CAFE NOIR » Tales of an atheist, anarchist, wannabe filmmaker of sorts, and father of three lovable little beasties

I’m an extroverted introvert

Me and my Violet, couple of introverts

So you wanna hear about the *worst* week of my life? A few years back Jessica and I took an intensive, live-in, week-long photography workshop, with 6-8 other people who started the week as perfect strangers to us. Nearly round-the-clock interaction and small talk, and the only social respite was the 6-ish hours we spent sleeping each night.

It was a good workshop, but by far the most socially exhausting situation this introvert has ever found himself in. And I promised myself I’d never purposely put myself in a similar situation again, unless I had a really good reason to. Here are some of the “social exhaustion” boxes it checked:

  • Starting from scratch with perfect strangers.
  • Absolutely no waking down time whatsoever to recharge my social batteries, for nearly an entire week.
  • Too large a group and too busy a schedule to find opportunities for genuinely stimulating and/or heart-to-heart conversations.
  • Too small a group to simply float around, briefly chit-chatting with Person A, then moving on to Person B…eventually to Persons Y and then Z.
  • Also too small a group to excuse myself to some quiet time without being awkward about it, without being really lame about it.
  • The added social pressure of being amongst professional peers, because let’s be honest, we were all judging each other big time, even if trying to be helpful and constructive about it.
  • Several in the group were (at least apparently) incredibly extroverted extroverts, most notably the workshop organizer/facilitator, who also happens to be a quite well-known and well-respected figure in the US portrait photography scene. “Oh God I hope he doesn’t think I’m a loser and a poser!” kept reverberating through my brain.
  • Very slim chance of building lasting personal relationships with anyone in the group. At the end of the week we’d all go our separate ways once more, to all corners of the country, likely never to see each other again. Very slim chance of the social exhaustion being “worth it” in other words.

Now at this point if you’ve got me pegged as generally shy, you’d be mistaken. I doubt my fellow workshop attendees came away thinking I was particularly shy; maybe just a bit tired out by the end of the week. I can play the social butterfly, at least to certain degrees, for certain durations. Or, say, public speaking: I don’t really mind public speaking, though I wouldn’t exactly say I enjoy it either.

In fact, what specifically prompted this post is that my brother Mark tried Myers-Briggsing me a few days ago and guessed initially that I’m an extrovert. And I told him that no, I definitely consider myself an introvert, to his surprise. (No worries Mark, you’re not the first person very close to me to guess that I’m an extrovert!)

My introversion doesn’t usually have very much to do with outward behavior. Of course there are times and places when I’m in a decidedly a-social mood, and I’ll purposely avoid socializing. But generally, I love to socialize, so long as not-too-many of the “social exhaustion” criteria I’ve outlined above are at play. Introversion is typically much more of an internal thing for me. The more a given situation aligns with the above criteria, the more it involves exertion for me, even terrific exertion. And above all, I absolutely need time to decompress, to internally process and recharge.

It’s very similar for me to physical exercise. I love to exercise–wouldn’t want to try doing life without it–but obviously it’s an exertion which I need significant respite from. Also like exercise, it’s something I’ve gotten better at the more I’ve practiced it. Eye contact is an example: I’ve worked very hard, particularly recently, to hold better eye contact when speaking with people. And I have noticed myself improving significantly at it, even though it doesn’t quite feel exactly natural (half of what’s going through my mind when making good eye contact with a conversation partner is “whoa, we’re really making eye contact here; this is mostly exhilarating, mildly terrifying!”).

Bottom line: it’s most certainly not a “hmm, could take it or leave it” kind of thing. I deeply crave love, affection, approval, intimacy, companionship (don’t we all, at least the vast majority of us humans?). Perhaps more to the point, I actively seek them out, by choosing to often put myself in social situations. And sometimes I simply enjoy social fun, for fun’s sake, because, well, it’s fun.

Dum ditty dum ditty dum dum dum.

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