On day one of my 9am P90X class, I immediately notice it's a much different scene than the 6am class I took in the fall. There are way more attendees and they're mostly stay-at-home or part-time worker moms like me. That is where my similarity toward the group ends. I'm dressed in bright green, fuzzy sweatpants and a ratty old T-shirt from Foodie Delight, my hair pulled into a floppy, disheveled bun that will only get messier as I jump, lunge and twist. This is just me being myself but I forget what a freak I am until I get into a large group setting. Most of the other ladies wear spandex leggings and actual hairstyles that are probably quite casual by their standards but more labor intensive than anything I ever do. And that's cool. But my profile is just a bit too high and waiting for class to begin is somewhat socially awkward. So I do what I need to do - smile and say "hello" whenever I make eye contact with a classmate and as soon as the instructor arrives, take my place in the far back corner of the gym. From this vantage point, I can observe without being observed. I take a deep breath and exhale. All is well, for I am a contented, self aware introvert and this is how I roll.
I've always been this way. When I was in the fourth grade, I told my best friend that I couldn't hang out on Friday afternoons because that was my "alone time" for reading, writing and drawing architectural floor plans of fantasy homes in which I would have at least six rooms to myself. When I was 28, a coworker asked me to house sit his country home during the holidays, even though he knew I had no car and no driver's license to make use of his vehicle. "Most people would probably get freaked out being there all alone for ten days," he said. "But you seem like kind of a loner and I think you might actually enjoy it." He had an indoor hot tub and a wood burning stove, and he was exactly right.
Though I've always stubbornly sought solitude, I've only recently identified myself by the i-word. In the past year, I've read several online writings from self-proclaimed introverts looking for a little understanding. It started with Jonathon Rauch's 2003 article for The Atlantic "Caring for Your Introvert". I've also enjoyed Sophia Dembling's The Introvert's Corner column at Psychology Today. Most recently, I saw this explanatory cartoon on Facebook, "Dr. Carmella's Guide to Understanding the Introverted". Reading these pieces has helped me understand why I have this need to be by myself, that it's my way of replenishing energy. And, of course, now that I have a baby, alone time is more precious than ever. Having said that, there's a militancy about some of these writings, an antagonism toward extroverts that I find a bit alienating. I love me some extroverts. They take me to fun parties and start conversations with strangers. Sometimes they help me meet cool people. And if I find their scene becomes a bit too much for me, I know I can back off without feeling like I'm ditching my friend. Extroverts can always fend for themselves in a crowd.
A common misconception of introverts is that we don't like people. I love people and I love great conversation. It's just hard for me to converse with more than a few individuals at once. And sometimes I like to witness a discussion without being involved. I love eavesdropping. This is why you may see me at a cafe with a notebook and an iPad, pretending to be engrossed in writing while I'm actually listening to the couple gossiping next to me.
There are just two things I would like my extrovert pals to understand so we can get along better in the future. One, just as the cartoon said, please don't take my introversion personally. I'm not being quiet because I think I'm better than you. Quiet is just the way I am for a good portion of the day. The second thing is, please don't invite me to dinner and then spring a bunch of people I don't know on me. Yes, I do mind that you invited so-and-so, not because they seem like bad people, but because I need to mentally prepare myself for this kind of thing. But I won't actually say that to you in the moment because you put me on the spot and I don't see the point in everyone having a bad time. So I'll muddle through the experience and feel weird about it and then I'll probably make up some excuse for skipping your next dinner invitation. If it's gonna be a group thing, just let me know in advance, and don't flip the script at the last minute. More does not necessarily equal merrier.
Other than that, I'm pretty happy with my mellow bubble. With the help of some very understanding friends and family, I've built a life for myself where I manage to find that energy-building alone time. Nature has played a funny trick on me by making my daughter a far more extroverted personality. I foresee a not-so-distant future in daycare, where she can get her fix of energy-building company. In the meantime, I take her to the YMCA Child Watch every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. Only once has she cried after leaving my arms. Otherwise, she is quickly immersed in another person or thing. The noise of the other children masks my departing footsteps as I head to the gymnasium, find my spot in the far back corner, and quietly grunt my way through another excruciating workout. Alone in the crowd, again, at last.