! He initiates social plans!).  Don’t forget the things Extroverts can do, though (!) – I can make networking a lot more pleasant for my partner =)

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