Even though I’m a classic introvert, it was normal for me in my teens and early twenties to spend almost every weekend with friends. Now, in my mid-thirties, the perfect weekend is one with zero social plans.
I’m not the only one who’s slowing down socially with age. Take, for example, my extroverted college friend who ran through her contact list, making phone calls to chitchat, every time she was alone in her car. She couldn’t be without human contact for even the 10 or 15 minutes it took to drive to the grocery store. These days, as a 30-something, she’s content to spend most nights at home with her family. I haven’t gotten one of her infamous calls in years.
So what gives? Do we get more introverted as we get older?
Probably, according to Susan Cain, author of the bestselling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking — and this is actually a good thing. Let me explain.
Why We Become More Introverted With Age
In a post on Quiet Revolution, Cain confirms what you’ve probably observed in yourself and your friends — we act more introverted as we get older. Psychologists call this phenomenon “intrinsic maturation,” and it means our personalities become more balanced “like a kind of fine wine that mellows with age,” writes Cain.
In general, research shows that our personalities change for the better over time. We become more emotionally stable, agreeable, and conscientious as we leave our youth behind, with the largest change in agreeableness happening during our thirties, and continuing to improve into our sixties. “Agreeableness” is one of the traits measured by the Big Five personality scale, and people who are high in it are warm, friendly, and optimistic.
We also become quieter and more self-contained, needing less “people time” and excitement to feel a sense of happiness.
Psychologists have observed intrinsic maturation in people around the world, from Germany, the UK, Spain, the Czech Republic, and Turkey. And it’s not just us humans; they’ve also seen it in chimps and monkeys.
It’s why we slow down as we get older and start enjoying a quieter, calmer life. And yes, it happens to both introverts and extroverts.
Becoming More Introverted Is a Good Thing
From an evolutionary standpoint, becoming more introverted as we age makes sense, and it’s probably a good thing.
“High levels of extroversion probably help with mating, which is why most of us are at our most sociable during our teenage and young adult years,” writes Cain.
In other words, acting somewhat more extroverted when you’re young helps you make important social connections and ultimately meet a life partner.
Then (at least in theory), by the time we reach our 30s, we’ve committed to a life path and a long-term relationship. In other words, we may have kids, a job, a spouse, and a mortgage. So it becomes less important to constantly be branching out in new directions and meeting new people.
“If the task of the first half of life is to put yourself out there, the task of the second half is to make sense of where you’ve been,” explains Cain.
In the married-with-children years, think of how difficult it would be to raise a family and love the one you’re with if you were constantly popping into the next party. Even if you don’t marry and/or have kids, it would be hard to focus on your career, your health, and your life goals in general if you were always out with friends.
Once an Introvert, Always an Introvert
But there’s a catch. Our personalities only change so much.
In my book, The Secret Lives of Introverts, I like to say that our personalities change but our temperaments don’t.
That means, if you’re an introvert, you’ll always be an introvert, even when you’re 90 years old. And if you’re an extrovert — even though you’ll slow down with age — you’ll always be an extrovert.
I’m talking big-picture here. Who you are at your core.
Research confirms this phenomenon. In 2004, Harvard psychologists Jerome Kagan and Nancy Snidman studied individuals as babies, then checked in with them years later when they grew into adults. In one study, they presented the babies with unfamiliar stimuli and recorded their reactions. Some babies got upset, crying and thrashing their arms and legs; these babies were deemed “highly reactive” to their environment.
Other babies didn’t get upset and remained calm around the new stimuli; these were the “low reactive” babies.
Later, when Kagan and Snidman returned to these same people, they found that the individuals who were “highly reactive” as babies grew up to be more cautious and fearful. The “low reactive” babies generally remained sociable and daring even as adults.
The bottom line? Our most basic temperament — cautious or sociable, introverted or extroverted — doesn’t change dramatically even as we get older.
An Example: Your High School Reunion
Want an example of intrinsic maturation in action? Consider your high school reunion.
Let’s say you were a very introverted teenager in high school — perhaps the third most introverted person in your graduating class. As you’ve aged, you’ve become more confident, agreeable, and comfortable in your own skin, but you’ve also become somewhat more introverted. If you liked hanging out with friends, say, once a week in high school, maybe in your thirties, you’re fine with seeing them only once a month.
When you attend your ten-year high school reunion, you notice everyone has slowed down a bit. They’re all enjoying a somewhat more calm, stable life. But the people who you remember as being very extroverted in high school are still more extroverted than you.
You’re still approximately the third most introverted person in your class. It’s that the whole group has moved a little more to the introverted side.
Again, that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it might be the very thing we need to flourish as adults. If there’s one thing we introverts know, it’s just how satisfying the quiet life can be.
Have you become more introverted as you’ve gotten older? Let me know in the comments.
You might like:
- 25 Illustrations That Perfectly Capture the Joy of Living Alone as an Introvert
- 12 Things Introverts Absolutely Need to Be Happy
- Why Each Introverted Myers-Briggs Personality Type Is Awake at 3 a.m.
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