How Social Distancing Has Become Too Social

Now the virus has another major symptom: non-stop interruptions from restless extroverts.

“Come to the living room, my cousin Jane is on Zoom.”

My partner’s voice beckoned me once again to leave my writing and join her for yet another Zoom session, the fourth such event this day. 

I dutifully went to the living room, said hi to Jane and her family, and after a few minutes of forced smiles and extensive enquiries about everyone’s health, made a comment about “lots of work” and escaped back to my computer.

Before the pandemic, we saw Jane and her family once or twice a year at family events and holidays. For me, that was about the right frequency to meet these members of our extended family. They are likeable, but we don’t really have much in common. It now seems that with social distancing, there is no acquaintance who can survive more than two days without being in touch. 

When the crisis began, many of us introverts thought our time had come. We would help our extroverted family and friends get through these difficult times by enabling them to see the benefits of a quieter, more reflective lifestyle.

Alas, the reality is different; extroverts are creating a non-stop cacophony of noise in our homes. The virus has another major symptom: non-stop interruptions from restless extroverts.

Somehow, social distancing has become too social.

Extroverts Are Starved of Stimulation

As introverts, we often learn that it pays to fake extroversion in the workplace. As Susan Cain states in her seminal work Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking:

“Many people realize they’re actually introverts who’ve trained themselves over time. They’ve never fully felt right, because they’ve always been stretching themselves.” 

But we know that there are limits to how much and how often we can play the game of extroversion. During normal times, we rush home from our busy day of work or study to the sanctuary of our quiet homes. Once in our private space, we can relax and recharge our batteries.

However, now that we are at home every day, our extroverted partners and friends are starved of the required level of stimulation they need, so they import it via multiple social networking channels. We, the introverts, find it hard to maintain the lower levels of stimulation that we need to be happy.

Don’t Define Introversion By What You Can’t Do

The truth is, we can no more expect our extroverted partners to replace their action-packed social lives with quiet contemplation than we can become fun-loving party animals. We’re just different, and we’ll need to find a way to live together in the same house. 

Extroverts need more stimulation, you need less. If you express understanding of their needs, there is a better chance that they will attempt to understand yours.

However, don’t let that stop you from stating what your needs are, patiently and calmly. It is important to explain what is good and positive about being an introvert, not about what we can’t do. This was emphasized by Dr. Laurie Helgoe, author of Introvert Power, as quoted in Psychology Today:

“I am very troubled by the tendency to define introverts by what they lack. Introversion is a preference, not a fallback plan. Introverts like being introverts. We are drawn to ideas, we are passionate observers, and for us, solitude is rich and generative.”

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How to Survive the New Normal

1. Claim your space.

If you do not have your own workroom or hobby area, now is the time to conquer some territory and to guard it jealously. (Here are some tips from an interior designer on how to create your own introvert bedroom sanctuary.)

If your accommodation is not big enough to allow your own room, maybe the time has come to treat yourself to a good pair of headphones. It will cut out the background noise and will be a visual statement to other household residents that you are not available. It can also be a convenient excuse for not responding when you are being disturbed.

Above all, be very open about the fact that you need peace and quiet.

2. Claim your time.

If you cannot escape to your own space, at least claim time. Tell your partner that you need some quiet periods, and ask to keep certain times of the day without interruption. 

3. Have one-on-one conversations with your closest friends.

If you are a typical introvert, you probably eschew noisy interruptions of superficial chatter but relish deep conversations with a close friend. Contact them via private messaging or arrange a private video call. After all, even the most extreme introverts need some level of social interaction to combat loneliness.

4. Make it clear that you are not always available.

If you are in a relationship where your partner will call out to you from anywhere in the house, at any time, make it clear that there are some new rules now.

Introversion Is Not a Flaw

One of the biggest frustrations I face when talking to my loved ones about my introversion is the feeling that I’m not being understood. The reality is, however much you may try to explain, there will be those who are unable or unwilling to understand your needs as an introvert. Ours is an extrovert-obsessed culture and no amount of explanation will persuade some people that introversion is not a flaw

You must learn to explain what your needs are in a respectful but firm way. Ultimately, however, you need the inner strength to demand your place even from those who do not accept you.

Be assertive, claim sovereignty over your quiet spaces, but do not ask for permission or expect approval from everyone.

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Written By

Technical writer by day. Poet, novelist, and commentator by night. Always an introvert.