So someone on FB, who is an introvert, expressed a desire for extroverts to talk more about what it's like to be an extrovert, as this is something they don't understand. So I thought I'd give it a go, here rather than FB cos I don't like posting thinky things that just vanish into FB's ether.
So I'm starting with the definition than an extrovert is someone who draws energy from being around other people. Energy in this sense means wellbeing and enthusiasm and the ability to get things done, not literal calories. I do also have many of the other traits typically associated with extroverts, like being talkative and socially confident, but I'm aware that these things are not really part of the definition of extrovert. I'm also spelling it extrovert
rather than extravert
, because I don't want to imply that I'm talking about serious psychological research, I'm really just using a popular conception of what an extrovert is. And yes, I do acknowledge like any binary, anyway way of putting people into a small number of non-overlapping boxes, can be challenged, whether it's cat people versus dog people, or Hogwarts houses (so Ravenclaw it hurts!) or whatever.
But I do think there is something which is true of me, and is not true of many of my friends who define as introverts, that I feel good about time spent interacting with other people, and generally start to wilt if I spend too long on my own. Like anyone else, I'm sometimes rooted to my comfy chair and don't want to go out, but as soon as I arrive at a social gathering, I perk up, and nearly always feel more awake and happy by the end, even if it's many hours on my feet and runs late. And I know this not true of many introverts, who may find themselves pressured by well-meaning friends who assume that they should just get over the activation barrier and go to parties, because they'll enjoy it once they get there. I'm not very often shy, but I do sometimes find it hard to start up conversations with strangers; however, once I do manage it, the conversations end up making me feel good. It's not that I'm never annoyed by chatty taxi drivers or hairdressers or whatever, it's that there's always a baseline of emotional reward I get from having these kinds of conversations, even trivial small-talk with people I'm never going to see again.
When I'm emotionally down, sad or grumpy or anxious or whatever, talking to people basically always makes me feel better. I don't mind whether people offer 'fixing' types of responses rather than 'listening' and acknowledging my emotions, both are good because both get me the soothing balm of making a connection with other people. Indeed it often helps me if people just chat about whatever happens to be in their head, because I still get that sense of connection. It's really hard to think of any occasion when I've withdrawn because of feeling bad, I basically always want to reach out. To express to someone I'm angry with why I'm angry rather than storming off to sulk. I mean, sometimes I don't want to cry in front of other people because I'm an uptight English person and I find that embarrassing, but I never feel sad in a way that makes me feel I don't want company right now.
My idea of heaven – almost literally my idea of heaven, I absolutely love the midrashic picture of the afterlife as a giant yeshiva where everybody argues about text for all eternity – is time spent with a large group of friends. That's how I spent most of my honeymoon, and it's what I very often want to be doing with my free time. Indeed, I sometimes end up annoying my more introverted friends because I don't understand how much they value one-to-one time and feel neglected if I only ever see them at parties and group events. I love that being in a relationship with four adults and the three children of one half of the quad means that a lot of our relationship interactions take place in a group context. I think some of my partners find this is an obstacle to the relationship, that it's hard to find time for actual romantic dates, but for me it's a great advantage. Maybe that's not just being an extrovert, it's because I grew up with three close in age siblings, so family events of six or seven feel like a very natural environment to me.
Extrovert energy isn't magic; lots of things where I spend time with other people are still hard work. Talking in a language I'm not fluent in will certainly tire me out, as will going to the kind of conference where I have to repeatedly approach new people and build connections with them from scratch. I love public speaking, I get a real buzz out of it, but I can still feel pretty exhausted at the end of an hour's performance, giving a lecture or running service or whatever. And sometimes just getting myself into a position where I can recharge my extroversion will be tiring in itself. I don't particularly love crowds
where I'm just in the same physical space as lots of other people without any real opportunity to interact with them. So sometimes the way that a particular gathering is physically tiring may outweigh the benefit I get from being with other people, but I still always get that benefit.
I find text-based interaction nearly equally satisfying as in person interaction; I'm not someone who needs a lot of touch, and I find shared comfortable silence quite challenging with most people, even those I'm close to. I am not sure if this is in fact typical of extroverts, I think I'm more highly verbal than most as well as being an extrovert, cos often you see a stereotype that it's introverts who like to do their socializing online. But I like that a lot because it's low effort, as in something I can do sitting at home with my cup of tea, but very nearly as rewarding as an in person event which may require me to travel to a venue and otherwise put myself out.
Another way I'm, as I understand it, typical of extroverts is that I like to talk things through. That is, I do my thinking by having conversations with anyone who's willing to engage with me. I find the mindset of wanting to come to a conclusion before informing anyone of what I think rather strange. If I can't find a willing ear, I think by typing out DW posts or just having imaginary conversations in my head; my inner voice is a dialogue most of the time, or at least I imagine an audience present, even if not in very great detail, sometimes I'm just explaining my perspective to an undefined 'someone'.
Do I think extroverts are favoured by the society I live in? To an extent, yes, there are definitely ways that being happy in group situations is an advantage, partly because most people in my culture live in cities with a historically unprecedented population density. I think a lot of what's considered to be bias towards extroverts may be more bias towards confidence. The white, middle-class, masculine man who is (often unconsciously) viewed as a default human often has an elevated sense of his own value, and I'm not sure that's exactly an extrovert thing. Lots of things about jobs in the typical working world advantage extroverts, from being able to tell a panel of strangers why you're the right person for the job to being able to interact with colleagues for n hours a day. But also lots of things advantage introverts, like being able to deal with being bored for several hours a day, or being able to keep your controversial and work-inappropriate views to yourself, so I really don't know. Also I personally have chosen a career path where my strengths are an advantage and actively sought out situations where I'll be in contact with other people. I get the impression that there may be more bias towards extroverts in US culture, particularly US school culture, but if what I read on the internet is even halfway true US public schools are pretty toxic to just about everybody who's different in any way from the expected norm. I don't feel particularly offended by the memes that paint extroverts as all loud, brash, annoying people with no sense of personal space who can't shut up babbling about trivialities; I recognize that my flaws are extrovert flaws just as many of my strengths are extrovert strengths.
Obviously I have lots of experiences that are related to other aspects of my personality, and I shouldn't assume that everything about my interaction with the world is simply a factor of being an extrovert. Like, I know there are lots of shy, quiet extroverts out there, and I imagine they would report things entirely differently.
Any other extroverts want to comment? I'm making this a public post and will link it from FB for the benefit of the person who wanted to learn about what it's like to be us.I prefer comments at Dreamwidth. There are currently comments there. You can use your LJ address as an OpenID, or just write your name.