March 11, 2014

One way to understand an introvert

Introverts now have more screen time, but are still far from truly being seen.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ve most likely seen dozens of “articles” that tell you all the secrets of the introverted people of the world—10 things you should never say to them, 38 ways you can make them LOL, 284.5 secrets about the way they tie their shoes. Published on popular sites like BuzzFeed and Thought Catalog, these blurbs of information have led to a significant increase in screen time for the introvert. Though it’d be pushing it to say that these articles have opened the door to serious extrovert-to-introvert conversations, at the very least they have made introverts feel a little bit less alone.

But ultimately, how much does that actually matter? I know how nice it feels to finally get something (delta-epsilon), but the feeling of solidarity I get when I read a list on BuzzFeed about introversion isn’t going to change the way that I’m perceived in this extroverted world. It’s also questionable whether the trade-off between feeling less lonely is worth being caught reading BuzzFeed.

The problem with the information on introversion is that it’s altogether one-sided. As obvious as that statement may seem (only introverts can really write about what introverts are like, duh), when trying to improve general understanding of introverts, only being able to connect with introverted readers is a real problem. Until a more holistic explanation of people like us can be offered to people unlike ourselves, these lists will never be more than just feel-good GIFs for a portion of the population. Luckily, I’ve been given this cool little space to give what I hope is a more helpful look into what it’s like to be an introverted unicorn like me—specifically, one facing the pressures that come with being in college.

To start, the world expects me to be able to make friends at every turn and to thoroughly enjoy living among 5,000 other (louder) people. While extroverts gain their energy from others and can ease into new situations with new people, I tend to gravitate towards corners/pets at parties—not because I’m a loner or because I hate people (at least not all the time), but because socializing is draining and often terrifying. Small talk feels like pulling teeth (I don’t care about how hard your classes are), but revealing deeper parts of myself to strangers seems absurd. I don’t understand people who wear their hearts on their sleeves. For me, opening up is something that only happens with time and trust. Therefore, I have the lovely choice between being dreadfully boring and being socially inept. Even during the rare moments I do feel like chatting away, I’m often left exhausted after an hour or two, wanting nothing more than to lie in bed motionless and alone (a.k.a. my favorite thing to do).

My social tendencies also have a tendency to spill over and sabotage my professional life. While extroverts can happily capitalize on their ability to make connections, I don’t feel genuine when I think about those kinds of benefits in a friendship or relationship. Maybe it’s because while extroverts may sincerely enjoy talking to prospective employers, I don’t. As a result, I feel like I have to become a connection-making machine and fake interest in everyone’s work. I ask the same questions, and give out the same recited answers. There are significant differences between how extroverts and introverts perceive and deal with such situations. Neither group is more right than the other in their perception and actions, but one’s natural tendencies are favored by society. Because of this, I’m often left feeling as though my prospects are limited and my values—to be myself, to be genuine towards others—are irrelevant.

The question is: Where does that leave those who cannot or do not want to put themselves through the motions? For me specifically, I ask whether it’s better to feel alone in social settings and unwanted in employment prospects—yet remain true to my values—or to force myself to be somebody I’m not, and enjoy the benefits of what Marx would call an unfree life (I hope my Sosc teacher is reading this).

There is no likelihood of a complete overhaul of societal expectations visible in the near future, and I’m too shy to lead one (duh, introvert). Regardless, it’s disappointing and disheartening to believe that, for now, my only visions of introverted clarity reside in two of the most obnoxious clickbait-heavy websites the world has ever seen. But perhaps, with time, we will find different, and more productive ways to talk about introverts, and ways that we can better incorporate them into an extroverted-preferring world.

Jenny Lee is a second-year in the College majoring in political science.