The other day, Jonathan Rauch’s 2003 Atlantic article “Caring for Your Introvert” hit our dorm room like an asteroid.
“Extroverts are so weird!” cried my roommate after reading it. “Why don’t they write these kinds of articles about extroverts, and treat them like animals in cages?”
Not sure how to do otherwise, I took her remarks personally. I immediately wanted to defend my right, as an extrovert, to self-dramatize.
In his article Rauch pointed out that introverts make up a minority of the population, but possibly a majority of the “gifted population.”
Relative to giftedness or not, our college is a hermitic paradise of INTJs. Most excel at staying in their rooms and studying hard without too much breathing. Extroverts like me, who work out their concerns in an endless pacing verbal parade, late night or daylight, are the weird ones.
My roommate remarked that had I lived a few centuries earlier, I could have married Beethoven.
“He’d be good for you,” she said. “You’re both passionate and dramatic, and you could rant and he wouldn’t be able to hear you!”
Despite my love for Beethoven, I rejected the idea—not only on the grounds of his famous unkemptness but also because I dislike being ignored.
But opposites attract. Aren’t introverts drawn to extroverts, and vice versa?
At dinner tables, extroverts keep conversations floating and draw introverts out into the chatter, with varying degrees of patience. Introverts are deep story wells, all the more worth waiting for because of their reticence. Their ability to keep still—though to an extrovert it seems intergalactic—commands admiration.
But what attracts an extrovert to an introvert, and vice versa, can quite as easily wedge them apart, as Rauch’s article illustrated. We know what familiarity breeds. An extrovert gets too close to an introvert for too long and, instead of exploiting and enjoying their differences, soon they’re both rocking contempt in a cradle.
In his poem “Choose Something Like a Star,” Robert Frost looked up at the sky and expressed about stars a very similar feeling to the one extroverts can have about introverts. Frost admired the star as an object of stability, but wanted to hear its meaning in words.
“Say something,” Frost demanded of the star. “To be wholly taciturn in your reserve is not allowed.”
In my extroverted existence I have said similar things to introverts whom I felt heard me just about as much as the star heard Robert Frost. At these times, I have to sit back, be patient, and fight against the onset of contempt. Just because the person I address differs from me, that doesn’t make me better than him or her.
The many categorical systems into which we divide ourselves—introverts vs. extroverts, right-brained vs. left-brained, indirect communicators vs. direct communicators, internal processors vs. external processors, etc.—are all potential relational fissures. Alternately, we could battle contempt and call them opportunities for celebration because God makes the world work through variety.