On Introversion

Because I’m outgoing and charismatic, people are always surprised to hear that I consider myself an introvert. I take pleasure in the deception—“You don’t seem like an introvert” is one of those statements that, like “You don’t look Jewish,” I inevitably interpret as a compliment, regardless of how it was intended. But ultimately I see the introversion/extraversion dichotomy as being not about shyness or sociability, but about where you get your energy. If you find being around other people draining, and need time on your own to recharge, you’re an introvert—no matter how much you can turn on the charm when you want to.

I suspect a lot of outgoing and charismatic people are secretly introverts. Viewed through the energy lens, introversion and charisma aren’t opposed at all, but actually complementary. When I’m around all but my absolute closest friends, I’m inevitably at least somewhat “on”—so I might as well go full throttle and turn that “on-ness” all the way up. And if I’m always on when I’m around others, then of course I need time on my own to recharge.

Although my life is full of many significant relationships, the most significant has always been the one I have with myself. I imagine this is true for most people, but a lot of times I feel like it’s somehow more true for me. Other times, though, I think that’s a ridiculous idea—trying to game out how the experience of being you compares to the experience of being other people is destined to leave you unsatisfied. It doesn’t really matter either way, as a relationship’s significance is entirely subjective; how I feel about my relationship with myself is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and my believing it makes it so. Various people who’ve come and gone from my life have sensed this about me and have exhibited various levels of jealousy over the relationship I have with myself—an idea that would sound absurd were it not for the fact that I suspect, on some level, that it isn’t totally wrong.

Of course, introversion and extraversion—to the extent they even exist at all—aren’t binaries. Carl Jung, who coined the terms, believed we all have both traits within us, with one or the other dominating at different times or in different circumstances. Like most related concepts, they’ve gotten dumbed down over the years as they’ve entered the realm of pop psychology, culminating in a recent trend of stupid | thinkpieces that frame introverts as a downtrodden minority group, oppressed by a society built for extraverts.

I think of this newsletter as existing in the blurry borderland between the two modalities. Writing to you all every week and opening up my life and thoughts could be seen as trademark extroversion—as could the implicit belief that my life and thoughts are so interesting they demand to have hundreds of people reading about them. On the other hand, I write to you each week alone, hearing these words in my head almost as if I’m just writing to myself, and I come across differently here than I do in real life—and say things I wouldn’t say out loud too. In this newsletter I somehow manage to be both uncomfortably intimate and openly performative.

A friend recently asked me to describe what my introversion feels like and I told her that it’s like when you go to a party with a good friend, and though you’re having fun at the party, the whole time in the back of your head you’re thinking about what they think about the party, and really you’re just looking forward to debriefing with them afterwards, which you secretly know will be the most fun part of the night—you’re even framing your own thoughts through the lens of what you’re going to say to them about it later.

My introversion is kind of like that, I said, except that I’m both people.

Except now maybe you’re one of the people. Or maybe you’re a third friend, or a stranger listening in. Or maybe it wasn’t a very good metaphor in the first place. I don’t know, it’s been a long time since I went to an actual party.

Yours in knowing that at least one of you is going to make fun of me for openly describing myself as outgoing and charismatic,