Understanding an Extrovert – Or, An Apology to All the Friends I’ve Loved Before…

I wake up at 6am. I pour a cup of coffee and head straight for my laptop. I work on my curriculum and other small projects for the upcoming school year. I check email (both accounts) and Facebook repeatedly. I read. Some days I write for a bit. I get more coffee. I play Scrabble on my iPhone. I pace around the house. I go in the backyard and stare at the vegetable and herb gardens. I check the clock: it’s 10am.

I’m bored. It’s only been two weeks since the spring semester ended and summer vacation began, and already I’m climbing the walls.

Some people don’t believe in being bored. For example, a friend of mine once accusingly said to me, “You live a train-ride away from the 5th largest city in the United States. How could you be bored?” Echoing that same sentiment, another friend told me that she hasn’t been bored since she got her driver’s license. I envy these people…

It’s true that I may not be thinking outside the box hard enough. To be sure, there are great museums, fantastic hiking trails, old movie theaters, and vintage clothing stores in my area. And, the Jersey beaches are only a short road trip away. But, the reality, for me anyway, is that I don’t like – or, more stubbornly – don’t want to do things alone. Why? Because I’m an extrovert.

Many people oversimplify extroverts as merely outgoing people. While this is true to an extent, it’s much more complex than that. Extroverts are outgoing people, but they are outgoing because they draw their energy from large social groups. Carl Jung, the first psychologist to label personalities as introverted or extroverted, defined extroversion as “the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self.” Put more simply, extroverts are leeches.

When Jung set off to study people’s personalities, he looked at how they responded to parties or large social gatherings. Those who were drained by these intense social situations were labeled introverts; those who were stimulated by these events were labeled extroverts. Therefore, it can probably be argued that, for extroverts, a lot of “alone time” is just as energy-zapping as a rave might be for introverts. This is how I see it in my case, anyway.  Instead of cherishing alone time as many people do, I find it depressing.

Whenever someone asks the age-old philosophical question “If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?” my response has always been, “Yes, but so what?”  I might know that the tree will still make a sound when it falls, but unless someone is there to hear it, the sound has no meaning. We can make assumptions, but, ultimately, we don’t know what the actual sound is, how loud it might be, or if it varies from tree to tree, because we weren’t there to experience it. This potentially limited view basically defines my philosophy about life: I believe that certain events need to be experienced with other people in order for them to be meaningful to me.

When I see an art exhibit, travel to a new place, or go for a hike in a state park, part of me really enjoys the personal inner experience of it all. But, to me, the experience lacks meaning until it unfolds out in the open and is shared with another person, or multiple people, who have also had their own personal – and probably much different from my own – inner experience. The personal experience is great, but, to me, the discussion of the experience is better.

The desire to see and hear how people react to things is another common trait of being an extrovert. According to a popular (and probably unreliable) psychology website, “The parts of the brain that recognize sensory input, the posterior thalamus and posterior insula, are more active in people who identify themselves as an extrovert. This means that things like touch, sound, smell, sight and taste have a stronger impact on extroverts, giving them more satisfaction from the outside world.”  While I’m sure that Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno would still have had its moments of hilarity had I seen it alone, it was made exponentially funnier by sitting next to my dear friend Hal, whose big, boisterous laugh and inability to breathe during certain scenes literally had me rolling off my seat and onto the disgusting theater floor. My husband and I still talk about Hal’s laugh being the best part of seeing that movie. There are just some things – like Kevin Smith movies, for example – that hold little meaning to me if experienced alone.

In some ways, technology, particularly social networking sites, has alleviated some of my feelings of isolation. However, my longing for actual interaction and outside stimuli has also made technology somewhat of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, when I am alone, email, text messages, or Facebook can often satisfy at least some of my craving for human connection. On the other hand, silently and independently typing is not a direct equivalent of talking and hanging out. In my opinion, it’s a watered-down substitute at best. When my friends and I go back and forth with our sarcastic diatribes via email, I often find myself disappointed that we’re not having this exchange together in each other’s company. In fact, sometimes the banter makes me miss them terribly even though we’re technically interacting. I guess for me, I would rather hear them laughing out loud than read them LOL.

I think that this need to be around my friends all the time can probably be quite alienating. I feel badly for them, especially my introverted, borderline misanthropic friends, because being friends with me is a lot of work. A friend once told me that he was afraid to befriend Italians because while he knew they would do anything (and I mean anything) for him, he felt as though their passion, love, and demand for loyalty essentially bullied him into becoming and remaining their best friends for life. And, when he didn’t meet their expectations –  like when he declined offers to hang out, didn’t return phone calls, or tried to shake hands instead of engaging in a ten minute bear hug – they took it very (and I mean very) personally. This isn’t just the case with Italians; this is the case with any extrovert, really – myself included. And, sometimes, it’s very hard for extroverts not to take it to heart when their friends don’t seem to want – or, more accurately, NEED – to be around them as much as they want – or, more accurately, NEED – to be around their friends.

Western culture certainly favors extroverts more than introverts. Extroverts tend to get hired more often for jobs and tend to make more money. Even the most ardent introverts say that they have to act like extroverts sometimes to be more successful in business.  Additionally, studies have shown that extroverts are generally happier people and that most people, regardless of personality type, are happiest when they’re being outgoing.  So, if extroverts have it so good, why, then, am I complaining about the difficulty of being an extrovert?

Because there’s no way out.

Introverts can fake being extroverts, even if it’s tiring, but extroverts cannot fake being introverts. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve tried meditation, yoga, jogging, swimming, reading, writing, even coloring in a goddamn coloring book – anything that is a solitary practice that forces me to really be with myself. I can’t do it, not for long periods of time anyway. See, introverts have an out: when they’re feeling overwhelmed, all they really need is time to themselves, which, even in an extroverted world, is pretty easy to get, mainly because there’s no one easier to get a hold of than yourself. Introverts know how to occupy themselves or are fine not being occupied at all; they are comfortable with quiet isolation. Extroverts, however, have nowhere to hide. Comfort, to an extrovert, is other people. This means they’re at the mercy of others all the time, and, when there are no others around, there is no retreat, no relief – just anxiety and pure, unadulterated boredom.


About moniacal @ X Rated

On a lifelong journey to be a person in a place...
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22 Responses to Understanding an Extrovert – Or, An Apology to All the Friends I’ve Loved Before…

  1. I enjoyed this Monica. I am most definitely an introvert and have read a lot of articles about how to deal with it but rarely do I come across articles like this one that talk about what is like for an extrovert. I have to admit that I rarely have patience when someone tells me she is bored but this article has given me a different perspective – that person is probably an extrovert who needs company to be energized.

    But, even though I’m an introvert I will rarely watch a comedy alone – they just aren’t as funny when you are the only one laughing 😉

    • Thanks, Kim. I’m so glad that you got the point of this essay. I know it’s hard to garner sympathy a) for people who have a lot of time off, like teachers, and b) for people who can’t seem to muster up their own adventures. But, for some of us, it’s really hard to do on our own.

      My husband is a HUGE introvert, and I have spent the last 7 years trying to understand introverts – how to deal with them and how they deal with themselves and the world around them. But, rarely, does anyone try to understand extroverts, probably for the reasons I mentioned in the essay about them basically getting all the favoritism in our society.

      But extroverts have needs too, and I think we tend to overlook those needs because we always see the extroverts as the life of the party who can get along with anyone at any time. This is true, but the problem is that extroverts need that “anyone” to be around ALL THE TIME, and that’s the difficulty.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Monica,

    As a fellow only child, I find it interesting that you have trouble being “on your own” so to speak. We only children tend to be introverts by nature because we do spend so much time alone, or at least I did. I’m one of those people you wrote about who pretends to be extroverted just to get by and not seem so weird. I’m also one of those people who avoids huge crowds of people; I go to crowded places, but if I had my druthers, I’d stay home. However, being married to an Italian extrovert has made me more extroverted as well.

    Also, when and if you ever have children, you’ll be begging Tom to get the kids out of your hair and let you have some alone time or to escape to the local coffee shop for an hour and just read a book, but maybe not.

    • Glenna, I actually think being an only child is the reason I crave so much attention and interaction with peers. I did spend a lot of time alone as a child, my best friends being stuffed animals and books. In fact, I got so used to being alone or just with my mom, that I used to cry at sleepover parties and make her come pick me up. Now, I want to have sleepovers all the time. In short, I think that I got my fill of alone time when I was a kid and teenager, so I think my personality now is rebelling against being alone.

  3. Crystal says:

    Oh, man, I FEEL you on this one. I do like a bit of time alone, and as an artist I actually NEED that time alone to work. But if I’m feeling down or excessively bored (which feels more like ennui) then I need peoples–LOTS OF PEOPLEs! I love conversations and catching up and general activities that remind you of flocks of birds chirping and preening one another.
    On another note, join some kind of real live social group? Like a bicycling group, or something? I have started art-coffee-talks with some friends because we all need to stay motivated and to fill up on that social energy. You know, if you lived in San Francisco, you’d never be bored. Why? Because there are plenty of extroverts out here, without children, who are also quite adventurous. Back East, I feel like everyone’s having children or engaging in primarily family-related activities.
    Mon, I wish we lived closer! We’d get into some shenanigans, for sure. 🙂

  4. I know what you mean. I think the problem is with teaching (especially) is that you go from being super busy, constantly talking and engaging until you are completely drained, and then suddenly May or June hits, and it’s over. Suddenly, there’s no one to talk to. I remember feeling very listless in the summers and lonely before my kids were born. Now that I do have them to deal with, I wouldn’t say I’m “bored,” necessarily, but it’s still a feeling of restlessness, because engaging with them is not the same as engaging with like-minded coworkers (who usually can wipe their own asses) or friends. So in my house, I still feel sort of alone, even though there are two little people wandering around making noise. Maybe we teachers need to form some sort of community for the summers to defeat this problem.

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  6. Kat says:

    I’m a huge introvert, and I’ve been searching for an extroverts side because I’m doing a controversial speech on the whole introvert vs. extrovert thing. I can’t tell you how long it took me to find this. All I could find was how introverts find extroverts annoying and how they can’t get along. I also found many articles on why introverts are at a “downfall”. Well, I know all that. I live it. I could write that part of the research by my self. So when I came across this, I sang out in praise. Finally! I finally get to see how an extrovert feels. I thank you for writing this. It gives me a whole different thinking process to work with, and I got to see that extroverts have a hard time too, despite their tendency to attract more attention and praise on their outward emotions. Again, thank you for the help.

    • Thanks for reading, Kat! Glad you found this post helpful!

    • Bella says:

      Hi Kat. I wonder if you could tell me the circumstances in which you are giving this speech and why it is so controversial? Are you using the speech to educate others about introversion/extroversion. I would like to do this myself. I see it as my mission to educate the world about the differences! ;-D Thanks.

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  8. I’m an introvert (just barely), but I feel you on the being bored thing. I’m an introvert, just with a short attention span!

  9. Extrovert seeking answers... says:

    Monica.. thank you for this article. I have found myself struggling with the issue of what being an extrovert may or may not have to do with my needs as a friend (particularly with an introvert) and have been struggling to find anything out here in cyberspace that hints at how I feel. This took forever to find and is the closest thing I have found to start moving me towards understanding. So much of what is out there is insulting at best, or really about what introverts need and what we need to understand about them, without any sense that extroverts have needs too and that the difficulty is that we can’t fill them by ourselves, as you have nailed. I guess in typical extrovert fashion, I have to find someone sharing my experience to reflect back before I can start to process it. Thanks for that.

  10. Amber Millis says:

    Thank you so much for writing this article. I am an extreme extrovert and have been in a long term relationship with an extreme introvert, and our relationship has had to endure thousands of discussions as to why our expectations are so different from one another. My significant other never understands why I don’t like being at the house myself, and why when he leaves the house, I can sometimes feel abandoned. He has believed it to be himself who has the personality difference that I must pay special attention to, and learn to respect. On the other hand, he simply sees me as strange, and not being “at peace” with myself. He has never understood why I seem to crave attention, and can be so hurt by unintentional actions. I am so happy to finally have the emotions I have felt put into such beautiful words, and can not wait to share this with him.
    Thank you, thank you.

    • Thanks for reading, Amber. I’m glad this piece resonated with you. I have been married to an introvert for going on 6 years (together for almost 10 years now), so I definitely hear where you’re coming from. I know how difficult it can sometimes be for us to understand each other’s point of view because of these personality difference. Hopefully, sharing this essay with your partner will open up new lines of communication. Thanks again!

  11. Sunny says:

    Monica, I love this article! I am an extrovert and it gives me a lot of anxiety! For some reason, I always ask myself why I date introverted people or why MOST of my friends have introverted qualities, that I don’t. So, I wanted to ask your opinion on if you think extroverted people are attracted to introverted people mostly because of the fact the introverts are available for the extroverts whenever they need company? Because of my need to always be around someone, I tend to hang with introverts more often because a lot of their attention is on me, however I still feel constantly bored because of their lack of energy. It’s a horrible thing to say/feel and I always feel sorry for my friends too :/ hopefully they will still love us and all the energy we have to give 🙂

    • I wonder if we’re more attracted to them, or they’re more attracted to us??? I’m sure it’s a good combination of both. For me personally, I like being an extrovert, but I’m glad that most people close to me are NOT. There is no WAY I’d be able to deal with that level of neediness. So, I think, in part we are attracted to introverts for self-preservation. I think the body and mind know they need balance, so they don’t want too much of a good thing. I wouldn’t want to hang out with too many people just like me. Plus, I find that my extrovert friends bring me back down to earth when I most need it. So, they serve a lot of good functions. And, for the most part, they don’t bore me. Unlike me, they just know when to say enough’s enough. Thanks for reading! Cheers! 🙂

  12. Nova says:

    I am an extrovert. You have described me EXACTLY.

  13. oysterome says:

    This is a good read. Reminds me that I am not alone on this issue. I am an extrovert and I enjoy being in the presence of friends and family. However, I also fear being rejected or not being able to bring joy and excitement to the people I am present with. Being aware of how people see me has become my major obstacle for socializing. I used to enjoy going to parties and attend social outings. But after my family moved to a new place, everything changed.

    I don’t remember how much bullying and abuse I received from school. But it was enough to make me retreat to my room for months without stepping out. I now find it hard to form that connection with people, for I am often criticized for the simplest expressions of care and loving. I realized that the easiest way to not get hurt is to stay silent. It feels terrible…

    • Thank you for reading and sharing your experiences. I, too, feel the pressure to “perform” sometimes. When you’re known as the extrovert in a crowd, people often look to you to bring the fun. Sometimes that’s just not possible, but we feel the weight of that expectation nonetheless. With that weight comes the panic of rejection. I feel that, too. Luckily, though, I have some good friends who seem to understand this delicate balance: while they may have certain expectations of me and my tendency toward outgoing behavior, they also respect my need to retreat now and then. They also (now) understand that it is not solely my responsibility to maintain our friendships or our “good time.” I wish you would not remain silent; extroverts need people. We have to put ourselves out there. Sometimes we will be rejected, and sometimes people won’t be able to handle our neediness. But, true friends will.

  14. Debbie says:

    This was a great relief to hear. I live with two introverts. My daughter and husband and feel like they do not understand my need to be with people. I have told them may times and this article has best expressed why I need to talk to people every day. I have felt as though I am running on empty when a day goes by and I haven’t talked enough.

  15. weatherlite says:

    Hi, this article resonates with me. Although I do feel extroverts have outs besides other people. One is mindfulness meditation which boosts dopamine in the brain. Dopamine being the chemical we crave from social interaction when alone and low on energy. My issue is with wanting to be productive and maintaining direction without needed that social interaction. I feel like I get inspired by interacting with others but I would love to be able to be and stay inspired to work towards dreams and ideals, independent of other people, even if those goals will end up being related to other people.

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