A funny thing about us introverts is that we are often mistaken for extroverts at parties or social gatherings.
A lot of people seem to think that introversion = shyness or social awkwardness. And although some introverts might be shy, it is certainly not an inherent trait of introversion.
On the contrary. An introvert can even appear like the most outgoing person in the room, because they might overcompensate to hide how uncomfortable they really are.
I am often mistaken for an extrovert at parties. I talk a lot. I initialize conversations. I listen closely and ask a lot of questions. I laugh. I seem to be enjoying myself.
I do a good job of mimicking extrovert behavior. A lot of introverts do.
Thanks to our introverted nature, we have spent countless hours in corners, observing other people interact. And we have learned how to present ourselves, how to behave, how to mingle and how to make conversation. We have learned how to make it all seem natural.
But what seems natural and effortless on the outside might in fact be very deliberately directed...
Enter: the Director
When I’m socializing, I have a little voice in my head that I call my “director”.
The director whispers stage directions in my ear: “Go to this table.” “Stand over here.” “Go join that group over there.” “Now you should laugh.” “Now you should look relaxed.” “Now you should ask a follow up question.” “Remember to maintain eye contact.”
Every move I make and everything I say is carefully thought out by my director.
But make no mistake: I am severely uncomfortable in social situations. I don’t go if I can avoid it. And I want nothing more than to do my thing and then quickly get out so I can return home to my pajama pants, Netflix and ice cream.
The only difference between an introvert and an extrovert at a party is that the extrovert is having effortless fun and being filled up with energy, while the introvert is “performing” and depleting their mental batteries in the process. Both might be having a good time, but for the introvert this comes at a price.
When I come home after a social event, I collapse on the couch and won’t answer my phone for three days.
And if I’m planning to attend and event, I have to stock up on energy and courage beforehand. I need to brace myself.
"Just be yourself..."
“But just be yourself”, people like to say to me.
The problem is that if I were to “just be myself”, I wouldn’t even be there: standing in a crowd with a mandatory cocktail in my hand and a stiff smile on my face. Heart racing. Palms sweaty. Eyes gazing longingly at the restroom signs.
I would be at home, by my computer, playing Civilization V all weekend.
If the real me would be at that party, she would be alone at a table, scrolling Instagram.
Why even go to parties or conferences or networking events, one might ask.
Well, even an introvert needs connection sometimes. We are just a lot more selective with when and how, and with whom to connect.
I carefully consider each event I’m invited to. How long will it take me to travel there? How crowded will the subway be at that time? What other people will be there and do I care enough about them to drag myself over there? Do I have any outs should the situation get to intense? Can I vanish from the face of the earth the days after, to recharge? What are the best possible outcomes of my attending this event, and are they worth the effort?
If I decide to go, I need to prepare myself accordingly. I’ll check out anything I can find on the location, the guests and the agenda. Prepare smart and interesting and funny things to say. Listen to 90s rap music to build confidence and a casual attitude.
And when I’m there, I’ll rely on my director to get me though it. To hide how awkward and misplaced I feel, and how much I’d rather soak in a hot bath with a book and a glass of wine. And to make sure I perform to the best of my abilities, so that I can leave and feel proud of myself for having socialized so productively.
Because as every introvert would agree: the best part of any social event is going home afterwards. ;)