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An introvert in an extroverted world

Susan M - June 3, 2008

Extroverts just don’t get it. They don’t get how hard it is for us introverts to sit in a room of people we don’t know and try to socialize. Small talk is painful. It’s draining. It can be torture.

Get me one-on-one and I’m fine. I’m not shy at all. I’ll talk your ear off. I just can’t stand socializing in groups of people I don’t know…Mingling.

Even the word sounds horrible.

I went to see a band play the other night on my own. I don’t really mind being on my own at shows, generally. A lot of shows I go to I know people there so I have someone to hang out with (like Mike D). And this last year my oldest son has been coming to just about any show I want to see with me (unless it’s not an all-ages show), so I’ve gotten used to having company.

The band I saw recently was playing at a small bar, and I didn’t know anyone there. I probably wouldn’t have felt awkward if it had been a bigger place. In a big place with lots of people around, you don’t feel so conspicuous on your own. Because hey, maybe you aren’t on your own. Maybe the people you’re with haven’t arrived yet. Or maybe they’re off at the bar getting a drink. Or in the restroom. Or parking the car. Or maybe you’re a professional photographer there to shoot the show and it’s really just a job for you, not something you’d go to on your own because you don’t have any friends and you’re a loser.

But this was a neighborhood bar kind of venue, very small, and people go to socialize probably as much as or more than they do to see bands. So I brought my PSP, and sat on a bar stool and played videogames until the band I wanted to see played. Then I left.

Well, not quite. After the band played, I wanted to buy an album but had to wait for them to put their gear away before anyone was manning the merch table. So I stood awkwardly for a few moments near the stage while everyone else started chatting to other people. Then I circled the venue a couple times. Then I bought an album and left.

I did manage to eavesdrop on some conversations, though, and that can be entertaining. Did you know John Hughes used to fly to London just to buy records in the 80s? (That explains a lot.)

Some of the band members were outside the venue when I left. I wanted to tell them how much I enjoy their music and loved the show, but I know myself better than that. What should come out as, “You guys were great! I hope you come back soon!” would more likely come gushing out as, “I love you guys! Big fan! I love you! Are you Duffy or Sean? Will you sign my record? I know I have a pen in here somewhere…” at which point I’d spill the tampons out of my purse at their feet.

What’s sad is I’m about 10 years older than they are, and no one’s ever heard of them.

But having to put up with some awkwardness while waiting for a band to play is something I’m willing to do. It’s well worth it for me. Obviously, or I wouldn’t do it.

Do you know what’s harder?

Relief Society.

Walking into the Relief Society room and choosing a seat is difficult. I don’t really know many women in there. Sitting next to someone I don’t know and having to make small talk? So hard. Sitting alone while everyone else makes small talk? Even harder, sometimes. Fortunately I’m in Primary and don’t have to go very often.

The hardest thing, though, is Enrichment night. I haven’t gone in ages. I used to go all the time, before moving to California, because our Seattle ward would ask the men to do nursery for the night, and my husband would always sign up for it—to make me go. They don’t do that here. And I don’t go. I have tried to go. I mean, I thought about going. I signed up for whatever class they were offering. I put it on my calendar. But I was overly optimistic: I didn’t go.

I’ve been trying for ages to get a photography club going in our ward. I actually love getting together in groups to discuss stuff. When there’s a planned agenda then I’m good, once the meeting starts. Which is why Relief Society is easier than Enrichment night. Enrichment is much more about socializing than learning.

I know what you’re thinking. What about ward parties? Those aren’t too bad. We go as a family. I have a built-in group to socialize with. It also helps that my husband is an extrovert and will talk to everyone while I can sit back and only occasionally say something terribly witty.

Alright, if truth be known, I have brought my PSP to ward parties and took refuge in it. But only because everyone was watching a movie I’d already seen.



  1. Amen. I don’t have the RS or Enrichment problem, being a male and all, but the last ward I went to where I didn’t know anyone I was successfully able to talk to exactly 0 people: show up, sit in the back row, and leave right after sacrament meeting. Small groups are great, but anything over 10 people is pretty horrible. I just wish I had a PSP I could take to events :)

    Comment by austin s — June 3, 2008 @ 10:46 am

  2. I feel your pain, Susan.

    Comment by Ronan — June 3, 2008 @ 10:55 am

  3. I have a friend who once told me that being extroverted and introverted had little to do with being gregarious or shy… but reflected how one recharges. Though I’d be alone in enforcing such a definition (or is it? any phsychologists in the house?), it resonated with me.

    Put me in a group — of any size — and I’m fine. I’m witty and affable, out-going and genial. But after 40 minutes, I’m done. Groups tucker me out… being alone recharges me.

    Comment by Silus Grok — June 3, 2008 @ 11:04 am

  4. Yeah, Silus, that’s the technical definition of introvert/extrovert. An introvert feels recharged after spending time alone and drained after spending time with people. Opposite for an extrovert.

    Us introverts wouldn’t feel so stupid if we weren’t such a minority. 75% of the world’s population are extroverts, or something like that.

    I’m going bonkers because I’ve had no time to myself for a few weeks and school’s about to end so I’m not going to get the house to myself for months now. Sometimes my husband will take the kids somewhere overnight and let me have a quiet weekend…Gonna have to talk him into it.

    Comment by Susan M — June 3, 2008 @ 11:09 am

  5. So I’m not crazy…

    * phew *

    Yeah: no problem being in groups, except that it’s draining. So I’m stellar for maybe 40 minutes.


    Comment by Silus Grok — June 3, 2008 @ 11:28 am

  6. I’m the same way. I avoid things like mingling and cocktail parties and socials like the plague.

    Most wards I’ve been in don’t know how to handle introverts very well – the activities generally involve introvert-unfriendly environments. In fact, being an introvert often can get you labeled “semi-active”. I think it’s just a part of Mormon culture – we’re subtlety taught that there are indeed ideal personality traits to aspire to as members: like being conspicuously happy, outgoing, energetic, “involved”, and uber-positive. These are good things … I don’t know, I guess I’m just not a big fan of molding membership towards an official “Mormon Personality”. I don’t think we support it doctrinally, it just comes out that way.

    Comment by kwk — June 3, 2008 @ 11:29 am

  7. Susan M., thank you! That is exactly how I feel. I have a definite need for alone time, including being alone from my family. I am much less shy/introverted/self-conscious than I used to be but I don’t really see shyness or introvertedness as being a problem that needs fixing. It just is. My children, particularly my 2nd grade son, usually get comments on their report cards about how then could improve on class participation. Class participation meaning talking out loud when everyone is looking at them or offering answers when not specifically asked – not going to happen, don’t care if it doesn’t. I really, really hate mingling with people I don’t know – my husband’s office parties are the worst ever, I follow him around like a little puppy dog with my arms folded and a smile on my face. I’m good at church though because I really do feel like I know and care about all of the women there on a certain level.

    Comment by D. — June 3, 2008 @ 12:06 pm

  8. KWK #6 Your comment is so true.

    Nice post Susan. DH is like this. He can handle public speaking well, but freezes at social gatherings. I can handle most social gatherings, but have difficulties with public speaking. I guess opposites attract.

    Comment by JA Benson — June 3, 2008 @ 12:33 pm

  9. What’s the worst for me, as a lawyer, is when try to go to an event and…. n-n-n-network.

    It’s awful. I try to avoid doing it nowadays.

    Comment by Seth R. — June 3, 2008 @ 1:14 pm

  10. I’m comfortable enough once I get to know people and I enjoy going to Enrichment to hang out with friends that I already know. However, I rarely go up to people and introduce myself or anything like that. My husband and I are both introverted in the sense of being worn out by large groups and we’d rather stay home and read than go out to parties and stuff. The hardest thing for me as a mom is “networking” with other moms for playdates and babysitting. I’m totally stressed out right now because we’re supposed to go to a concert on Thursday night and I’m having trouble finding a babysitter. I hate picking up the phone and asking people so much–I’d almost rather just stay home, except that the tickets were almost $50 each (it’s my hubby’s graduation gift)

    Comment by FoxyJ — June 3, 2008 @ 1:21 pm

  11. Extroverts just don’t get it. They don’t get how hard it is for us introverts to sit in a room of people we don’t know and try to socialize. Small talk is painful. It’s draining. It can be torture.


    It took me forever to learn how to be social. And even then I screwed up a lot along the way.

    Then I got married, had kids, and I worry I’m losing the skills. Now I’m in the EQ Presidency so it’s being forced back upon me.

    Comment by Clark — June 3, 2008 @ 1:53 pm

  12. I am an introvert, too, as well as my wife. Our ward is run by extroverts. They seem to get all the praise, honor, attention, love, glory, etc… The poor introverts in the corner – no one takes us seriously.

    All the better. The less they know of me, the less they’ll bother me with their stupid small talk. I don’t give a darn who won American Idol, how to make a casserole, who just got Eagle scout, who is expecting, etc,..

    To all extroverts, I don’t care about your child’s success and I don’t expect you to care about mine. I am not shy, either. “Shy” is just what extroverts call introverts to try to explain away the aura of mystery that surrounds them. Well, I’ve spent years nurturing my aura and don’t you dare think that you can crack through it in any amount of time no matter how much you smile and engage in appropriate, conversational, body contact.

    Comment by sam — June 3, 2008 @ 1:58 pm

  13. As an extrovert, I find myself surrounded by introverts. I have an introverted father, sister, sis-in-law(s), son (he’s only 3, though), cousin(s), and friends. I love ‘em all. I respect their space.

    I really like the way #6 described it. Especially this part:
    I don’t think we support it doctrinally, it just comes out that way.

    For sure.

    Bitter, much? And holy crap, was it you that left a comment on my blog? Not that you are the only sam out there…just wonderin’…

    Comment by cheryl — June 3, 2008 @ 3:47 pm

  14. I wish someone would start a photography group in my relief society!

    I haven’t been to enrichment in ages either. I’m uncomfortable going unless I go with someone or make plans to meet them there. The idea of just showing up and not already knowing in advance who I’ll be able to sit next to or talk to kind of freaks me out.

    Comment by bythelbs — June 3, 2008 @ 4:06 pm

  15. What Silus wrote makes a lot of sense to me. I can be social — but not for extended periods of time and it takes me awhile to recharge.

    And like Susan, I enjoy and am fine with one-on-one situations. I don’t think I could have been successful in the field of PR twenty years ago. But now so much of the work is through e-mail. And that suits me just fine.

    Comment by William Morris — June 3, 2008 @ 5:49 pm

  16. The hardest thing about being an introvert is that we are told to live by the golden rule.

    So I don’t go over and sit by someone in RS, because I *want* to be left alone. If I do, they do, right? It’s the golden rule: do unto others as you would have others do to you.

    Only it doesn’t work like that.

    I don’t have much problem networking professionally, because it is so essential, a matter of having a job or not. But I also don’t hesitate to bring in non-work stuff, if that would be more comfortable to talk about. When I meet someone from DC or NYC, I ask them in what part of the area they live, and in the process they generally tell me something about their family, and then I can pick up on that. Or I ask them what was the last book they read, and have gotten GREAT answers to that one.

    Comment by Naismith — June 3, 2008 @ 6:09 pm

  17. Oooh, in terms of recharging, my favorite thing is to go to Disney, ALL BY MYSELF. I get to choose what ride to go on, what musical acts to catch, what food to eat. I bring a book to read while standing in line.

    A lot of people hear this and say, “What fun would that be?”

    One day I am going on a cruise by myself, too.

    Comment by Naismith — June 3, 2008 @ 6:11 pm

  18. Here are some hints from a recovering introvert:

    1. Think before you speak. The extroverts make it look so easy that it seems like they don’t have to think before speaking, but they do. They just have more practice/experience, so it takes them less time to figure out what to say.

    2. Think of “excuses” to speak. Figure out a relevant comment on the topic at hand, or figure out a relevant topic to start a conversation with.

    3. Have a ready list of non-committal rejoinders: That’s interesting. That could be true. I never considered that angle before.

    4. Have a ready list of questions: What do you think? Have you ever had that happen to you? Have you ever ….? What’s your opinion? What’s new and exciting? And my favorite: Where’s your family originally from? and What languages do you speak?

    5. Have a ready list of “excuses”: No thanks. I’ll have to get back with you on that. I’ll have to check my calendar/PDA. If I don’t call you by _____ then you call me. Sorry, my calendar is full. Sorry, I just don’t have any spare time to add more stuff to my life. I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that. What part of “no” didn’t you understand?

    6. Have a ready introduction, or re-introduction, and extend your hand for a handshake at the same time: Hi, my name is Bookslinger. I’m sorry, I forgot your name already, I’m Booksligner. Have we met before, I’m Bookslinger.

    7. Be quick to wave or nod your head when passing someone, it doesn’t matter if you know them or not, so wave before you figure out if you know them. Everybody likes a wave or an acknowledgement.

    8. Smile a lot, for no specific reason. It puts people at ease. Just think of something funny or uplifting.

    9. If you notice other introverts or loners, hang around with them, you have something in common. And if you do anything at all to greet them or start a conversation, they’ll appreciate it, you’ll have made a friend, and you’ll both feel better.

    Comment by Bookslinger — June 3, 2008 @ 7:20 pm

  19. Those are great tips, bookslinger.

    I’ve thought about #9 at shows, but mostly I see men hanging around alone, not a lot of women. I have started talking to people nearby me at shows, because a show gives you a common interest: the bands. But I also have an auditory processing disorder and it can be really hard for me to make out what people are saying if the background music or noise is too loud (which it almost always is at shows). (Accents give me an especially hard time, and one guy I know and only see at shows is from Germany—we do a lot of smiling and nodding.)

    I wish I’d considered #2 before meeting Stone Gossard at an in-store appearance. I completely froze. And I had so much I could have talked to him about.

    Comment by Susan M — June 3, 2008 @ 7:52 pm

  20. Susan–I really think that what you have described about RS vs. Enrichment is true for 90% of the people, not just introverts! Most people only do RS through a friend, and maybe you just haven’t been in the ward long enough to have a friend (being in Primary doesn’t help). So please don’t feel different–everyone understands!

    I really wish you would start a photography group (and were in my ward). If you are comfortable presenting, just drop a word to the Enrichment counsellor (she’s the stressed out one) and do a presentation like your tips post from Kultrublog–people would love it and the visuals to illustrate REALLY help! Everyone wants better pics, and you can help them. At that kind of a meeting, you could ask if people want to meet regularly to show work, discuss, learn, scout locations, whatever. I think people would really dig that.

    Or, you can just make a flyer and hand it around at church and say “A photography club is meeting at my house on Thursday–anyone is welcome.” People will come! And then you’ll make friends! And you can get back to Enrichment, because you will have someone to sit with!

    I would LOVE to see a photo show of work women from my ward did–what a great culminating/recurring event for a club. OK–you guys should just move to my ward and I’ll sit with you and come to your club, too.

    Comment by ESO — June 4, 2008 @ 10:10 am

  21. I’ve mentioned it to many people, including the RS pres, and everyone’s all for it, I just can never get ahold of the RS pres to get it going. I guess I haven’t tried lately. I’ll call her today.

    Comment by Susan M — June 4, 2008 @ 10:15 am

  22. I have a feeling a lot of us bloggers are introverts- we can join in at our comfort level and it’s all cool.

    I hate parties and big group things too- you will always find me in the kitchen, helping, because at least there I know what to do with myself. One on one? I’m great- even small groups are ok, but a cocktail party of other event? Fuh-getaboutit.

    Comment by tracy m — June 4, 2008 @ 11:38 am

  23. Don’t worry sam,

    If I ever chance to meet you, I’ll just whap you upside the head with my triple combination and affirm your general view of the world. Free of charge.

    Out of curiosity… anything you actually do give a damn about that doesn’t focus on you?

    Comment by Seth R. — June 4, 2008 @ 3:45 pm

  24. Very interesting post. I consider myself kind of an introvert and, due to my socialization, I am not totally comfortable with that. One of the things I like about my membership in the Church is that it encourages/forces me to get outside my introverted shell on occasion. For example, I am better at introducing myself to visitors and new ward members, because I have learned that THEY might actually be more uncomfortable than I am (notice the reduction in self-focus), and that helping them is what a good disciple would do. Being a good neighbor, or member missionary, or whatever you want to call it also requires me to extend myself to others, as does being a good home teacher. And the fact is, when I overcome my own reticence, I am usually glad I did.

    (Although I would not say it recharges me.)

    Comment by Martin Willey — June 4, 2008 @ 4:25 pm

  25. And, I think bookslinger’s suggestions are excellent. Very concrete ways to accomodate your own introvertedness. I think I will put them in my scriptures.

    Comment by Martin Willey — June 4, 2008 @ 4:30 pm

  26. Sorry Sam,

    That was a very uncharitable comment I made in #23 and had a snarky sort of arrogance that I don’t like re-reading.

    I also think I probably misread what you meant to say anyway.

    So, sorry about that.

    Comment by Seth R. — June 4, 2008 @ 8:28 pm

  27. Susan – Thanks for bringing up this interesting issue and for sparking the revelation that so many who write on this blog are introverts like you. Sign me up as a charter member of the introverts club.

    I have a Type A wife who can socialize and converse with anybody in any size group. But I usually stand or sit by myself unless someone invites me to join them. Like you, I love to talk and in a one-on-one situation I can dominate the conversation for long periods of time. But send me to a function with a group of people and would rather stand looking out the window rather than immerse myself with the group. This probably sounds snobbish (and it probably is) but I happen to think that a lot of that socializing is not genuine concern or interest.

    I served as bishop of our ward several years ago and it was so much easier to approach people – because I was the bishop and bishops are supposed to do that. Once I lost that mantel it became totally painful to approach strangers.

    I love spending time by myself but I fear that sometimes I’m not as productive as I’d like to be. I will admit to watching too much television but I also love to just listen to music. I could sit for hours and listen to my I-Tunes collection. I even think it’s OK to talk to yourself as long as you don’t do it public. But, then again, with cell phone technology I never know who’s talking to themselves or who’s just having a telephone conversation.

    I guess blogging is the ultimte opportunity for introverts to come out of their shell and say what’s on their mind.

    Comment by lamonte — June 5, 2008 @ 6:02 am

  28. Just a minor quibble, but isn’t it an introvert world, in the sense that the vast majority of people are introverts?

    It just seems like an extrovert world, because, well, it’s the extroverts who do almost all the talking. :-)

    Comment by Bookslinger — June 9, 2008 @ 5:14 am

  29. The figure I’ve heard is that 75% of people are extroverts. Not the other way around. Don’t remember where I heard it though.

    Comment by Susan M — June 9, 2008 @ 6:59 am

  30. All the better. The less they know of me, the less they’ll bother me with their stupid small talk. I don’t give a darn who won American Idol, how to make a casserole, who just got Eagle scout, who is expecting, etc,..

    It would seem that you are equating introverts with those who just don’t give a damn about others. If that is indeed your definition, I think it’s erroneous, because I refuse to believe that introverts are inherently less charitable.

    Comment by jimbob — June 9, 2008 @ 10:01 am

  31. Bookslinger, great tips!

    I really think that practice and expectations make a difference. Having key phrases does make a difference.

    Comment by Barb — June 9, 2008 @ 4:52 pm

  32. [...] Playing on your PSP at the pub. [...]

    Pingback by By Common Consent » Zeitcast #17 — June 10, 2008 @ 1:54 pm

  33. The figure I’ve heard is that 75% of people are extroverts. Not the other way around. Don’t remember where I heard it though.

    That was accurate when I did my master’s thesis, which included introversion/extroversion as one of the variables.

    A quick, dirty and free instrument can be found at


    It’s not the best measure, but easy and quick and fairly accurate.

    Comment by Naismith — June 11, 2008 @ 9:47 am

  34. [...] Playing on your PSP at the pub. [...]

    Pingback by Zeitcast #17 « By Common Consent, a Mormon Blog — February 17, 2009 @ 8:44 am

  35. [...] of a mindset that you should leave me alone and get out of my way. Maybe I should be pioneering for rebranding for introverts. (Then again, yikes for introverts in other traditions) Possibly related posts: (automatically [...]

    Pingback by Rebranding the church (a charitable view) « Irresistible (Dis)Grace — February 25, 2009 @ 12:24 am

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