It’s 10 a.m. and, despite the fact that I had a double shot espresso this morning, I already need a nap. This exhaustion is not because I was up all night with a sick child because I wasn’t. It’s not because I ran eight miles this morning either because I didn’t. I’m wiped out because I was part of a ten-minute long conversation this morning. I am an introvert. This is my story.
After grabbing my caffeinated crutch from the Starbucks drive thru this morning, I headed to the boys’ school where I was slated to volunteer for a couple of hours. I pulled into the parking lot, dropped the boys off, and walked into the main office to find out how I could be of assistance. The school secretary was looking for the stamps and mailers I needed when a bright-eyed, perky mom in jeans, running shoes, and a yoga hoodie bounded into the office. She immediately entered into an animated conversation with the secretary while I stood there silently waiting for my supplies. The secretary found them, handed them to me, and I sat down to get to work, and all the while the spunky, blonde mom carried on her running conversation.
A few minutes later when the secretary ran out of the office to find something, the other woman approached me. I had hoped it would not come to this. I prefer to hide in the shadows in the presence of strangers, not because I am shy but because I am marginal at best with small talk.
“Hi,” she said cheerfully. “I’m Suzie Sunshine.” (not her real name)
“I’m Justine,” I replied, extending my hand as an introduction as I always do.
She shook my hand weakly, perhaps surprised by my formality, and continued.
“I’ve seen your name before,” she said. “You volunteer a lot. I’m the volunteer coordinator.” This I already knew because I volunteer a lot and I’d seen her name on myriad emails in my inbox. She sat down to help me with the 75 or so postcards I was busy adhering flag stamps to.
“So,” she went on, “what grade is your son or daughter in?”
“I have two sons here. Joe is in Room 159, and Luke is in Room 161B.”
“Oh. My daughter is in Room 12, I think. Either that or Room 7 or Room 13. I always get them messed up. I have a son named Luke, well…Lucas, actually, but he doesn’t go here.”
I smiled, nodded my head, and kept on working, not having anything to add.
“Is your son a Lucas too?” she inquired.
“Nope. He’s just our Cool Hand Luke,” I replied. I didn’t tell her that I intentionally did not name our son Lucas because I couldn’t get over how it rhymes with mucous.
“My son is 12. He’s really into sports. He goes to the STEM school.”
“Oh. I’m interested in that STEM school,” I said, pausing briefly when another mom popped into the office and approached the secretary. She was wearing a college sweatshirt. I tried to continue. “Where is that STEM….”
“Hi, Katie,” Suzie interrupted, excited to greet the newcomer. “How’s it going?” she asked without waiting for a reply. “I love your sweatshirt. How’s your son liking college there?” She fired off her words, releasing them like rounds of ammunition from a machine gun belt. I watched in amazement.
“He likes it a lot. He’s coming home for Spring Break in a couple weeks.”
“Is that college in the city, then? What do you think of it there because I was there once and it was not at all what I imagined. I thought it would be a really big city but it seemed small to me.”
“Well…I think it’s pretty big,” Katie said. “I mean, the suburbs and surrounding areas…”
“Maybe it just seems small because I’m from Houston, and Houston is so huge that other cities seem tiny by comparison.”
Because I am an introvert and casual conversation requires concerted effort on my part, I was waiting for a chance to tell them that I used to live just a few hours from the city in question. I was hoping to back up Katie’s assessment of it by offering my opinion. I began formulating the message of my intended verbal output while waiting for a lull in the chatter so I could carefully insert my commentary.
“What’s he majoring in?” Suzie asked as my opportunity to speak evaporated.
“Civil Engineering,” Katie replied.
“What’s he going to do with that?”
“His dream job would be designing golf courses,” Katie said.
“Oh. I didn’t know he played golf. Lucas plays golf. Actually, he plays golf and football but I’d really rather he focus his attention on golf because it’s just a safer sport, you know?” And from there she began telling us about what he hopes to study and how she might get him some additional golf lessons this summer at this course near home. She talked for the next few minutes with Katie about colleges, internships, and sports while I kept placing stamps on mailers as quickly as my fingers could move, looking up occasionally to acknowledge I was at least superficially involved in the conversation.
After placing the last stamp on the last postcard, I gathered up what I had completed along with the remaining stamps, handed them to the secretary, silently waved my goodbye so as not to interrupt the continuing conversation, and wandered out into the hall. I heard Suzie shout a perfunctory “Nice meeting you” from the office and I echoed the sentiment as I continued heading for the door. When I got to my car, I leaned back into the seat and closed my eyes. I dropped my skull onto the headrest and took a deep, cleansing, yogi breath to bring fresh oxygen into my enervated brain. Social interaction wears me out.
In the past, I’ve unwittingly bothered extroverts who found my reticence problematic. I’ve been labeled conceited, aloof, and even rude, because I’m not gifted in the area of small talk or rather in the art of being able to sneak my two-cents into an already busy conversation. To further exacerbate the disconnect with these extroverts, when I’ve been confronted with these allegations I’ve found myself nonplussed; I had no idea my lack of conversation could say so much. The upside of being an introvert in an extrovert-focused society, though, is that you are happy living in your own head. If others don’t get you, you don’t spend much mental energy on it. I have no idea if Suzie found me conceited, aloof, or rude, and I’m not about to lose sleep over it. She seemed like a nice enough gal, and I’m pleased to have put another name with another face at the boys’ new school because it takes a long time to get to know people when you’re not immediately communicative. For now, I’m going to go focus what’s left of my energy on the downtime I earned this morning. And hopefully there won’t be any fallout about my introversion (or my blogging about it) later.