Is all this isolation turning me into — *gasp* — an extrovert?!
The following is an account of one introvert’s over-dramatic, unexpected response to nearly the entire world practicing social distancing.
Everything Is Canceled
Not too long ago, as early cancellations of 2020 social events from pro-basketball to brunch with my besties became official, I, like many others, had my own share of disappointments. But then, a confidence-boosting epiphany:
Introverts everywhere just got a CDC-recommended “Get-Out-of-Awkward-Socializing Free” card.
As much as I adore hanging out with my family and friends, as an introvert, social distancing will be no sweat. I can spend the entire quarantine joyfully curled up on my favorite couch with a rotating line-up of Netflix, naps, and snacks.
Can phone calls be canceled, too? Because those are the absolute worst.
The New Normal
Days pass, and my friends and family are getting used to living their best introvert-esque lives: They’re doing everything from home, questioning the lifestyle choices of others still heading to bars and nightclubs for fun. Basically, they’ve become me.
Honestly, it’s starting to weird me out.
Somebody Invite Me Somewhere
As I write this, it’s about a week into my self-isolation. It’s odd to make it this far without having a mental tug-of-war between these options: a) committing to plans for the weekend, or b) politely declining — and no need to mention c) flaking at the last minute.
I’m checking my phone constantly. I have the unsettling realization that I am waiting in vain for a once-dreaded text: “We’re all going bar hopping! Wanna come?”
I’m concerned and confused; as an introvert, why am I suddenly longing for social invitations?
What Will Happen to My Friendships?
Maybe I just miss hearing from my extroverted friends, I theorize.
Maintaining an introvert-extrovert friendship can be difficult: They typically don’t enjoy receiving screen-length long-form text messages (my preferred method of communication), and I already mentioned that I abhor phone calls (usually their preference).
Thus, the following mutually understood song-and-dance was born: They’d invite me to hang out with a group of their friends, though they knew I’d probably decline. It was their way of letting me know they wanted me around.
But now that there is nothing to fake-invite me to, how will we continue to indirectly hint at our fondness for each other?
My phone buzzes. My friend, “Extrovert Q,” has sent me a meme. Okay, problem solved.
A Reason to Check in With Myself Mentally
Another day passes. Several meme exchanges with Extroverts “Q,” “R,” and “S” later, and I’m feeling askew. Okay, problem not solved.
“I wish I could go out tonight,” Extrovert R texts. I see my thumbs type, “Me too!”
Wait, why did I text that? Did my thumbs suddenly develop their own little extroverted brains? I’m alarmed.
Calm down, I tell myself, it’s not like I never go out. It’s just that for introverts, a typical night out is often incredibly exhausting, especially if it includes lots of strained small talk and a crowded venue. I tend to only go out after I’ve made sure I’m feeling confident and have enough joie de vivre to make it through a worst-case scenario, energy-suck of a night.
Now I realize that I haven’t been pushed past my comfort zone at all this week, and as a result, haven’t checked in with myself emotionally. Am I just feeling adrift from a lack of grounding myself? Or am I missing being put in potentially awkward situations because it’s actually really great for my mental and emotional health?
I’m distracted from my thoughts by a text from Extrovert R about her friend’s bar: “I hope his business survives the lockdown.”
“We should totally plan a big thing there once this is all over,” my extroverted thumbs text back.
Did I just unwittingly INITIATE ambiguous, hypothetical plans? I never. What’s next? Initiating ACTUAL plans?
From Wanting to Withdraw Socially to Having Social Withdrawal
I’m now scouring my social media feed, wondering if any of my friends or family are feeling reckless enough to go party in our current circumstances. To my complete and utter dismay, they all seem to be responsible, compassionate citizens who are doing their part to #flattenthecurve.
Where are all my girls’ selfie videos of them lip-syncing to J Balvin while posted up perfectly in VIP? The boomerangs of people taking shots? I think back to all those times I’ve opened up Instagram as I was quietly settling into bed, only to be shocked fully awake by the autoplay of an inhumanely loud video of my friend hollering at his other friend singing George Michael’s greatest hits at a karaoke bar.
“Those were the days,” I hear myself whisper, carelessly.
What in the socially-stimulating hell? I was itching like a fiend for a glimpse of the types of events I would have happily avoided a little over a week ago. How long before I start longing to experience these nights out firsthand? Is this the beginning of my evolution into extroversion?
My mind has gone full-speed into an overthinking tailspin.
What Does the Future Hold?
I see my nightmarish future swirl before my waking eyes:
I’m actually feeling comfortable as I am jostled at a crowded, sticky bar, waiting to scream a drink order at the bartender over loud music.
I am enjoying asking strangers basic, boring, banal questions like, “So what do you do for a living?”
I am nixing intimate brunch dates at my favorite coffee house in favor of tailgating with a bunch of randos.
I shake my head — hard — to clear the visions away. It’s more than I can bear.
There has to be some kind of scientific explanation behind all this. It’s like social distancing en masse has caused the universe to pull an epic flip of the proverbial introvert/extrovert table.
Is it possible that there’s some kind of energy imbalance caused by all the extroverts suddenly acting like introverts? Is that imbalance now causing introverts to turn into extroverts? If so, will what was once an extroverted world evolve into an introverted world? Would extroverts then need a new online refuge called Extrovert, Dear?
Who would I be, in this crazy, new world?
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Passing the True Test
Bzzz, bzzz, bzzz, bzzz.
My cell phone is vibrating, interrupting my train of thought. Extrovert Z is calling, unannounced.
I recoil from my phone. There’s a familiar tightening in the pit of my stomach. My heartbeat speeds up. Is this — dread? I recognize the return of my old companion, “social anxiety.” My eyes roll in annoyance at the intrusive call. I huff in exasperation; can’t Extrovert Z just text?
Suddenly, I am flooded with relief. I have reacted to an out-of-the-blue phone call just like any true, unadulterated, salt-of-the-earth introvert would.
I’m breathless. Tears prick the corners of my eyes. “I’ve passed the test,” I murmur gratefully. My mind slows, and I finally regain control of my imagination. My confidence in my identity as an introvert has been restored.
I realize the unplanned call was the first out-of-my-comfort-zone trial that I’ve had in days. Maybe that’s what caused this identity crisis: After years of pushing myself as an introvert to socialize in an extrovert’s world, I’ve actually become comfortable with my discomfort. Now that everything, everywhere has been canceled, that discomfort is largely gone, leaving me feeling incomplete.
What’s more, my social awkwardness has become something of a measuring stick for me. I’m so used to feeling happy despite being out of sync with this world that I don’t know how to feel when everyone in the world has now adopted lifestyles that look like mine.
So, what’s an introvert to do? Maybe I can keep analyzing this to death until I internalize a new discomfort in losing my old discomfort. Maybe I can get past understanding my happiness only as it compares to what other people’s happiness looks like.
My phone goes off again. Extrovert Z has texted. “Just seeing if you’re okay! No need to call, text back if you prefer.” I sigh. If I feel displaced in this new introverted world, what kind of battles are my extrovert friends now fighting?
I know what I must do — it’s just that I’m afraid to do it.
I grasp my phone in shaky hands, close my eyes, and take a deep breath. I feel grounded. I’m ready to do the unthinkable: initiate what will probably be a lengthy phone call.
Extrovert Z answers on the first ring. “You called back!” I hear pleasant surprise in her voice. “So I guess the world must be ending.”
I laugh as I settle onto my favorite couch and recognize the comfort in my discomfort. I smile to myself, because I know that no matter what the world looks like tomorrow, two things will always remain true.
The first: I have an ultra-understanding, patient group of friends and family.
The second: Phone calls will forever be the absolute worst.