A friend of mine sent me some funny internet list, 25 Frustrating Things About Being An Extrovert. She sent it as a joke and seemed to think that me and my fellow introverts see extroverted qualities as mildly annoying but generally lovable. I can't speak for others, but I find extroverts incomprehensible. To me, the list might as well have been titled 25 Things That Prove That Extroverts Are Just The Worst, For Real, Why Won't They Shut Up.
However, the list gave me a realization about something that happened years ago.
In college, I worked the breakfast shift at a restaurant on the weekends. In terms of making money, it was not a great job. There was a lot of downtime, sitting on the back patio in the foggy morning with the cooks and the manager, waiting for customers. One morning, I was doing just that with a coworker named Elisha. She was one of my favorite people that worked there. She was smart, funny, offbeat and cool, and just genuinely warm to everyone. She was having man problems and was telling me about the relationship drama that was going on in her life. It was juicy stuff. I felt really happy and flattered that she chose to confide in me. I was sure that it was a new era in our friendship, a step down the road to BFF-hood.
Throughout the rest of the shift, more of our coworkers came in and better yet, customers too. Elisha was working as hostess. I noticed that as I walked back and forth between my tables and the kitchen, I would pass by Elisha telling the same story to another coworker, in fact it seemed to be everyone working that day. After the fourth or fifth person, I'm pretty sure I started rolling my eyes, and at one point, I even said something about how she tells everyone her business. She looked startled and hurt.
I had not meant to hurt her. I never apologized, and our friendship was not the same afterwards. You'll never read this, but I am sorry, Elisha.
The thing is, I was truly hurt. I'd thought we shared some kind of moment, that she and I had a special intimacy. Then I realized that it was only special to me, that it was apparently just standard conversation for her.
Then ten years later, I read a stupid internet list and found out that this is an extrovert/introvert difference. Extroverts apparently tend to share their feelings with lots of people. That's how they process things. Did you know this? I did not know this.
I am not an open person. This blog is about the most open you will ever find me, and I'm doing it in a controlled environment, where I have ample time to compose what I want to say. I generally don't talk about something until it's over, and I've had time to process it. There are few comments, partly because I don't advertise that I even do this. There are people close to me who would be shocked to find out that I've been putting feelings on the internet for over ten years.
For a long time, I had a sense that I had learned to keep my secrets to myself from hard experience. When I think about those hard experiences now, I realize that it was more misunderstanding than malice. I would tell someone something, and because I shared so infrequently, it was a Big Deal to me. But there would be nothing in my manner or in the information itself that would indicate to the other person that it was anything important at all. And so when they would mention it to someone else or fail to react as if they were receiving a treasured gift, I would be hurt. I would think to myself that this is why I never share, because people can't be trusted or they don't even care. But really, just like with Elisha, it was a disconnect between us in the significance of the moment.
For me, it has been hard to realize that this is just a difference in the way people are, and not a moral difference. My tendency is to see openness almost as a form of promiscuity. Sometimes, it can seem like an overt play for attention, which I find distasteful. Neither of these impressions are accurate or fair. In fact, to be hurt when someone shares their own secrets is just dumb. It is not superior to be closed off, and it is just as bad to be too private as it is to be too free. Be prudent and mindful of who you trust, yes, but sharing our experiences and our feelings is one of the most important things we do as humans. Every relationship, from friendships to marriages to foreign policy, would be improved if we were all more honest and open with each other. One of the most wonderful results of the internet is the realization that we are not alone, that there are thousands, maybe millions of people out there who feel exactly the way we do. Look how it's helped me realize that extroverts aren't all shallow, attention-starved morons! Look what a poor job I'm doing of proving that introverts aren't repressed, antisocial jerks!
For me, sharing on the blog can close the significance gap that I feel when sharing in person. When someone does comment, either here or in person, it is only because it spoke to them, because they connected with me in the significance. If no one responds, then, whatever, it was just like writing in my journal. Yet I know that someone may have felt the connection without responding, and they felt special because I shared with them. The medium is such that it feels like a personal share, as if I had told you everything when we were sitting on the back patio at work waiting for customers in the morning fog.