You’re not introverted, you just have problems

Based on Eysenck's personality theory (I didn't make this up) -- click for larger view.

Based on Eysenck’s personality theory (I didn’t make this up) — click for larger view.

I don’t think I took much issue with the idea of a person calling themselves introverted until an infamous comic told me that (as an extrovert) I’m basically a predator trying to steal energy juice and don’t take it personally, it’s just that interaction is expensive and introverts don’t want to spend it on something wasteful. Excuse me, but sorry for annoying you with my friendship.

A few of my introvert-identified friends also took offense to this comic, so it isn’t just obnoxious-extrovert-me who doesn’t get it.

I strongly identified as an introvert when I was young (years 5-19). I had the “running monologue” in my head at all times. I needed copious amounts of alone time to “recharge.” My bedroom door was always closed, and I taught my brother to knock so I could be alone with my books, drawings, and thoughts. Of course, during most of this time I also “hated humans,” suffered severe major depression, and had general anxiety disorder.

Now that I identify as an extrovert, I find that I’m not sure if I love myself or people better. I default to a sense of contentment or even happiness. Alone time is not painful or anything, but no longer all that necessary. Oh and that running monologue goes away when I’m around people.

It has been my belief that I was a “false introvert” and that aligning myself with that personality type was a source of unhappiness for me (or just indicative of my crippled emotional state), and that is why being an extrovert feels more natural and comfortable.

So, for personal reasons, when I meet an unhappy introvert, I suspect that they are not introverted. They just need therapy. Happy introverts (and it seems like they do exist: study 2001) can carry on, this isn’t about you.

Introversion/extroversion is frequently tested on the Eysenck personality questionnaire, which just seems to allow a lot of people to self-select for social anxiety disorder if you ask me.  You’re asked to rate how well you identify with personality statements, which are testing for both introversion/extroversion and emotional stability.

If you’re emotionally stable, you can be on the more sociable/carefree/easygoing side of things, or you can be on the more thoughtful/calm/peaceful side of things. There’s not really a huge difference in the “introversion/extroversion” personality traits, except that extroverts are “more social.”

Non-emotionally stable people are divided into two groups, which seem to be overly-social verging-on-being-a-sociopath for the extroverts (“I would like other people to be afraid of me”) and severe anxiety for the introverts (“I fear for the worst” and “I am very moody”).

Extroverts, of course, are the strong majority.  So much so that introversion was considered for inclusion in the DSM-5 (Psychology Today 2010). In other words, for a hot minute we were going to call introversion a personality disorder. There’s definitely a trope of “I am an introvert, therefore I have a social disadvantage.” In an extroverted, highly social world, this feeling makes a lot of sense.

However, humans are and always have been social beings. It doesn’t make sense to me why this commonly accepted test focuses so much on sociability. You have to admit that even introverts are decidedly social, suffering when there is a lack of human interaction, otherwise the world would have a lot more hermits.

While I don’t doubt that introversion/extroversion are legitimate ways to describe a personality, the fact that there is not a reliable standard to measure, and that the accepted standards center too much on “being social,” you end up with a strong dividing line in the types of people who consider themselves an introvert. Some focus on their inability to be comfortable in social situations (Eysenck introverts). Others prefer a more nuanced understanding of introversion (focusing on communication and relationships styles, preferences for certain types of activities and ways of relating with the world).

Further muddying the conversation about introvert v. extrovert personality types is the idea that it is a spectrum, and fluid. This of course has to be considered, because most human attributes work this way. Still, what this means is that people can self-define their own style of introversion, and I have seen so many custom definitions that the dichotomy frequently fails to be relevant.

What I am seeing is a lot of self-proclaimed introverts excusing their anxious behavior on a tenuous label. “Big crowds are just too much for me, because I’m an introvert,” or, “I just can’t keep up in conversations because it takes me longer to process in social situations…and extroverts have no filters.” I’m seeing people I care about diverting attention from overcoming their social anxiety by excusing it due to introversion.

If you are terrified by a crowded party, overcome with worries and insecurities, frozen by your inability to talk to people…. you can’t ask me to respect that as just a part of who you are. No one should be expected to cope with that lifelong. I will give space and I will assist people who are struggling with anxiety, but I’m not doing it because I accept the anxiety. You’re not introverted, you just have problems.

Yes, the Eysenck test divides emotional instability by introversion/extroversion. But I won’t accept cherry-picking the emotional problems you identify with as a valid “diagnosis” of introversion. Perhaps, like I did, you have a secret extrovert inside of you who is trapped by feelings of moodiness and pessimism.

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Let’s Ghost (Leaving without Saying Goodbye)

About a week ago, I saw an article in my newsfeed about ‘ghosting at parties,’ which is leaving without saying goodbye. The author, Seth Stevenson, gave an insightful background of the ethnophobic terms surrounding ghosting, such as “French Farewell.”

Read the article on slate.com here.

Read the article on Slate.com here.

He also made the argument that ghosting is more courteous than it seems. E.g. while “a hello has the bright promise of a beginning,” Stevenson points out that goodbyes are kind of a “bummer.” That’s true, but I wanted to snort; ghosting to be a good guest! While I’m all for being a party ally in the spirit of more fun for everyone, I felt that the article missed an opportunity — the opportunity to point out that ghosting is awesome for selfish reasons.

Ghosting goes well with the trope of Making an Appearance, which is a fashionable way of saying you’re a dirty, dirty party hopper like me. I’d like to pretend I ghost to protect the feelings of my party hosts when I leave their hipster potluck for a warehouse rager. I’d like to, but I don’t. I’m creating an illusion that everyone is important to me by not calling attention to how much I’m party double-dipping. That way, fewer people will hate me for being popular.

It’s true that no one cares that you are leaving. Well, except I do, at my birthday party. If you are leaving at my birthday party, please do interrupt whatever I’m doing to hug me goodbye because it makes me feel super loved, d’awww. Anyway, usually no one cares that you are leaving. And, if you don’t draw any attention to it, they won’t notice at all. This is the way I trick everyone into thinking that I’m there longer than I really am. By sliding out secretly, I slip into the party’s narrative as a permanent fixture. Perhaps I was there the whole night. Perhaps the party was so large it swallowed me up. Ghosting, my friends, is the secret to becoming a legend.

And I avoid so much awkwardness. If I start a round of farewells, by the time I get to the end of the line I run into the first person again and it’s been 20 minutes, so do I hug them once more? The dreaded goodbye Möbius strip: we could get stuck in an endless loop of departure, then someone forms their own exit circuit, then we’re all circling each other in a nervous chain of social rituals ’til someone introduces waving and we flock out the door, hands fluttering.

I’ve been caught trying to ghost before. There’s the catch.

We had driven all the way to Chula Vista and instead of a free-spirited soiree we found a weirdness ambush.

Immediately a man I didn’t know put his arm around me, people were dancing barefoot in the backyard to no music at all, and worst of all, I realized, everyone was dry as paper. Sober. They were all sober. What little alcohol there was — I saw evidence of a single pint of vodka and a six-pack of Fire Rock Pale Ale — had long ago been emptied, and evaporated out of their blood, and they were gooey and friendly and touchy but sober. These old hippies had been baking their brains and drinking the new-age Kool-Aid so long that they act like floaty affection amoeba without needing to be on any substance at all.

“Everyone is sober. There is no alcohol. I don’t think there ever was.” Katelyn said to me.

“I know.”

“Let’s ghost.”

When she and I tried to duck out the front door, a guy who vaguely knows me asked, “leaving already?” Perhaps he saw the horror in our eyes. “Oh,” I said, “We’re just going to go get some beer. Be back soon!” A goodbye ritual would have only delayed my escape, and I didn’t want to be trapped there another second.

We got on the road for another 40 minutes and I found my friend “Arwen” and collapsed into her arms. “What took you so long to get here?” she said as she hugged me hello.

“I have been at the wrong party.” I said. “Now I know better. This is the right party…this is the right party…” I repeated in a shell-shocked whisper.

She laughed and offered her flask and I never went back to that other party.

You’re so beautiful

Lookin' like a supermodel in my onesie jam jams.

Lookin’ like a supermodel in my onesie jam jams.

“You’re so beautiful.”

I keep trying to give these words a second chance. I try to smile, to feel warm and a bit serene. I am beautiful, and I like to be noticed. These words, said to me right, can be a little treasure I clutch beneath my pillow before I fall asleep at night.

Yet, when I hear this sentence from a stranger, I steel myself for what’s coming next. It is almost always….bullshit. Last time I heard these words (Halloween @ Rich’s), he put his hand on my shoulder, then as he ushered me past him, his hand slid down my back. If I hadn’t known better and placed my arm as a blockade, his hand would have slid across my ass.

Earlier that night, a boy said these words to my friend from LA. “You’re so beautiful,” he repeated. She was and is — stunning dressed as a vampire and one of my favorite people to look at. She thanked him and smiled genuinely. Then, he asked her if she was from South Africa. “Fucking people from San Diego!” she said after she turned away. First of all, wrong Africa, and second of all, go die.

It’s not just strangers that ruin “You’re so beautiful” for me. You may have heard about my “friend” Chuck. The one who was ‘helping’ me by forcing affection…

Do these people feel entitled by telling us that we’re gorgeous? I just dispensed one compliment coin in you and now I have earned the right to further objectify you! It’s like we owe them our gratitude, and with that we owe them patience or friendship or smooches.

I’ve noticed I get this less when I wear black eyeliner and shimmer eyeshadow (which is seldom). I don’t think that I’m necessarily hotter sans makeup, but I’m definitely more approachable. I think some people read “no makeup” as naive, not-yet-jaded. They think they’re telling me something I don’t believe. They may or may not want to exploit my insecurities, but do operate under the assumption that I have them and they are doing me a favor by saying something “nice” to me.

That’s where I got the idea for my number one defense against “You’re so beautiful.”

Tell me something I don’t know.

I say this: “Tell me something I don’t know,” with eye contact and a playful smirk….or a sneer if they have been gross.

It disarms. They can no longer assume I’m deeply insecure and need their praise-food like a puppy dog needs to eat what the people are eating. They have nothing to say to that. The nasty ones don’t have enough imagination or awareness to answer, and if they dare to try, I simply repeat, “Tell me something I don’t know.”

The beauty (ha) of this defense is in its inherent diplomacy. It’s subversive enough to stun, but gives space for the more innocent offenders to recover. In friendlier situations it can be a flirty challenge. I’m letting you know I’m not easily impressed by the standard compliments.

Some people do just want to say something sweet. Some people think “You’re so beautiful,” is an acceptable way to initiate flirting, but had no intention of getting creepy on me. Some people are stupefied by my glorious hair and can’t think of anything more creative to say. I don’t want to punish these people.

Yet, I do crave original thought. Give me something with more substance. Notice my efforts, not my freckles. Engage my intellect, not my vanity. Make yourself memorable with a fraction more thought given to the compliments you choose…

I just want people to tell me something….well, you know.