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Intro, extro, it doesn’t mean excuses - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Intro, extro, it doesn’t mean excuses [May. 30th, 2015|10:33 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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In one of my moments of rest–brief and rare this week, although today’s vertigo is bad enough to require it–I followed a social media link to this post about being friends with an introvert, because hey, I’m an introvert, it’s useful to be able to point people at good advice where I can find it.


Hahahahaha no.


The more I see “care and feeding of introverts” posts, the more chances they have to get it wrong, and get it wrong they do. I don’t just mean describing types of introversion other than my own–although overgeneralizing from one sub-type is a pretty common mistake in the “care and feeding” posts. I mean just flat-out wrong, anti-useful, wrong.


Let’s take the earliest part of this post: “Without you, we’d probably spend every weekend in our pajamas watching Netflix, only making contact with another human when we open the front door to the Jimmy John’s delivery guy.” Uh…no. That’s not your introvert friend, that’s your clinically depressed friend. Or your chronically socially lazy friend. Or both. While individual introverts may depend heavily on individual extroverts to do the work of making social stuff happen for them, it’s not inherent to the personality type. And frankly, it’s a crappy behavior. For both sides.


From the introvert side, it’s an excuse for not putting the work into social situations. Because no matter what, making social stuff happen is work. It may be somewhat easier for extroverts, but it’s still work for them, and if you’re an introvert skipping along saying, “Tra la la, I’ll let Chris and Pat handle it, they’re extroverts, it’s no trouble for them!”, you’re being an ingrate and kind of a jerk. And you’re self-infantilizing: social skills are skills. You can learn them.


From the extrovert side, if you think that making social stuff happen is magic because you’re an extrovert, you’re going to be frustrated a lot. There are lots of extroverts who are terrible at this. Again, it’s a skill. Also, introverts and extroverts often want somewhat different types of social situation (or at least overlapping bell curves of how often they get which experiences), so if you’re going with the idea that introverts will never make stuff happen and depend on you, you run a couple of risks–one of never figuring out social stuff that your introvert friends would actually, y’know, like to do, and the other of running yourself ragged planning exactly what your introvert friends would like to do at your own expense.


So let’s all not do that. Social instigation takes energy. No personality type is In Charge Of it. Moving on: “When you’re around, we don’t have to do the heavy lifting to make conversation happen.” ARGH NO. Again: conversation is a skill. It is a skill that can be learned. Not all extroverts are good at it or want to be–there are highly nonverbal extroverts who just want to go dancing and not have to talk all the time, or play golf or softball or whatever. And all the stuff in this piece about introverts being good listeners: turns out that’s a substantial portion of the heavy lifting in conversation. And it turns out that neither talking nor listening is inherent to either personality type.


For people who write fanfic, writing fanfic and having fun are not actually opposites. See also: other quiet hobbies. “You came along and got me to have fun!” is one of the most toxic narratives I experienced people wanting to thrust on me in college, especially as a young woman: there were all sorts of people who knew this narrative as the slight social veneer on, “Here, Miss Librarian, take off your glasses and let your hair down. Why, you’re beautiful!” I think most bookish kids knew an adult who felt that snapping, “Get your nose out of that book!” was some kind of personal service, that we would thank them for it and feel ourselves better people for being forcibly pulled from things we liked in order to do things we were indifferent to. Fun does not mean loud and crowded; that’s another language than English.


Sometimes introverts can like someone enough to hang out with them two days in a row. This is particularly useful for people who want to, like, be married or otherwise in a permanent partnership, romantic or otherwise. Or sometimes it’s not even a matter of who you like as much as who you find easy to be around. Or relaxing. Or whatever. I sometimes score this as “you don’t count as people,” but even the people who don’t count as people eventually count as people–and that doesn’t mean I can’t go on vacation with them and go to museums two days in a row. I mean, yes, it is easier for me to get enough of a person I like than it is for someone extroverted. But sometimes there will be a special event that has a couple of days in a row–like a convention, for example–and I don’t want people dodging me on the Saturday of a convention because we talked on Friday, so obviously I am done. Yes, I will be really whumped for at least a week after. But the one day and done rule: no, not even remotely universal.


Sometimes introverts really are tired, and I resent this person poisoning that well. I have a chronic illness that is not going well at the moment; if I’ve dragged myself out to your party, I want to be able to say, “tired now,” and not have you hear, “peopled out.” Because I DO GET TIRED, PHYSICALLY TIRED, KTHX.


Sometimes introverts don’t answer your texts within thirty seconds because they don’t have their phone on their person, or because they’re up to their elbows in bread dough, or because they’re playing the piano, or any of a number of things that are not about hating you or wanting to be left alone for awhile. We’re like extroverts that way. We do things that don’t involve texting sometimes. Any time you’ve set things up so that you think someone hates you if they don’t always text you back within thirty seconds, you’ve set yourself up for a lot of misery when their phone battery dies or something else that is not about you.


…I don’t know, I think it’s almost as dangerous to make sweeping generalizations about the world from the inside as from the outside. Especially if your sweeping generalizations are the social equivalent of leaving someone else with all the dishes. The “we need you to make social stuff go” rhetoric reminds me a lot of the rhetoric you’ll sometimes see from gender essentialists about how without men we wouldn’t have dishwashers and contact lenses, and without women we would all grunt and hit each other. It’s not true of genders. It’s not true of personality types, either. So cut it out.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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[User Picture]From: carbonel
2015-05-31 04:15 am (UTC)
Even though I am an introvert, it sets my teeth on edge to see an article entitled "9 Rules for Being Friends with an Introvert." "Rules" implies something hard-and-fast. Different people introvert in different ways.

In fact, the only "rules" in the list that fit me even somewhat are 5 (yes, sometimes "tired" means "socialed out") and 9 (if I say I'm okay staying home, I really am; and though sometime someone else's enthusiasm can drag me out, that doesn't mean my default desire to be dragged out). The rest I say "meh" at.

On the other hand, your paragraph about Netflix and Jimmy John's is making me uncomfortable, possibly because we're reading the original with different emphases.

I am in fact -- quite happily -- spending this very weekend alone, alternating between working on a Sekrit Project and watching Netflix (Foyle's War), and would probably have ordered pizza for delivery tonight if I hadn't gone out for sushi instead. None of that is because I'm chronically depressed (I am, in the greater scheme of things, but am doing pretty well right now, I'm happy to say) or because I'm chronically socially lazy. I'm doing it because that's how I want to spend this particular weekend, and had been looking forward to it all week.

I'm an introvert, but most of my friends are introverts, too. So there's no point in my trying to outsource my social life, even if I thought it was a good idea.

Generalizations bad. All of them.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-05-31 11:06 am (UTC)
There's a difference between spending this very weekend alone (I LOVE WEEKENDS ALONE) and spending EVERY weekend alone and NEVER seeing anyone but a food delivery person. The article writer chose to say the latter, not the former.
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[User Picture]From: buymeaclue
2015-05-31 04:18 am (UTC)
Not to be all introverted about it, but thank you for doing this social work! I've been grinding my teeth at the care-and-feeding memes for ages, meaning to dissect them and never quite getting around to it. Mind-modeling and communication are useful things! "The right way to interact with an introvert is to read their mind and never expect any care or consideration," though...somewhat less so.
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[User Picture]From: buymeaclue
2015-05-31 04:21 am (UTC)
(My personal favorite -- not this article, but another like it -- was, "Introverts will often cancel on plans repeatedly and never initiate any. Keep inviting them, though!" Ahahahaha. In so many ways and for so many reasons: NOPE.)
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[User Picture]From: swan_tower
2015-05-31 07:12 am (UTC)
I knew a guy who canceled on plans repeatedly and never initiated any. One of the most extroverted people I've met. Also: kind of a jerk.
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[User Picture]From: athenais
2015-05-31 05:28 am (UTC)
I have friends who certainly identify as introverts, but they don't seem all that different from me or less able to initiate, have and maintain social contact. You're right that it's a skill set. I don't think being introverted is as special as all the memes and Introvert Pride articles have claimed. Extroverts need quiet time also, are not invariably the ones to suggest getting together, blah blah generalizations can bite me.
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2015-06-01 08:46 pm (UTC)
Yes, I'm not really convinced that introversion and extraversion are anywhere near as binary as many of these articles seem to imply.

At least this article doesn't imply, as some similar ones I've read have, that introverts are the only really worthwhile people because they are Deep and Thoughtful whereas extraverts are frivolous flibbertigibbets.

(Um, is that how you spell flibbertigibbet?)
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[User Picture]From: p_j_cleary
2015-05-31 12:37 pm (UTC)
Well said. I think "introvert" is an excellent clickbait word, so lots and lots of terrible articles are written about them.
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[User Picture]From: vcmw
2015-05-31 01:35 pm (UTC)
I really appreciate your emphasis on certain actions as skill sets. Some people learn things about how to initiate social events, conversations, etc. young and/or easily and/or from readily available models. Others may have to learn those skills as adults, and seek out models. Thinking of them as skills that can be learned helps me better fill in my own skill gaps as an adult.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-05-31 02:50 pm (UTC)
I think things can look natural or instinctive from the outside, when in fact they're highly learned. Or even from the inside--if you were 4 when a parent taught you a particular social rule, it may have just gotten integrated into your approach without fuss or labeling. But bringing it back to people's consciousness as a skillset looks good to me either way--the exhausted people who are the only ones who have a skillset can think about teaching it rather than being stuck as the only person who "is like that."
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[User Picture]From: ellen_fremedon
2015-05-31 01:40 pm (UTC)
What makes the introvert-care articles even worse is that I have never seen an article on how to care for extraverts.

And I could have really used one, because there are aspects of extraverting that were completely non-obvious and counter-intuitive to me until nice extravert friends explained them to me.

Like, I wish someone had told me back in, oh, fourth or fifth grade, that 85% of the time, when adults ask you intrusive questions about your reading habits, hobbies, friends, family, school, and future plans, they are actually trying to be friendly, because they themselves enjoy having these conversations and assume you also feel validated by the interest of strangers and near-strangers. They are usually not trying to trip you up with questions that have a wrong answer for which they will shame you, nor gathering intelligence against which they will then measure everything you say on any future meeting in the hope of finding exploitable discrepancies.

I spent so much time wondering how they knew what to ask. For a while I was pretty much convinced that adults were precognitive, because the information they were asking for was so clearly useless to them now. The notion that they were stockpiling information about future rivals while those rivals were powerless not to answer, against some distant power struggle where it would matter deeply whether I could swim and if I had any younger siblings, admittedly seemed far-fetched. But the notion that they started these conversations for fun was simply inconceivable.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-05-31 03:36 pm (UTC)
I agree thoroughly. I think one of the things that's going on here is that there is the assumption that extroversion is treated as normative in our culture--which it often is, but that doesn't mean it's well-understood from the outside. In analogy, Christianity is the dominant religion of most of the US, and yet many non-Christians would not have a good explanation for, "What is Pentecost, and why is it important to Christians?"

I didn't have quite so Machiavellian an explanation for small talk with children--which is weird, because I was a pretty Machiavellian small child (I may have told you the merry-go-round story)--but it didn't occur to me that it was not a tedious duty on both sides until fairly late.
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2015-05-31 01:55 pm (UTC)
Great post. Just [excising a ton of personal blather affirming it here] spot on.
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[User Picture]From: cakmpls
2015-05-31 02:21 pm (UTC)
I am kind of a classic introvert in that I recharge by being alone, or sometimes with just family. Being social wears me out. (By my third, or this year fourth, day at the Minicon reg table, our family Easter brunch, while a real event, is my excuse to leave Minicon by noon on Sunday. And the Dead Dog and Dessicated Dodo are not happening for me.)

The only ones on the list that apply to me are 4 and kind-of 9 (you can certainly call me for non-emergencies, but I far prefer text or email), and neither one comes from introversion.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-05-31 02:58 pm (UTC)
I expect that #9 is true of many extroverts, too, though. They may want to stay at home and have people over--or they may want to stay at home and get stuff done that needs doing at home--or whatever. People sometimes want to stay home, and are allowed to say so.
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[User Picture]From: asakiyume
2015-05-31 03:31 pm (UTC)
I do think sometimes people need a little push to overcome inertia about something, or to overcome distaste for some preliminary barrier which is standing between them and something they will enjoy, so while I agree that "you came along and got me to have fun" is a VERY unhelpful narrative, I also thing that sometimes, for anything (and for any personality type), you do have to push through some initial stuff to get to something you'll like. Sort of like giving a book or a TV show a chance beyond the first five minutes.

Completely agree about sometimes tiredness just means tiredness, or no answer on the cell phone just means the battery's dead. Some things are just random and circumstantial. No one characteristic of a person governs their every action! Not their femaleness, not their degree of introversion, not their ethnic background, not the fact that they have a chronic illness.

And I really, really strongly agree about the skills thing.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-05-31 03:38 pm (UTC)
I think you're right that a preliminary barrier to overcome can be pretty common, which makes the more toxic version of the meme harder to fight.
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[User Picture]From: livejournal
2015-05-31 04:30 pm (UTC)
Hello! Your entry got to top-25 of the most popular entries in LiveJournal!
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[User Picture]From: reveritas
2015-05-31 05:05 pm (UTC)
This is perfect from top to bottom. I think JD (textbook introvert) doesn't even read these introvert articles because he doesn't like the infantilization OR the implication that his introversion is a problem that extroverts have to solve. (Doesn't stop me from trying, though...) ;)
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[User Picture]From: mizkit
2015-05-31 10:14 pm (UTC)
THANK YOU.

I am, by anybody's standards, an extrovert. Furthermore, I'm one that's good at talking to people, usually even when the other person is not so good at it.

But I *hate* those introvert/extrovert lists, because they're full of such toxic crap, and nearly everybody has attributes of both personality types, and I mean I'm a writer, my job literally depends on me being left alone with the people in my head for hours, weeks, months at a time.

And it doesn't matter how much I enjoy people, I .always. dread going out/having a party/social situations. I make myself go, because I recognize the behaviour and I know I'll have fun if I do go, but it takes real effort to *go*, which is Anti-All-Those-Extrovert-Lists.

And no matter HOW MUCH I enjoy people, it's bloody tiring to go out and socialize. Perhaps unlike introverts, I can keep going for hours and days, even, if I have an audience, but I will crash just as damned hard as any stereotypically introverted person afterward, because social interaction is a lot of work.

*hops around frantically*! Thank you for this post! :)

Also, why am I not following you here. *fixes that* :)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-05-31 11:16 pm (UTC)
Yeah, weird, we've known each other forever and never been on each other's friendslists? What were we thinking?

Anyway. Seriously. So much toxic crap, and on a topic where helping people understand each other might actually be helpful. Sigh. Bleh.
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[User Picture]From: blue_hat_guru
2015-06-01 01:49 am (UTC)
So...would I be ahead to not read that article, due to becoming angry as a result?

I'm not quite sure why there would be an industry of these; the original did a decent job.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2015-06-01 11:10 am (UTC)
I think you'll find that there are cheap knock-offs of lots of things that did a decent job in the original; see, for example, Tolkien.
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[User Picture]From: castiron
2015-06-01 04:56 am (UTC)
I'm an introvert, and the only one on that list that I can 100% agree with is #9.

1, 4, 7, and 8? If I'm annoyed because you did any of these things, it's not because I'm an introvert, it's because I have a day job and small children, and my free time at home is rare and precious.

2? I've had too many coworkers who I enjoyed interacting with every workday to buy that as a necessary part of introversion. Sure, I need recharge time, but I don't need to retreat to a hut in the backyard for 24 hours before I can face another person.

3? Yes, I'm someone who gets quieter and quieter the more people are in the conversation; it's not introversion, it's brain processing stuff. That doesn't mean that having more people along is automatically bad; heck, I might enjoy it, because it's *interesting* listening to all the side conversations.

5? No, really, it means I'm tired.

6? Actually, if it's a one-on-one conversation and I'm not saying anything at all, it's because I'm having a hard time getting a word in edgewise. If you're paying any attention to my conversational cues and giving me a reasonable opening, I'll ask you questions, give you another example, express opinions about what you've just said, and generally hold up my end of conversation.

An introvert generally needs more alone time than an extravert. Beyond that, mileage varies extensively.
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2015-06-01 08:37 pm (UTC)
I think that your comment on #6 can also run afoul of "extraverts aren't by definition always good at social interaction." I interrupt people all the time without meaning to; I honestly think they're done talking.

These days that is mostly only on the phone, because I have gotten better about slowing down and assessing cues, but I'm certain I used to do it a lot in conversation. (I think in my case it's more about regional speech patterns than intraversion/extraversion.)
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