I just finished reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
The book comes with a handy true/false quiz that can help you determine where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. http://www.thepowerofintroverts.com/quiet-quiz-are-you-an-introvert/. It’s not meant to be a scientific analysis, but a guide to help you understand yourself better.
My husband and daughter took the assessment with me, and we tried to guess how each of us would answer. We found that we know each other well, which was comforting. It wouldn’t be much fun to learn at this stage that my soul mate would rather party with a hundred people than have an intimate dinner with a few trusted friends. Or that my daughter isn’t a bookworm after all, but spends her time secretly updating a Facebook page, tweeting, planning her wardrobe and fussing with her hair.
But a disturbing truth emerged from the assessment. I am a “conditional introvert.”
Okay, I made that up. There’s no such term. But there should be. Here are some examples from the assessment:
Item #5: I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in depth about topics that matter to me.
At first blush, yes, I do dislike small talk. I would rather talk about meaningful things than whether the Giants are going to win tonight (probably not, unfortunately) or where to get the best mani-pedi (I have no idea. I’ve never had one).
But I do purposely engage in small talk with those I don’t know very well. It’s not the content I value, it’s the distance it helps me create between the person I’m speaking to and my true self. Exchanging small talk is a way to avoid intimacy, and sometimes that’s precisely my intent. I want separateness, distance, and to keep myself intact. So I smile and nod and say things that don’t really matter, just to keep from having to say things that do.
Item #3: I enjoy solitude.
Ahem. Well. I’m overwhelmed in crowds, and the sound of people talking sometimes wears me down. Having to interact a lot seems to chip away at some essence that only rejuvenates when I have retreated. But that does not mean that I wish to be alone very much. I have spent many years in a battle with solitude-based-panic.
Plus, I am a teacher of sixth graders. I love the energy of the pre-teen. I enjoy their jokes, how they dress and the books they love. I have a class of thirty-two of them this year, and going to work is fun. Yes, I am tired at the end of the day. But it’s MY day.
That’s the key. I am the teacher, not a fellow passenger on a bus full of strange pre-teens careening down a road to who-knows-where. My students’ conversations are not irrelevant: they inform me of who they are and what they care about, both of which matter a lot. When students share during class, they (mostly) follow basic rules of conduct. There is order. My order.
Just like purposeful small talk, being the boss in a crowd rewards me when solitude doesn’t.
I know that this assessment is a jumping off point. But if I were to rewrite it, I’d structure the items differently, teasing out intent, looking for the hidden feelings we introverts harbor. I’d offer choices that reveal what introverts are truly after: meaningful connections, predictable interactions, and intimacy with those we have vetted. And the power to retreat when we need to.
Item #21: I love people, but I most enjoy social interactions when I control them.