Last year, I joined the “Do a Good Deed or Die Doing It Club.” I pledged to brighten up every introvert I know – whether they liked it or not.
So far, I’m batting zero and totally depressed. Introverts are now approaching ME and asking, “Are you okay?”
I don’t understand.
Each time I try to console an introvert friend in need, their reaction is always the same:
“I am happy.”
“Just because I’m not smiling doesn’t mean there’s something wrong.”
“What part of ‘Leave me alone’ don’t you understand?”
“Excuse me, this is a private funeral.”
“Didn’t you read the restraining order?”
I wish I could convince my socially adverse friends that being more approachable brings immeasurable joy into their lives. If only they knew the pleasure I feel each time a co-worker I vaguely know approaches me and proceeds to talk non-stop about her upcoming colonoscopy.
I understand never smiling has its advantages. For example, you always look like your driver’s license photo. Also, it can be helpful in professions like multi-national corporation CEO or freelance dominatrix. And yes, there is something sexy about clenched teeth and a guttural growl.
But I can’t believe introverts with gloomy demeanors are really happy – especially the ones who see me approaching.
Mark Loofton is a door-to-door doorbell salesman. He holds the Guinness World Records for longest period of time without taking no for an answer.
Introverts hate small talk. It feels phony, it forces you to make eye contact and it’s exhausting. If only there was a better way to find out how co-workers you barely know feel about the weather.
Unfortunately, there isn’t. Until Apple, Google or Amazon develop a device that talks to the people we want to ignore, the chore will be left to us.
The good news is introverts are smart and resourceful. Also, their rich inner lives make it easier to tune in and out as someone drones on about their granite countertops or which Hampton Inn has the best continental breakfast. (Any introvert knows it’s the one in Denville, NJ.) It’s amazing how far an occasional nod accompanied by “Really” or “That’s interesting” will get you. In the meantime, you can focus on more important things like “Did this woman get a nose job?”
Donna Bernstein is an introvert who has never encountered an uncomfortable social situation she couldn’t avoid. “I know how to slip away from any gathering without being noticed. That includes my first, second and fourth weddings.” Bernstein, a quiet freelance astrologer, trained as a Navy SEAL. She uses her survival skills to escape over-hugging strangers and talkative co-workers. Bernstein once fled a noisy bridal shower by squeezing through a tiny bathroom window and rappelling 10-stories to a sidewalk, using only a piece of dental floss.
Of course, the best way to avoid any unwanted event is to not go. Donna’s first advice is create an extensive list of excuses. For example, she has 25 possible reasons for not attending a Kazakhstani Sweet Sixteen Party. “Although,” she says, “my fail-safe excuse is usually, ‘I’m under house arrest’.”
If you arrive at your destination but are having second thoughts, Bernstein recommends continuing to drive around your end point until you run out of gas. “Then call AAA for help. They’re nice people and, like me, have no interest in mindless small talk. It’s also a good opportunity to watch your odometer pass 100,000 miles.”
Even the most cautious introvert may find themselves at a meeting or event in which everyone is a total stranger. Then what? “That’s easy,” says Donna. “I pretend to have an urgent phone call and say loudly, ‘How far apart are the contractions? Call the doctor! I’ll be there soon!’ Then I sprint out of the building without looking back until the voices screaming, ‘Is there anything we can do?’ have faded away.”
Donna plans to deliver a series of lectures about avoiding crowds and strangers, but only if they’re sparsely attended. “I could never speak to a large group of people. However, if no one shows up, I’ll definitely be there.”
Bernstein has advice for introverts who don’t want live life off the grid but yearn for more alone time: “Let people know how you feel but be nice about it. A politely written Post-it Note attached to your forehead indicating you are an introvert is always helpful. I guarantee, no one except concerned mental health professionals will bother you.”
Frank and I have been together for two years. We’re your typical extrovert/introvert couple. He’s gregarious. I occasionally make eye contact with my cat. I prefer to socialize with a few friends – by few I mean in numbers from zero to Frank. Frank prefers rubbing shoulders with the Mormon Tabernacle choir.
Last week I made reservations at a small intimate restaurant à deux. Frank invited a pack of cousins, five of whom belong to a “Deliverance” renenactors club. I’ve never been a devotee of one-tooth banjo players, but I couldn’t bring myself to say no.
This happens all the time. Frank always insists we socialize as part of a mob. (I’ll save our evening with the Gambino family for another question.) I love him dearly and want this relationship to work. How can I convince him to respect my need for solitude and shorter conga lines?
Mobbed in Manhasset
Introvert/extrovert relationships can be a mixed blessing. I once dated an extrovert who wanted to have a three-way with me and my inner voice. This same extrovert introduced me to the amazing world of group rates.
A loving and thoughtful extrovert can help you emerge from your shell and broaden your world. But stand up for yourself. Just because you’re an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t be an introvert princess warrior. Frank sounds like a keeper. Tell him how you feel and tell him to keep his friends at a distance.
Mindy Menorah, Ph.D., LCSW, PDF is a licensed, bonded, and insured couples therapist. For 23 years she was the official Osmond family mediator.
I’m an extreme introvert. How extreme? I’ve yet to make eye contact with my goldfish.
I was recently required to attend a cocktail party hosted by my employer. It was the kind of social gathering I avoid like a plague, the kind of plague in which I don’t know the other plague victims.
To help survive the evening I enlisted the assistance of an amateur hypnotist friend who claimed he could get me to act like an extrovert. Unfortunately, he thought it would be funny to transform me into an extroverted monkey every time someone said the word “strategize.”
Aside from one small incident when I hurled my feces at the VP of Sales, the evening went well. I even approached and flirted with our new intern from Uzbekistan. She speaks little English and found my outgoing simian airs enchanting. We’ve since been dating regularly for two months.
Here’s my dilemma. Continuing to speak and act like a monkey hasn’t been a problem. Continuing to speak and act like an extroverted monkey has. It takes so much energy and is exhausting. I like this girl and don’t want to lose her. What do I do?
Going Bananas in Birmingham
There is nothing wrong with going ape for a girl, even a girl who can’t tell the difference between a human and another mammal. But in the end you have to listen to your inner primate. You’re an introvert and will always be an introvert. Give your Uzbeki intern a chance. If she loves you as an outgoing monkey, she may come to appreciate you as a solitary, thoughtful chimpanzee.
Andy Brightman is a former CIA intelligence officer. “To Hell and Back: My 35 Years in Cubicle 289D” is his recently-published autobiography.