For a long time I was, like many people I think, under the incorrect impression that an extrovert is a person who is outgoing, talkative, and social, while an introvert is a person who is shy, quiet, and private. Given these descriptions, I aptly (although incorrectly) identified as an extrovert–mostly because you couldn’t/can’t shut me up.
In college I recall someone explaining that the defining qualities of extroverts and introverts don’t have to do with their interactions with others, but rather the ways in which they find their energy. “Extroverts get their energy from others. Introverts get their energy from themselves,” she explained, and I nodded and smiled because I was past my teenage years when I thought I knew everything and into my early twenties when I really did know everything. And I already knew I was an extrovert.
And so it went for many years. Nearly a decade went by while I lived my life thinking I was an extrovert. Nobody called me on it, probably because it’s not something that comes up in casual conversation and, well, you couldn’t/can’t shut me up and, as I’ve said, so many of us think that’s the defining characteristic of an extrovert. I finally realized I was an introvert when I moved out to Boston for grad school when I was 29.
Moving to Boston, Massachusetts from Cudahy, Wisconsin was a big change itself, but the more significant change was moving from solo living in my own, spacious, one-bedroom condo to roommate living in a third-floor, walk-up in the teeming-with-undergrad neighborhood of Allston. Turns out, I was a shitty roommate.
It bothered me because, well, I didn’t want to be a shitty roommate. It’s just that I felt so confined and crowded, and irritated that I felt so confined and crowded. I realized that I didn’t want or need to talk all that much all the time. In fact, I didn’t want or need to talk much when I was home at all. In the morning I just wanted to wake up, get ready, and head out the door. When I got home I just wanted to relax and unwind quietly and, preferably, by myself. I was worried that I had spent too many years solo, that I was too set in my ways, that I was bound to be an old, crazy cat lady (but without the cats…so just old and alone).
What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just chit chat in the morning and partake in idle “how was your day?” conversation in the evening? After all, that’s what I did! I talked to people, I socialized, I was outgoing; I was an extrov—wait.
That’s when I realized I am an introvert. Sure I went off every day and taught undergrad classes with unbridled enthusiasm. Yes, I actively participated in my night classes and workshops. Of course I was always ready and willing to go out after grad class for a beer or two and socialize. But then I went home, and I was quiet, and I recharged. I found my energy, regained my energy, so I could go out and do it again the next day.
I finally came to understand myself sometime in my early thirties.
Of course, this gave me reason to worry when I met my husband. From early on in our relationship, I warned him, “I require a lot of alone time.”
“That’s fine,” he said. “No,” I insisted, “I mean it. A lot. I need a lot of alone time.”
“I get it,” he said. And he does.
So why am I writing about this now? Because my husband is at a work conference for the night and my stepson is at his mom’s this week. I’m home, alone. I’ve spent the evening reading, writing, and relaxing. Recharging. It’s good to know what it takes.