The Extrovert Conundrum: A Confession/PSA/Promise to My Loved Ones

I read this interesting article recently called "How to Love an Extrovert."   Written as a rebuttal to "How to Love an Introvert," the piece condemns extrovert-shaming, does away with the term "attention-whore," and celebrates the layered, genuine, vulnerable, social loudmouths we all know (and some of us love).  It explains that extroverts can be deep, thoughtful people -- not just vapid word-spewers -- and that extroverts can need and enjoy quiet self-reflective time, too.  Until I read this article, I don't think I realized just how much internet advice there is in "defense" of "introverts," tacitly shaming and blaming the unshy types we lump together as "extroverts."  (See, also, this great article: "The Care and Feeding of Your Extrovert.")


From Buzzfeed's 25 Frustrating Things About Being an Extrovert.
I've gathered from the imbalance of internet articles that many introverts think the world is built for extroverts; that extroverts have an easier go of it, have more friends, more happiness, think less, care less, worry less.  But diving down the rabbit hole of the articles coincided with me experiencing an extreme period of personal self-criticism, regret, and almost incapacitating, over-analyzing insecurity.  I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be a human adult person who interacts with other, different, human people with different needs and thoughts and senses of humor, and a lot about how to be better at the whole human-person thing in general.

As a (largely) hopeless extrovert, I constantly feel the need to apologize for my behavior: my volume, my energy, the way I just spent 40 minutes acting out Clue for your now-silent new boyfriend who's never seen it and didn't really seem to grasp what I meant by "French farce."  Some of this isn't just being an extrovert.  It's being a socially insensitive, domineering asshole. But the lines are foggy, and the night is dark and full of booze.

Buzzfeed.
When I was younger -- high school, drama camp, high school drama camp, etc. -- I was proud of my personality.  I called my fevered outspokenness "passion" and my plowing through other people's conversations "loquaciousness" and my bossiness "having lots of ideas."  And I was heartbroken when people didn't like me.  Because, you see, I also tried really hard to be nice and considerate and gracious and a good person.  I just couldn't contain my excitement for ALL THE THINGS and my need to discuss and explain and not relent until everyone around me was as excited as I was (or, more accurately, had left the room).  But, it came off wrong lots of the time, and I came off wrong, and through the endlessly embarrassing looking glass of adulthood, I'm starting to understand why.

Looking back, I realize that what I had was this really raw, rough draft of a personality. All the spice and humor and interesting quirks and mouth-movements, but none of the finesse and self-restraint and situational awareness that I needed to be liked or appreciated or invited to places.

I once read the etiquette is the art of making other people feel comfortable.  That's what I didn't have -- etiquette -- not that I didn't write timely thank you notes or exchange polite small talk -- I didn't get that the best person you can be is someone who makes other people feel comfortable.  I was too much myself, if that's a thing, and I didn't understand that small, fitting-in gestures aren't selling yourself out; they're making other people feel validated in their choices and their personalities.

Who you calling "attention-whore?"
I think a lot of extroverts struggle with this conundrum: it's not that we need attention in some sort of negative, overcompensating, low-self-esteem way.  Many of us don't go out seeking attention (as hard as that is to believe). We're just loud and passionate and excitable and have so much fun talking and bubbling that we can overdo it.  When you like to meet people, you like to make jokes, you like to say "yes" to the next party/bar/date/trip/idea, you're unshy and ridiculous and full of mischief, sometimes you can overrun quieter, more reserved, less frenzied people.  I struggle a lot with this, especially lately; I replay conversations and evenings over and over in my head and worry constantly that I talked too much or said too much or hurt someone's feelings or did something wrong.  I don't have the brash confidence I used to have, as my rawer self, and I live in semi-constant state of self-balancing.  It's like a weird, stutter-step dance: two steps forward BEING MYSELF, one step back regretting and overthinking myself.

So, in this long slow journey to "adulthood" (a word whose quotes are earned each weekend where I backslide many bumpy miles down the hill of maturity), I've been trying really hard to be, if nothing else, self-aware.  My husband recently said, "the best any of us can do is just keep trying to be a better person."  And it's true, right, despite it's fortune-cookie/pinteristy flavor?  Trying to be a better person means trying to pick your battles, trying to benefit the doubt, trying to make other people feel good about themselves, trying to shut up once in a while.

My marriage.
But, I was glad to read the "How to Love an Extrovert" article, because I've been doing so much guilt-feeling and self-shaming about my natural social instincts that it was nice to hear "it's okay! You're just that person!" It was nice to feel defended and understood (something we all fundamentally want, right?).  So, real life friends, check out the article; and this one.  And forgive me, please.  And feel free to ask me to shut up for a minute so you can finish your story.  Because I want to shut up, I really do; sometimes I just don't know how. 
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8 comments

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Anonymous
AUTHOR
October 11, 2013 at 10:31 AM delete

Aw, we don't all need a guide on how to find you likable [read: tolerable], Alison. Some of us do it naturally, even when we're staring at you cross-eyed.

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Preston
AUTHOR
October 11, 2013 at 10:59 AM delete

Well, I was in the middle of writing MY blog when your blog just up and started in the middle of it! Now I just won't start one.

Sheesh, Alison.

In ACTUAL response, I often think those "How to treat introverts/extroverts" articles are in reality "DO NOT CRITICIZE MY FOIBLES, I OWN THEM" articles.

It is hard, finding that line between owning your personality and being an asshole, introvert OR extrovert. As far as I can tell, though, you've navigated that pretty well.

Granted, my input is mostly from college memories and Taco Mac visits, so, I dunno, maybe you're a huge jerk when nachos aren't around. Which just means you need more nachos, really.

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Andrew
AUTHOR
October 11, 2013 at 11:01 AM delete

I always thought you were the quiet one....

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djazz
AUTHOR
October 11, 2013 at 11:40 AM delete

"In ACTUAL response, I often think those "How to treat introverts/extroverts" articles are in reality "DO NOT CRITICIZE MY FOIBLES, I OWN THEM" articles. "

THIS IS 100% CORRECT.

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estep
AUTHOR
October 11, 2013 at 1:52 PM delete

umm, at 52 i've got the same shit going on, so thinking you are going to change is sort of, well, stupid.

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Alison
AUTHOR
October 11, 2013 at 2:07 PM delete

Preston -- absolutely agree about those articles in general. The classifications themselves are kind of bullshit -- people don't fall into binary personality categories, right? But I thought it was interesting that instead of finding articles explaining the differences, I found a lot of bitter and pointed "defenses" of shy-type people against the tyranny of loud-type people. But I'm realizing now that's probably because the loud-types are out drunk somewhere instead of writing articles. Gotta get on that myself.

Estep - Your name links to "www.douchebag.com." Nice touch.

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l'oiseau
AUTHOR
October 11, 2013 at 8:13 PM delete

Alison- I recently (as in within the last hour) had a break-down because I am the most outgoing in my, needless to say, introverted, "intro to library science" graduate course. Your boomstick could not have come at a more appropriate time- many thanks!

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Unknown
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November 3, 2016 at 11:41 AM delete

I wonder if the defensive introvert articles might be because they have confused extrovert with narcissist and they have been the target of a few narcissists?

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