An Introvert Is Like a Cup of Tea, Sometimes You Need to Steep Alone

a cup of tea represents an introvert

Some may think the cup is being self-centered, but truthfully, all it wants is to sit in peace.

My family and I were vacationing at my mother-in-law’s a few summers back. There were many people in the house — it was one of those everybody’s-home-for-the-holidays kind of gatherings that are both fun and terrifying. After a few days, I found myself feeling very overstimulated and in need of an escape. 

As an introvert, I don’t do well when I’m overwhelmed; my brain stops working and my body starts buzzing. I find it difficult to process life in a competent and coherent way. Also, I get really grumpy. 

Recognizing my need for a few minutes of solitude, I went into the bustling kitchen to make myself a cup of tea, intending to bring it up to the bedroom where I could shut the door and shut off for a while. My plan had been to zoom in and zip out, allowing the conversation between my husband and his family to continue undisturbed. 

I wanted to be as much of a wallflower as I possibly could. But that was not happening.

All Eyes on the Tea

My husband is one of those people who doesn’t know how to read facial expressions. He isn’t subtle, and he’s also highly extroverted. Whenever I’m giving him a look that says “Don’t say it, don’t say it, don’t say it,” he’ll undoubtedly say as loudly as possible the exact thing I’m least wanting him to say. I love him, but that’s just how he rolls. 

On this day, I wanted him to ignore me, so naturally, he shouted over, asking to know what I was up to. “I’m making a cup of tea,” I responded. 

“Are you making a pot?” All eyes in the kitchen raised in my direction. 

Since I was trying my hardest to just slip in and slip out of the kitchen, I mumbled something in reply and turned to leave. He didn’t read my energy, however, and pressed for me to actually provide an adequate (and sensible) response. Except there was no response. I had been taking care of me and only me. There was nothing else to it. Unfortunately, I still had all eyes on me.

“No, I’m just making a cup.”

“Why don’t you make a pot?”

“I was just trying to be fast.”

“It takes just as much time to make a pot as it does a cup.” By this point, my brain felt as though it was balancing precariously on a tipping point between a dark abyss and blinding explosion. Eventually — and inelegantly — I raised my voice and spat out, “I’m an introvert, okay!”

I knew it was ridiculous even as I said it, but once it was out, I had to own it. I left the room as quickly as possible with my head held mediocrely high. 

Why Introverts Are a Cup and Extroverts Are a Pot

The teapot is the watercooler around which extroverts gather. It is the collective. You can put multiple tea bags into one pot, and they won’t mind each other’s presence. In fact, they will all coexist and work together toward the same general purpose of making tea. 

An introvert gathers inward around the single cup. It is a pillar. With one simple teabag, it can work toward the same purpose as the pot, but it does so separately from the pot.

As this scenario unfolded at my mother-in-law’s, internally I was desperately fighting for the rights of the single cup.

Some may think the cup is being self-centered, only thinking about itself when it could be joining a communal effort to make tea for all. The pot may think the cup is not good at sharing, or just plain snooty. But truthfully, all the cup wants is to sit in peace, filled with the warmth of the tea and the opportunity to rest inside itself, before it can reintegrate into its fellow community.

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Sometimes a Cup Just Wants to Be a Cup

For my husband, the pot of tea embodies an opportunity for sharing, a chance to communicate over a common refreshment. My husband wanted the pot so we could sit with his family, and they could bring me into the fold of their conversation. 

I wanted the cup as my first step toward isolation, a symbolic gesture of physical separation. When I shouted out, “I’m an introvert, okay!” it was my cup speaking through me, letting the room know that sometimes it just needs to fulfill its purpose on its own, in its own time, in its own space.

Sometimes the cup wants to do what the pot is doing but parallel to it — not with it or within it. Sometimes a cup just wants to be a cup. And when it has a chance to be on its own, that’s when it is able to remember that even though it’s made from the same ceramic, it has its own essence, its own objective. And that given time to enjoy its full cupness, it will return to the pot and sit amongst the gang feeling whole and united.  

For the Record, Being Just a Cup Isn’t Selfish

As a cup, my need for alone time was never about not liking my family or not wanting to be around them. It wasn’t about being self-serving, selfish, or disinterested in their needs or wants. Rather, it was my inability to comprehend life outside myself — literally, actually — that forced my panic. 

My brain was not functioning, my ears could not handle the sounds that words make. I had slipped into my most reptilian self — the self that only lives by basic survival instincts — and my need for separation, immediate and without delay or further complication, was the only thing my mind and body understood. The more my exit was delayed, the more my panic intensified.

This is what people, especially extroverts like my husband, don’t understand about introverts. Give me the space I need first. Allow me to disappear first. Allow me to regroup first. I need to stop the buzzing first. I need the cup — the solo, undaunting cup — first, and only then, once I’m no longer in reptilian mode, can I confidently carry on a conversation.

When all was said and done, after I had my chance to self-isolate, I returned to the kitchen, filled up the kettle, and sat down at the table. My body was no longer buzzing, I was no longer grumpy, and my brain said, Okay. We can do this. When my husband brought over the newly-steeped pot of tea, I poured myself a cup.

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