I have learned a lot about myself during the Covid-19 pandemic and the pause it has engendered. In particular, I have been surprised to discover my introverted side. And I like her very much!
Those who met me during college or in my twenties probably considered me to be a “bubbly extrovert.” I was always in the center of the action, planning and organizing activities for my friends and family, attending large parties and reveling in it all. I loved being surrounded by people. While I had my own apartment, I hosted regular dinner parties and traveled with friends every weekend so I never had to be alone.
As I got older, I began to appreciate solitude. Little by little, appreciation grew into longing. Today, I literally crave time for myself. Being alone no longer makes me feel lonely. On the contrary, it allows me to recalibrate and recharge. This realization led me to wonder:
“Have I become an Introvert in middle age?”
I decided to dive deeper. I began with Susan Cain’s bestselling book (and TED Talk,) Quiet, in which the author dispels the misperceptions of Introverts in what she calls “a world that can’t stop talking.” She agrees with Swiss Psychologist, Carl Jung, that Introverts and Extroverts are not defined by being shy or being a leader (Introverts and Extroverts may or may not be either.) Instead, the differences lie in what someone finds stimulating as opposed to exhausting.
“Extroverts direct their energy outward– towards other people– and gain energy from such encounters, while Introverts focus their energy inwards, towards more solitary, thoughtful activities.”–– Carl Jung
Since social interactions energize extroverts, being alone deflates them. Introverts are the opposite. Small talk and cocktail parties leave them drained. Time alone, or with a few people they know well, recharges their batteries. They enjoy thinking, reading, tinkering or discussing a topic in depth. Many introverts are mistakenly labeled shy or anti-social. As Susan Cain contends, “introverts are not antisocial– just differently social,” generally preferring to spend time with a few close friends as opposed to extroverts, who prefer larger, more animated gatherings.
Covid-19’s stay-at-home mandates have magnified the differences between Introverts and Extroverts, torturing Extroverts who need constant social connection, while providing welcome relief from social obligations for Introverts. In quarantine, Introverts are less likely than Extroverts to feel deflated, isolated or bored and more likely to feel energized, perhaps welcoming the lack of distractions to delve deeply.
Extroverts have embraced digital social interactions such as Zoom happy hours and online workout classes. But in between these virtual interactions, they feel frustrated and depressed and wonder when all of this will be over. Introverts, however, are reveling in this new normal. According to Lisa Kaenzig, the extroverted Dean of William Smith College who has studied introverted learners for years:
“The world has generally been a place where Extroverts are rewarded and Introverts are passed over. But the quarantines have changed those assumptions. While everyone is anxious and worried about the virus, the actual demands of staying home and limiting social interactions has felt like a boon to many Introverts. With everything that makes the world harder for them as Introverts, the world is better for them right now. They are adapting much more quickly.”
In our “Quaranteam” of two parents and two adult children, we have one off-the-charts Extrovert, two Ambiverts (those who have characteristics of both Introverts and Extroverts) and one Introvert. In pre-quarantine life, my daughter, the extreme Extrovert, was the social director of her friend group and constantly engaged with others. She has taken working from home in stride, but is utterly disappointed that her “calendar has literally been wiped clean for the next six months.” No concerts or music festivals, no weekend travel, no bachelorette parties or weddings. Some days she feels angry and frustrated; other days, she’s downright stir-crazy. Although her downtime is filled with Zoom game nights, virtual workouts with friends and late-night DJ parties, she still has “cabin fever.” Like most Extroverts, my daughter gathers her energy from others. The only “others” around her these days are her mom, dad and brother… and the dog. (She did start an Instagram account for the dog.) It is a tough time for Extroverts.
For my introverted son, it is a different story. A sports announcer whose work is temporarily on hiatus, he has proactively taken on several new projects; he is networking virtually with other broadcasters and industry leaders, and he is mentoring other young broadcasters. With no in-person gatherings and few social pressures, he is free to focus on his passions. He is busy, engaged and content.
My husband is an extroverted Ambivert. He enjoys a balance of socializing and quiet time to pursue hobbies, read or watch TV. He does not always need people around him to be happy. In quarantine, hubby has adjusted to a regular daytime work schedule, yet he also needs frequent Zoom-time with friends and family to stay connected.
As a more introverted Ambivert, I have found a nice equilibrium during quarantine. The extroverted side of me needs a pace and routine to my days with some social connection. My introverted side needs peace and solitude to help me remain grounded and healthy. Early morning dog walks, meditations, long runs, reading and writing fill me with joy and purpose each day, while replenishing my energy. Despite all the challenges around us, I am centered and happy– and hopeful that I can maintain this balance in the world beyond quarantine.
Approximately one-third to one-half of people are Introverts. This means that most Extroverts have an introverted partner, family member or close friend. If you believe that “opposites attract,” then Introverts and Extroverts can complement each other and have a strong friendship or love relationship, provided both parties make a conscious effort to appreciate what makes the other tick. Being in quarantine together has accentuated this dynamic, giving these divergent personality types the opportunity to better understand and respect each other’s unique preferences and needs.
What will our post-quarantine world will look like? I know my extroverted daughter cannot wait to find out. She already has one foot out the door, with plans to visit a friend’s beach house as soon as the restrictions are lifted. My son and I, the more risk-averse introverts, are content and not rushing off anywhere. And, in this uncertain future, if we have more people working from home, if Zoom meetings and virtual social activities become standard fare, while large, in-person gatherings dissipate, introverts may find themselves in a whole new comfort zone.