I’ve been told in the past that I must be extroverted: I’m bubbly, happy-go-lucky, easy-going, “bouncy”, sociable, and chatty.
I’m not. Not naturally, at least, and certainly not all the time.
There are times where I need to shut myself out from the world; times when I want to stay so still, that I blend into the background, to almost entirely disappear. There are times when I turn anti-social at the drop of a hat; not wanting to be around my friends, colleagues, family, or even my partner. There are times, when the only person I want in my life, is myself.
On My Own Terms
And all of that is healthy, for me. While I’m well able to enjoy being the centre of attention at times, or to enjoy being the perfect party host, my partner recently described my social habits perfectly well. “You’re sociable, but on your own terms”, he said — something that I initially took as a criticism, but quickly realised what he meant.
I’m not a fan of small-talk — in fact, I consider myself allergic to it — and banter is a foreign language to me, one that I’ve had to learn how to appreciate over the years.
For me, meaningless chit-chat is a drain on my energy, and if I’m in the mood to connect with people at all, it needs to be through stimulating conversation. That doesn’t mean it needs to be serious, but it does need to be valuable. If the conversation isn’t worthwhile, then I’d rather be alone, and will choose that option gladly over banal dialogue.
My partner, however, is the opposite in some ways; not that he prefers chit-chat, but he can deal with it brilliantly. Having spent many of his teenage years working in a Dublin pub, he knows how to deal with ‘banterous’ one-liners, to the nonsensical speech of a man who has had one pint too many. The “ah sure / there you have it / ah isn’t that the way” list of endless phrases he can fire up to use, at the drop of a hat, are admirable to me. What’s almost envy-inducing, though, is his patience and willingness to engage with people for no real reason, other than to momentarily ‘have the craic/banter’. In comparison, my lack of social patience — and sometimes, social appreciation — means that if someone approaches me in a pub to have drunken chats, I’ll turn cold. It’s not because I want to be cruel or rude, but it’s solely because I can’t deal with it… not sober, at least.
I’ve learned over the years that being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re the awkward kid in class, or the socially-inept guy at the Christmas work party. Introverts can be extroverted when the time is right, and when we’ve the energy to go into that mode.
I personally call it my ‘public persona’, a term from when I used to be a radio host. I’d turn on my extroverted side each Wednesday evening for my live radio show, each time that ‘Mic Live’ light turned red. I’d turn on the extrovert charm each time I hosted an event, from the community pub quiz, to garden parties at the Irish President’s residence. I still use my ‘public persona’ at professional networking and social events, from talks to business breakfasts, although I don’t always have to use my ‘radio voice’ nowadays.
In some ways, it’s that idea of ‘fake it ’til you make it‘, but I’d be doing myself a disservice to call my public persona ‘fake’. It’s not fake; it’s as genuine a part of me as my more silent self, but it probably only makes up 20% of my personality. Sometimes, I’d prefer to be on stage, or in the centre of attention, if I’m to be in my extroverted self at all. Why? Because it goes back to what my partner described; I’d then be sociable and ‘out there’, but on my terms, because I’m the one in charge when I’m hosting something. I’m performing, so I’ll know how the script goes.
It’s the quiet ones you have to watch
Most of the time, though, I don’t like the idea of being the centre of attention. I’d much rather be the one sitting on my own in a café; reading, writing, or simply watching the world go by. If I’ve had a busy or tiresome day in work, I let my partner know (in as nice a way as possible!) that I need some ‘alone time’ to recharge my social reserves. He’s exempt from requiring my social energy, because he supports me in many ways, but sometimes I still need to be entirely alone to recuperate.
My time alone means I get time to reflect on the issues playing around on my mind. Instead of running from work to home to the gym to bed to repeat (I left out punctuation intentionally there for literary effect!) sometimes I need the solitary downtime to assess myself; my mental health, where I am in life, and if I need to improve on anything. As I write this, my partner is off in the gym working on his physical health, and normally I’d join him, but tonight I needed to focus on the mental side of my health.
And that’s how being an introvert empowers me. It allows me to give myself the time I need to regularly check myself. It allows me to recharge my social and spiritual side, to be able to go out into the bad, busy world, and tackle the challenges and issues we all face everyday. It allows me to reach out to people in a different way than my introverted side does, and ultimately allows me to at least resemble a normal* person! (Note: Not verified scientifically.)
It also means I get time to people-watch, which is always great inspiration for writing stories. It’s amazing what stories you’ll come across over your cappuccino.