Introverts: We’re *Genuine*, Not Jerks (Or, Genuinely Jerks)

Is there some kind of “introversion is the new black” thing going on? It’s probably due more to confirmation bias on my own part, but it sure seems like the more interested I am in the subject of introversion as perfectly valid way-of-being, as opposed to some kind of affliction or condition to be fought or hidden, the more I see written about it. Well, good then. I will consume this content, all by myself of course. Om nom nom.

Huffington Post has this listicle up — gah, I can barely even stand typing “listicle,” with it’s that’s-not-really-a-word ugliness, like it’s some half-assed word that isn’t even trying, not to mention that the format feels so cheap — where was I? Right, there’s this HuffPo listicle (gah!) on 23 signs you mightsecretly be an introvert, and despite the insipid structure and dubious title, it has a few items that rang little bells of familiarity in my head.

But first, to address that dubious title. “Secretly”? Nothing in here has anything to do with being closeted, which is implied by the word “secretly,” like you’re intentionally hiding your wallfloweriness. “23 Signs You May Be an Introvert and Not Know It” would have been more accurate. Okay, I’ll leave that there.

Really, it was two particular items that are really of a piece that got my attention. The first was on finding small talk “cumbersome,” explained thusly:

Introverts are notoriously small talk-phobic, as they find idle chatter to be a source of anxiety, or at least annoyance. For many quiet types, chitchat can feel disingenuous.

“Let’s clear one thing up: Introverts do not hate small talk because we dislike people,” Laurie Helgoe writes in “Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength.” “We hate small talk because we hate the barrier it creates between people.”

The other was on the dreaded necessary evil of networking:

Networking (read: small-talk with the end goal of advancing your career) can feel particularly disingenuous for introverts, who crave authenticity in their interactions.

Obviously, the theme here is an aversion to being fake. First, we take as given that any social activity is, to use an overworn cliche in the topic of introversion, “drains batteries,” as opposed to extroverts who “recharge” through social interaction. And this includes social activity we enjoy and have sought out! We had a couple of our closest friends over this weekend, and last night at dinner, after a full day with them, I could feel the switch go off in my head that said “you’re empty.” I could feel myself shut down, get silent, and I probably looked morose. I love these folks, and was having a lovely time, but like it or not, I was out of power.

That being the case, imagine how much more energy is expended in pretending to give a damn about what people are talking about, in actively participating in what feels like a bad piece of theatre in which we all stand near each other, and ask inoffensive and banal questions about each other’s lives, either to simply fill space, or, gag, to “network.” It’s unbearable to me, but I often have no choice. And it’s absolutely exhausting, I can barely stand an hour of it, let alone a day’s worth.

And what’s more, it feels phony, like a huge lie, and it makes me feel bad about myself on several levels. For one, I feel bad for being so bad at something so common and necessary as small talk and networking. Also, I feel morally dirty for pretending to such a degree, faking this level of interest and investment in an interaction I know in my heart I’d rather run and hide from. And additionally, I feel like a bad, narcissistic person for not being more interested in what other people have to say, in asking them questions to get to know them better, but I just don’t. That must mean, the thinking goes, that I must be some kind of jerk. (And I may be!)

This even ties into number 14 on the listicle (gah!), that you screen your calls even from friends. Well of course! A phone call is akin to someone walking into your house unannounced and expecting your undivided attention as you stop whatever you’re doing. Friend or no friend, that’s social interaction that will likely involve an unhealthy dose of small talk, so whether I like you or not, I’m still putting a buffer between me and any unsought telephony.

Anyway, it’s probably too generous to introverts (or to me) to chalk it up to this: introverts are just too genuine and sincere to stand being phony. But it’s closer to the truth than “there’s something wrong with us,” or, “we’re just selfish or narcissistic.” There are likely elements of all of these sloshing around in the mix. I probably am a little narcissistic (hello, actor!), a little too self-aborbed, and a little too uncurious about other human beings. But it’s also true that small talk and networking and any social interaction is crushingly exhausting to me, and that engaging in that interaction in an insincere way, quadruply so. Maybe just knowing that can help.

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