People never believe me when I tell them that I’m an introvert. “But that’s not possible! You’re so friendly/outgoing/sociable!”, they say. The worst response I ever got was a coworker’s response to my statement that I didn’t like crowds. She just laughed it off disbelievingly and said, “What, did something traumatic happen to you or something?” Um… yeah. Not gonna touch that one. As usual, people’s nerve never ceases to amaze me.

Anyway, trust me on this one — I am, deeply and truly, down to my very core, an introvert. Just ask my husband. Or, as we like to call it in our Smug Married terminology, I am a cat. At any given time, cats are perfectly content to curl up by themselves in a sunny spot on the couch and sleep the day away, perhaps waking up long enough to give themselves a bath if they’re really feeling ambitious. If you happen to sit down on said couch and provide them a conveniently warm lap to boot, well, they may just deign to come over and visit. Or they may not. Either way, cats much prefer to keep their own counsel, occasionally letting very special people into the inner sanctum to shower them with affection. If that affection is not forthcoming, they will not perish for its lack, but rather turn up their noses and return to their bath.

Dogs, on the other hand, will whine all day until their owners return to rescue them from the terrible trials of solitude. They then bound to their side, overcome with love and limitless affection, never to be parted again. Depriving them of attention is like starving them of food — you just can’t do it.

In this sense, I am most definitely a cat. I would much rather curl up on a couch with a book than talk to just about anyone. I would gladly write a thousand emails than return one phone call. Silence, in a word, is golden, and people, while enjoyable, become a burden after too long.

My husband, on the other hand, is without a doubt a dog. Even after a long day of nonstop teaching and talking, he still bounds in the door, ready for yet more interaction with his prickly, cat-like wife. If left alone for more than thirty seconds, he immediately reaches for his cell phone or switches on the radio. People are his drug, his lifeline, his energy source. You have no idea how much I envy him.

Nonetheless, we have learned to speak each other’s language just fine: he knows when to leave me alone, and I know when to shower him with hugs and kisses. For the most part, it works out pretty well. But every so often, the need to fulfill my deepest cat nature becomes so overwhelming that I literally can’t stand to be around anyone. At that point, any and all human company drains and exhausts me, and I get more and more irritable until I can just curl up and be totally by myself for a sustained period of time.

And this, my friends, makes me by definition an introvert. People often confuse the term with being shy, which I am definitely not. I can be quite gregarious and friendly when I need to be, which is why acquaintances or people I work with don’t get why I would ever call myself an introvert. What they don’t understand, and what it’s taken me almost two years to teach my extroverted husband, is that for me, all social interaction comes with a price. I can be the life of the party, yes, but afterwards (and usually beforehand, too, if I’m lucky) I will need to go home and sit in a corner, quietly, not talking to anyone, just being.

Today, blissfully and gloriously, I was able to do just that. We are up in Lake Tahoe for a few days, taking a break at the end of a long and difficult quarter. My husband decided to go snowboarding with an old college friend who’s also in town, leaving me with the cabin all to myself for a wonderful six hours of solitude. Even as the car pulled away, I could feel myself expanding into the silence, filling the space around me in a way that simply isn’t possible when there’s other people around.

To be honest, I didn’t even do anything that special with my day. I read a lot, did yoga, ate, thought about going outside for quick trek via snowshoe, but then looked at the temperature (hovering right around freezing all day) and decided to have another cup of tea instead. But the most beautiful part of it was that I didn’t have to do or say anything, or be anyone other than myself, for a full six hours. That time was my own, no one else’s, and in that alone it was priceless.

When my husband got home, I uncurled myself and emerged blinking into the world of people once more, adjusting slowly to his enthusiastic barking and tail-wagging after a day spent on the slopes with friends. I even managed to enjoy dinner out with my husband’s friend and his young son, enjoying the social interaction far more than I would have been able to without today’s extended retreat into myself.

For a long time, I denied this part of my nature, and was much unhappier for it. Now, I know that all I can do with my introversion is to take solitude as I happen upon it, making space in my every day life to recuperate from the strain of being around others. And then, every so often, I am lucky enough to get a day like today — a cat day. When I do, I relish in it to the fullest extent possible, and let it sustain me until the next time.

(For a fabulously written piece on introversion — that has apparently since sparked a nascent Introverts’ Rights movement — see Jonathan Rauch’s 2003 essay from The Atlantic.)

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