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.