In defense of introverts

Found through Jezebel, the UK’s The Guardian runs an article by Rachel Denton on her choice to live a life of solitude, with little contact from the outside world.

I moved here in January 2002 and started my life as a hermit, naming my house after St Cuthbert, the patron saint of hermitage. On a typical day, I pray between 6am and 8am. After breakfast, I work on my calligraphy business, perhaps on card designs or wedding invitations, until midday. I eat, nap and read until two, then work in the house or garden until five. Over supper, I listen to the radio for an hour, followed by more prayer. In the evenings I may sit and watch the fire, sew and wander around the garden.

I try to live a simple life. I grow my own fruit and vegetables and, on an income of around £8,000, I have to be careful what I spend. I don’t have a television and I allow myself only an hour of radio each day.

I made an official commitment to be a hermit in November 2006, at a special mass. Before you can take your vows in the Catholic church, you have to put together a “rule of life” agreed by the bishop. My vows were poverty, chastity and obedience, which I have interpreted as simplicity, solitude and silence.

Though the word is never used, it’s clear from Ms. Denton’s oft-mentioned desire to be alone that she’s a classic introvert, which seems to be a dying breed in today’s culture, particularly in Western countries.  I know, because I’m one too, and while reading the comments at the Jezebel article I was genuinely surprised to see how many readers envied Ms. Denton’s quiet, solitary life, where she has no suitors and only sees friends and family a couple times a year.  I was surprised because introverts tend to get a bad rap as being unsociable malcontents.  As someone who has spent most of my life being told by extroverts that I’d be much happier if I just stopped being a wallflower, I’ve come to accept that we’re a largely misunderstood lot, alternately categorized as shy and insecure yet somehow arrogant and snobbish at the same time.

Most introverts aren’t actually shy; in fact they tend to be excellent conversationalists, once they’re comfortable with someone.  They also don’t dislike people in general, but don’t necessarily feel the need to befriend everyone they meet either.  Socializing, particularly on a superficial, going to a party and meeting a bunch of new people at once level, is more stressful to introverts than extroverts, but it doesn’t mean they look to avoid any situation in which they’re forced to make conversation.  We just like our space and our alone time, and people who are constantly on the go from one social event to the other, often while complaining that they have very little time for themselves, baffle us as much as we baffle them.

We’re at a strange impasse, a thoroughly 21st century conundrum, in which, due to the nature of communicating on the internet, it’s not unusual for a person’s closest friends to live hundreds, even thousands of miles away, yet people, particularly women, who spend a lot of time at home with mostly themselves to keep them company, even if that’s their preference, are considered weird and a little sad. While the strong, silent man who doesn’t speak until he has something important to say is a much beloved cliche that will never go away, women are expected to be social butterflies, with an ever-growing circle of friends and acquaintances and a limitless supply of energy to dedicate to every one of them.  Quiet, aloof men are deemed “mysterious” and “sexy,” while quiet women are “mousy” and “timid.”  Though lots of people find shy men appealing, believing them to just need the right partner to open them up, you’d be hard-pressed to find “shy” high on the list of desirable female traits.  Most of the time, we just have to go through the motions of being gregarious and sociable, whether we want to be or not.

Rachel Denton has achieved the introvert’s dream: a quiet, unassuming life where she has total control over how social she chooses to be, seemingly without guilt and without her friends and family giving her a hard time or making assumptions about it.  I love living in New York City, both the worst and best place for an introvert to reside, yet I often fantasize about moving to a farm somewhere and raising goats, not just because I think goats are awesome, but because sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the need to just get away, closing my circle to just a select few friends and family members.  It is, however, at this point at least, a pipe dream, one, because I don’t know the first thing about raising goats, and two, because I’m not sure it’s a decision I could make without worrying about what people would think of it.  A move like that is generally perceived as rejecting the world, removing yourself from the big picture as if to suggest that you might be a little too good for it, and people don’t tend to like that.  All introverts have someone in our lives, a mother, a sibling, a friend, a co-worker who always want to tell us what we’re missing, who want to draw us out, who perceive our distance as a rejection of sorts.  Most of us are continually expected to give in to society’s expectations of what’s “normal,” no matter how exhausting and against our nature it might be.

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3 Responses to “In defense of introverts”

  1. Reminds me of some comments I made in the Geek Culture Project. Basically, mainstream society considers introversion to be a personality flaw, an anti-social aberration. It’s considered the social duty of “normal” people to draw introverts “out of their shell.”

  2. Meredith Says:

    You’d probably figure out the goat thing as you went along. Plus, I bet there’s some kind “Goats for Dummies” you could use.

    I know I’ve commented to you on this topic before, but I’m stuck somewhere between totally relating and not getting it at all, because as far as I can tell, I’m a shy extrovert. I love parties and silly small talk and becoming BFFs with lots of strange people I’ll never meet again, but I also am spending this week fleeing the house at 9 AM when I don’t have to be at work until 1 PM, because the thought of having to meet the very nice contractor who’s remodeling our bedroom gives me the screaming heebie jeebies. Hm.

    But then I also am finally realizing — with the help of my psychiatrist boyfriend, HOW CONVENIENT — that I have some major, major anxiety issues that I am finally dealing with pharmaceutically. BUT ANYWAY.

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