You may have seen this map of an introvert's heart that's been making the rounds on the Internet. A few people have sent it to me. It's very cute, with its "Alone Time Lake," "River of Daydreams," and "Privacy Beach." But I haven't shared it myself because something about it bothers me.
Here's the problem: Nowhere in that heart is other people.
Yes, introverts like and need quiet and solitude, but that's not the whole story. Introverts are people, and people need people. That's human nature. That's mental health. That's being part of the world. A lot of public discussion of introversion is about how WE WANT TO BE ALONE. But by emphasizing that, we might be doing ourselves a grave disservice, running the risk that people will take us at our word.
Perhaps we interact with others differently than extroverts do. Perhaps we don't want to be the life of the party, or see a different friend every night, or join a happy-go-lucky gang. That doesn't mean that there is no place in our hearts for other people.
So let's turn the conversation from "leave me alone" to "we enjoy connecting."
Here are just a few things I value in friendships:
- Long, intimate talks. I love deep, abstract, navel-gazing discussions with a close friend who knows me well and enjoys digging deep with me, especially into our own psyches. (Or books. That's fun too.) This is the opposite of chitchat—instead of draining my life force, it leaves me energized.
- "Let's have lunch" friends. I have a few friends with whom the extent of our relationship is lunch now and then, and these are important friendships to me. I like and enjoy these people and lunch is a perfect get-together. It's usually one-on-one; it's long enough to feel a connection but short enough to not drain my energy for the rest of my workday (even if it's a long lunch, which is the best kind); and it's an opportunity to hear fresh perspectives on the world. Plus: food.
- Low-key hanging out. One of my closest friends and I enjoy getting together in the afternoon to drink tea or watch a movie. It's relaxed, casual, low stress, and there are no cosmetics necessary. Delightful. Props to friends for whom getting together can be just...getting together.
- Doing things. This same friend is a wonderful go-to when there's a play, lecture, or museum exhibit I want to attend. She's almost always open to doing whatever. I don't have a lot of people in my life I feel comfortable calling on for this kind of thing, so I value friends who are game.
- Email buddies: I have a friend who lives in another city with whom I am in pretty constant contact via email and/or text during the workday. Granted, face-to-face is always preferable to computer-mediated communication (CMC), but we have an awful lot of fun swapping links and bon mots throughout the day, and sometimes even having serious discussions. It's like having a friend in the next cubicle.
- The right groups. I used to belong to a writing group of about five women. We met every few weeks at a restaurant and spent a couple of hours doing creative writing exercises. I looked forward to those evenings tremendously, and although the group dissipated years ago, I still miss it. I don't like being among big groups of strangers but enjoy small groups of people I know. These women were interesting and funny, the writing exercises were inspiring, the evening was just long enough. Plus: wine.
- Friends for the ledge. A friend and I joke about talking each other off the (metaphorical) ledge—lending a sympathetic ear in times of trouble; offering sage advice in times of confusion; when necessary, even smacking some sense into each other (again, metaphorically). I value friends who don't let my introversion deter them from calling when they need support, and who will listen when I'm on the ledge. It's also wonderful if friends are sensitive enough to pick up that something is troubling me and draw it out when, in my introvert way, I'm reluctant to spill. It's a fine line between drawing and prying with some people, but close friends have carte blanche.
- Friends who reach out. Sometimes I get unintentionally isolated. Because I work at home, dislike the telephone, and my default is "stay home," I can lose track of how long its been since I've connected with anyone other than my husband. It often takes a wash of blue over my mood to remind me how much I need my friends. So I am abundantly grateful to the ones who don't let me overindulge my introversion, who aren't put off by it, and who extend invitations. I am equally grateful to far-flung friends who allow me to be squirrely about the phone, who are fine with scheduling catch-up calls, and who make sure we stay in contact, whatever it takes.
What do you value in your relationships?
Book, books, I've got books. I've got The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World. And I've got a new fun book, 100 Places in the USA Every Woman Should Go. And coming in 2015: Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After. Books galore! (Note that anything you purchase from Amazon after clicking through a link here earns me a few cents.)
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