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.
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.