Shout out to my introverts: Elephant Journal on feeling loneliest in a crowd

In the 1980s and 1990s, it was totally possible to wander New York City for hours without spending a penny.

This is how I grew up, ducking turnstiles or cobbling pennies & nickels together to buy tokens, which were a dollar. I had a bag of Doritos and a quarter water (it’s corn syrup and red or purple dye) for brunch on a Saturday before I would take the #2 train downtown to 42nd Street. I never had anything to do, or anyone to see. I was just a scrawny, curious kid.

I met a lot of random characters this way over the years, but they were all benevolent. Some were ex-cons, some were priestesses, others were poets. They shaped the way I thought about the world because they kept me from ever feeling completely lonely. You know how people say that you attract people into your life who are like you in some way?

I don’t know how true that was. I met drug dealers & basketball players & movie stars. Malik Yoba, Russell Simmons, Tyson Beckford — just walking around in the Village without enough money to buy dinner, so I had to go home before I passed out from hunger.

I think about these adventures because I never felt like I needed to call anybody to just wander. I always believed that I would find what I needed if I followed my gut and went off in the direction of my curiosity. I only ever felt completely alone and lonely in the middle of crowded platforms, when I saw other girls my age laughing with their friends or at night, when I passed crowds going to movies or doing something I was distinctly not a part of.

That’s why when I read this Elephant Journal piece, I liked it. Hope you like it, too.

Susan Cain’s TED talk on the power of introverts

I really enjoyed Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet.” Here’s the review I posted here in January.

There’s a lot to love about this talk, including her wonderful, moving story about her grandfather and his modest presence.

But the quote that really resonated with me is “Solitude for some people…is the air that they breathe.” This is totally worth 20 minutes of your time.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts – A Review

The reason this blog is called Single & Happy is not to rub people’s noses in my joy, as fun as that would be. It came to me when I was thinking about the basic message I wanted to convey in my work & I realized that the idea of a woman who enjoys her own company for its own sake — just to be, or think or dance — is oddly foreign in our culture. It’s odd, too, because if women can’t enjoy our own company — also known as by that dreadful phrase, “being alone” — how can we ever expect someone else to make us happy?

The other thing is that American culture loves extroverts. They’re charming go-getters, high energy, up all night, talking all day. I love them. I have loved some. They are exhausting. I thought it was just them being ridiculous energy-sucking vampires, but no. I’m just an introvert.

Stereotypes abound about introverts. They are recluses, hermits. Socially awkward. People haters!!

Well, I love a good party. Love to interact one on one. My friends will tell you, if I don’t bribe them with hush money, that I often snort when I laugh, which is often when I’m around small groups. As a journalist, I have always listened deeply to people in order to tell their stories. It was my reporting career that kept me from knowing how much of an introvert I really am until recently, when I somehow stumbled upon Susan Cain’s blog before I knew she was working on the book,  Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking, which was published last week.

Reading the book made me feel like I had found my long-lost tribe. Replenished by time spent thinking, creating and reading? Check. Cain writes in her book about the sensitivity of introverts and the range of behaviors they adopt to manage their receptiveness to too much stimulation. She explained (finally!) why I always want to hide in the bathroom after I’ve been standing in front of folks talking for longer than 30 minutes. (Harvard University introverts do this, Cain writes. My people!) She writes about how America got to be so excited about extroverts: starting with Dale Carnegie and working her way through the century to icons of extroversion like Tony Robbins.
I devoured Cain’s reportage with such uncharacteristic glee that I had to physically restrain myself from laughing out loud, crying, then gently tapping the shoulder of the person next to me on an airplane to say, “She gets me.” As a newly proud introvert — like Albert Einstein (you think he would mind if I called him Al, now that we have that whole introverted thing in common?) and Gandhi (GANDHI!?) — it was a relief to read that you can own enjoying time to recharge but also express your extrovert self in service of the things you believe in deeply. To make the world better. In other words, when you’re passionate about something, like, say, people not beating themselves up for being single in a world full of couples (ahem), the extroverted stuff comes out or takes less energy.

Here are snippets of what I learned:

  • The Cult of the Extroverted Ideal began with Dale Carnegie, who also contributed to a self-help empire that is today an $11 billion-dollar-a-year industry (Shameless plug: Me and my talented writer friend Diana Bee Dash Bee wrote about that self-helpy thing for Bitch Magazine a couple of years ago.)
  • Extroversion is less prevalent in Asia and Africa than in Europe and the Americas in part because the latter nations are nations of migrants.
  • Women were taught to be demure, men to be salespeople (Oh, I guess I already knew that.)
  • Her description of Tony Robbins seminars make them sound like a nightmare for an introvert. She doesn’t set him up as a hypocrite, but her description of them is reminiscent of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Brightsided without some of Ehrenreich’s delightful crabbiness.
  • I had no idea that 20 percent of the Fortune 500 were Harvard Business School grads where Cain notes most practically go to the bathroom in teams.

I loved the sweet attention to detail and celebration of introverted people and children in a world that often makes people who are introverted feel like hermetic morons who just need a seminar or two to get right with the world. The book is a great gift, since I think it will help clear up a lot of misunderstood qualities of introverts/extroverts. I have a feeling that only introverts will read it, though, which would be a shame. But if you’re not going to buy the book, loud, gregarious, making-me-look-bad people, at least visit the blog once a week. In private. Maybe in a bathroom stall? I won’t tell anybody. Introverts know how to keep things to ourselves.

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