The third week of March has been designated National Introverts Week. In honor of that, I am hoping to shed some light on what it’s like to be an extrovert who interacts a lot with introverts.

Being quite an extreme example of an extrovert, I never understood introversion. I was dating an introvert who often masqueraded as an extrovert. He knew how to be social—even outgoing—and he genuinely liked and appreciated people. He seemed, to me, to be the quintessential extrovert. At least, so it seemed when I thought being an introvert meant you were shy. Some introverts are shy, but not always—one of the myths of introversion.

I can share some of the lessons I’ve learned about introverts from dating one for eight years and having one as a great friend. These lessons have been invaluable for me in understanding, having empathy and appreciating introverts for all they bring to the table.

When my introverted boyfriend often wanted to stay in on date night instead of going out, I didn’t understand that was because he wanted some downtime away from people. I sometimes wondered if he just didn’t want to be seen with me in public.

As an extrovert, I’m energized by being with people. This can be highly stressful for an introvert, who recharges their energy by being alone.

As an extrovert, I reflect and review on the go; I can reflect in the car, on a plane, in a meeting—wherever. My introverted friend needs to be alone to reflect while doing nothing else. This seemed so strange to me when the introverted people in my life told me they needed time to process the events of their day. I was always wondering, How can you just be still and do nothing but think? It was an odd idea to me because I have no need to do it. I reflect but always while doing something else.

Do you know introverts like to participate in conversations, but they need to think and reflect before speaking? In a classroom, it’s the extroverts who have their hand raised and are calling attention to themselves like Horshack in Welcome Back Kotter. They are ready with the answer in a split second, but introverts like to ponder the question before answering. If you don’t want to leave introverts behind in your class or workshop, allow processing time before asking for answers to questions.

I remember my ex once said something truly foreign to me: He told me he wanted to ask me a question, but he didn’t want me to reply with my first response. He wanted me to think about it first. My response was, “Why? My answer is going to be the same whether I say the first thing that comes to mind or I think about it.” I remember thinking he must not trust my first response, but that wasn’t it. He knew he would want time to answer the question, so he was extending that same curtesy to me out of respect, something I now would consider kind rather than suspect.

Understand that it takes as much for an introvert to be around people as it does for extroverts to be alone. I can become depleted if I spend too much time alone, while alone time for introverts is precious for their emotional wellbeing. This is why there were some memes during early COVID restrictions saying, “I was built for this.” Those sentiments were proudly displayed by introverts. They did not experience the hardship of isolation as much as extroverts did.

If you are an extrovert who loves an introvert and you’d like to understand them better, I highly recommend the book, Quiet, by Susan Cain. It will help you get a grasp on the world of the introvert in a way you can understand, empathize and appreciate the world as they experience it.

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