How many introverts does it take to satisfy an extrovert?
I suspect the answer is the same as to that riddle about angels dancing on the tip of a pin – as many as can see the point! We get a reputation for being somewhere on the hungry side of insatiable when it comes to having people in our lives, and here’s the thing – in some ways we’re not particularly picky. People can be fairly shitty, but at the end, they’re better than no company at all.
Here’s another thing: the world is built for extroverts, and we all know it. There is an uprising of pro-introvert pieces, declaiming the needs of introverts and how space and peace and isolation are air and water to them; how socialisation can frazzle, fray, and wear them beyond tolerance. I am absolutely on board with this, and agree it’s totally necessary – introverts have struggled for too long misunderstood.
They have a horrendous reputation for being anti-social, stand-offish, or austere. They can appear skittish, impenetrable, and cold. They seem, sometimes, to have no capacity for connection. To me, this seems an utterly inconceivable manner of existing, but I suppose to introverts, if others do not want to form connections, it’s more a matter of peace and quiet going blissfully uninterrupted by the overtures of friendship.
I have to say, though, personal experience suggests there’s an outer layer which doesn’t necessarily belie the state of the person underneath. The introverts I know are social (within reason and context), warm, open, and lovely. They share deep thoughts and feelings, they love abundantly and willingly, once they make up their mind to. They have huge capacity for meaningful connection, but a very low tolerance for the superficial, which can initially seem off-putting (for, how on earth do you get to know someone, except in a low-key, hesitant kind of blasé way at first?)
The introverts I know and love go one step further, and have even managed to (mostly) get beyond the idea of me as a sort of human-shaped golden retriever, who bounces around a lot after clouds and butterflies, interrupts incessantly with exciting new thoughts, showers people with unwarranted kisses, and all but smothers with love and enthusiasm*. It’s very sweet of them, and I am endlessly grateful for their indulgence.
I’m also endlessly grateful for how many of them have come to hold me in their hearts as a friend. I think I’ve (mostly) got to the point where I manage not to be too draining to them, and this delights me, as it means they can tolerate me for longer, which is always a plus.
Here’s yet another thing: friendship is very different for my introverts and me. Like, worlds apart.
I get the impression that for them, it’s a beautiful shiny thing which flourishes and grows with time and input, and is glorious…but also sits quite contentedly on a shelf in their hearts while we’re out of contact. They might look at it and marvel at its loveliness, but don’t need to pick it up or touch it to know it’s there. A glance once in a while is enough. They have me in their heart, they know they have a place in mine, and it’s sufficient.
Maybe opposites attract, but in this case, opposite is something I find incredibly challenging.
I thrive on connection, and I do very badly at sitting on shelves. Friendship for me is more akin to a fire; if someone removes the oxygen and warmth of their connection from my fuel, everything starts to flicker, dies back, starts to go cold and ashy at the edges. If I go too long without contact**, I find myself staring into the freezing, blackened space in my heart where I once had a glowing friendship, and I die a little. Or a lot.
Good thing is, bring back the oxygen and warmth, and immediately, things spark back into wonderous life.
In the meantime, though, I get lonely. So lonely.
I have developed a set of very reasonable statements to tell myself in these times. Things like ‘It’s not about me, not my fault – this is about them living their lives too’, and ‘They still care, just because they’re not in touch doesn’t mean they don’t care’. Sometimes I even try the ‘We’re all different and busy and they’re busy, and not taking a few moments to say “Hi” doesn’t mean I no longer matter.’
The feelings creep, wickedly, though. They start to suggest I mightn’t be worth keeping, that my people have found better prospects elsewhere, that their time is far better spent on others. They draw a dark veil across the sun and burst all my bubbles. They make me feel like a terrible friend, because if I was a good one, I’d be bothered with and prioritised. They (probably) lie.
Another thing – I don’t leave people, but am very easily left. A toxic but consistent person is (in some ways) preferable to someone I love very dearly going quiet and disappearing. I stay hooked in as long as I possibly can bear. I try not to chase after people who leave me, because I’ve learned that a) it’s undignified, and b) it makes no difference, if someone has decided to be shot of me, but you bet your bottom dollar I’ll sit in the cold ashes and cry.
For introverts, the above is probably melodramatic and utterly inconceivable.
Remember, though, the manner in which socialisation and people and conversation and connection will rapidly drain an introvert and leave them empty? The total opposite is true for me. People, en masse, are a delight. Conversation (deep thoughts, shallow ones, passing ones, the banal, the arcane, the weather, anything) is restorative. Connection charges me.
Peace and aloneness and isolation are my very worst. Darkness falls as I get empty and I start to think I’m never going to manage a connection with anyone else ever again, and should just be alone for all my days, then the world begins to crumble under my feet.
Not that sometimes it isn’t pleasant (in a sort of experimental way) to kick back with a book in a quiet room, or go for a walk by myself in a place away from other people, but it doesn’t last for more than a couple of hours before I need to find another person. Thank goodness I live with Mum and WonderAunty, and there’s usually someone around!
I suppose the main thing I want to achieve is a sort of apologetic explanation, slightly sheepishly, for why I’m so annoying and sleeve-tuggy at times. I also hope my introverts will absorb this information (at their own paces) and tuck the knowledge away with the shiny thing of our friendship, and know it works differently for me; that I’m not trying to frustrate – just trying to keep the embers of love alive.
And thanks, too, all my introverts who have let me become a friend. I’m so very thankful for each of you, and for the ways and times we do connect. Know this, if nothing else – it matters. HUGE. As do you ❤
*I managed to rein the description in just shy of suggesting I all but go around sticking my head into people’s crotches, happily wagging my tail…but then having related the description to a(n introverted) friend, and appreciated her burst of laughter (ALL CAPS), I decided to pop it in as a flourish at the end, just to maybe make you laugh, too.
**The timing of the ‘without contact’ can vary for different people, and different natures of relationship. I can manage well hearing from some people every few weeks, or even less frequently. For others, I start to see the ash and darkness creeping in after a day or two…which I understand must be very irritating for the people on the receiving end of my pestering attention, so I try to keep it dialled down (they may or may not believe this). For me, friendship cannot take place inside someone else’s head. I need more, which isn’t always ideal.