Most of us introverts share a common complaint: no one understands me. I know, I know. This statement sounds like it was made by an emo teenager. But hear me out.
Think of a few assumptions made about introverts: we are shy and rude. We hate people. We are conceited, jealous of extroverts, etc. I have heard all of these things used to describe introverts, and all of them are simply incorrect. But one of the most prominent ways that this misunderstanding of who I am is made known to me is through the process of giving and receiving gifts. Every year, around the holiday season, I’m bombarded with the same question over and over: “What do you want for Christmas?”
My first response is to say, “Nothing,” and I mean that. I don’t need anything. I’m probably going to swing by after work and pick up the book I have been eyeing. But that answer sends people into a frenzy of frustration which leads them to pressure me to give them a real answer. So my second response is, “Anything.” But this does nothing to quell their frustration. Sure, if I really wanted to, I could probably come up with a laundry list of items that would be cool to have or whatever. But that doesn’t give me any pleasure. I tell you to buy me item A, you go and buy me item A, and yay! I’ve grown tired of the monotony and thoughtlessness behind it all.
The Gift of Being Listened to and Understood
I never expect someone to give me a gift, but if they want to, I want someone to surprise me with something I didn’t see coming. Something that says, “I get you.” I’m here to tell you that I have received that gift, and it felt lovely.
It was a gift from my favorite person in the world, my husband, though at the time he was only my boyfriend. A few years prior to that, before he and I had ever met, I was able to take a multi-day field trip to tour the museums in Chicago. It was one of the best times of my life. While I was there, I purchased a statue of Bastet the Egyptian cat god, both as a souvenir and as homage to my love of cats. However, the statue was later knocked down (by my cat, no less!) and broken.
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I relayed this story to my boyfriend during one of our “tell stories about our life” conversations and then forgot about it. A few months later, my birthday rolled around. Since we were living in separate cities at the time, my boyfriend told me he would send my gift through the mail. He said it wasn’t anything I had asked for, but he hoped I liked it.
My first thought was, Something I didn’t have to ask for? That’s a first!
I tried to tell him that he didn’t have to get me anything, that I wasn’t the type to expect presents, etc. But he insisted that he wanted to. Plus, he had already bought it. So I waited.
Finally the package arrived. I tore through the box and the wrapping to pull out a beautiful, golden, heavy statue of Bastet. I was completely caught off guard, and yet, it was so perfect that I wanted to cry.
That was the first gift I had ever received that I did not ask for but still touched me deeply. It taught me so many things. My boyfriend had listened to what I said, even if it was a silly little anecdote. He remembered it and picked up on the slight sadness in my voice when I recalled the broken statue. I never openly said anything like, “I want another one of those.” It was just something I had let go.
Since this man is now my husband, there have been many more thoughtful gifts. But the gift of Bastet, which I still have, was the first and the most memorable one.
True, it is just a silly material possession that can do absolutely nothing except sit there. But the goodness and love that came through it, from him to me, is something truly priceless. And for that reason, I love it even more than the original statue I bought.
If you happen to be shopping last-minute for an introvert this holiday season, don’t hammer them with questions and grow frustrated at their muddled answers. Instead think of them as a person. Think about what would make them feel listened to and understood. They are likely trying to do that very thing for you.
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