No one who thinks they know me would ever see this post coming, but the people who know me best, the people in my inner circle, they already know this. I have an admission to make to you all.
I am an introvert.
“But,” you find yourself saying, “You’re so chatty. You leap into the middle of things, you talk to people even in situations that others would find inappropriate (like elevators and waiting lines for the single stall in the restroom), you’re so energetic when you’re with people! You’re not shy at all!”
And you would be right! I am not shy. I love to talk to people, meet people, engage with people. However I find this incredibly exhausting both physically and emotionally. After a party I want to curl up in bed and sleep for at least the next day. A trip to a concert or street fair can knock out my emotional reserves for a week.
There’s a few reasons for this. The first one is that I have incredibly well defined personal boundaries due to my history, and engaging with groups of people means maintaining those boundaries, and assessing when transgressors of those boundaries are just generally well-intentioned and didn’t know how to read my social language. (Not all of these boundaries are physical. There’s a reason why I avoid discussing my politics at parties.)
Another reason this exhausts me is that I am an incredibly complex person. I spend a lot of time on my interior life, thinking and analyzing, and then thinking and analyzing that stuff. To go to a party, or other extended interaction with other people means that I have to set that process aside, even when something someone says cues the button in my brain that says “Ooo, shiny, let’s chase it!”
(As an aside, there are some parties where that sort of thing is encouraged. If there’s the right mix of people and drink at that sort of party, I am literally in heaven. The only thing I love more than my own mental process is discussing shit in a processing fashion with other people.)
Here’s a reason that might surprise you for it. I am an incredibly empathic (as in feeling empathy for others) human being. So if I am at a party and someone is having a downer moment? I pick that up. Working to filter that out, to filter out discomfort from others (some of whom ARE shy), filter out the stuff I’m not supposed to pay attention to is also a lot of work for me. I also have the ability (some have called it a talent, but I’m not sure I’d call it that) to track multiple conversations going on around me. Which means I also have to work to make my brain follow the thread I’m in, and not the conversation across the room.
But there’s also a good chance that if I’ve interacted with someone in depth but not extensively, I’ll need to recover after that. Regain my emotional balance, get some energy back, and process everything that may have occurred. It’s one of the reasons I love online communication so much, because it can all be shifted to asynchronous communications so if I need to recover I can tell people I’ll send them an email when I can answer.
So. Your favorite outgoing person may not be an extrovert, and your favorite shy person may not be an introvert. Especially in “geek” circles it can be worthwhile to check in if someone’s seeming overwhelmed by a situation, and ask if they need a quieter space to get themselves recharged. And don’t take it personally if I seem to ignore you and everything else for a while…I’m probably just refilling the batteries.