I’ve always been terrified of talking on the phone. Just the sinister thought of a disembodied voice on the other end makes my heart pound in my throat and my palms sweat. You would think putting a face to a voice would make matters easier, but somehow communicating with other human beings is a perpetual struggle. This time last year, I sat in a Sociology class that told me my problem could easily be construed as social anxiety, a mental disorder. It’s a common misconception that introverts, who don’t thrive off interactions with other people, somehow have a piece missing; that extraversion is the norm. I enjoy spending time with other people. I really do. But, only on my terms. I’m the girl who eagerly makes plans with friends weeks in advance, yet hesitates when it comes to last-minute invites. Believe me, I want that invite. I like knowing people want me around, but I also have no interest in leaving my quiet solitude. This is something that absolutely baffles my extrovert friends. They’re loud, spontaneous, and incredibly physical, and as much as I adore them, I can only handle so much before I’m overwhelmed. I am one of many introverts who suffer from sensory overload; we need to take the time to recharge on our own after exhausting social experiences. Extroverts, on the other hand, demand social interaction as their own personal way to recharge. Herein lies a feedback loop of give and take that could give any two people on opposite ends of the introvert-extrovert spectrum a headache. I like seeing my friends in very small doses. Seeing a close friend once a week may sound like isolating torture to an extrovert, but I see it as a healthy way to prevent anyone from overstaying their welcome in my personal space. Adding romance into the equation only makes things messier. I have spent a great deal of my life uninterested in romantic attachment. Having someone in my life sounds really wonderful in theory, yes. Unfortunately, with a significant other comes the necessity of sharing your time, space, and energy, and part of me just wants to put all that toward something more productive in my life, such as school or work.
What’s more, I have absolutely no interest in spending time alone with a person I just met. I can’t just go out and chat with a guy I happen to find attractive. I lack the spontaneity of my more extroverted friends to come up with a smooth opener. The introvert curse that keeps my brain from running in sync with my mouth makes it difficult to hold a conversation. The best I can do in any situation is the simple “Yes, no, mmhmm,” even though I’m probably more interested in what you have to say than I sound. I do have plenty of brilliant, witty and insightful things I could be saying to you. The problem is, none of it will come out coherently until long after our conversation has ended. I find it takes an incredibly patient person willing to wait long enough for me to untangle the jumble of words on the tip of my tongue.
I’ve thought a great deal about how I and other introverts could solve this problem of communication, and the only solution I can come up with is to be brave. Take a deep breath and dive into a conversation without overthinking it. Say a little something more than just the usual “yes” or “it was good” in response to silly small talk, even if it’s awkward and uncomfortable. Even though I love my personal bubble and spending time on my own, lately I’m willing to take that leap and engage with people. If it means gaining a new friend, important networking connection, or even potential love interest, it’s worth risking a few words.
I don’t need a total transformation into a full-fledged, motor-mouthed extrovert, just the courage to say the magic words to spark a connection with other human beings. Because I may want to be alone, but I don’t want to be lonely.