The Extrovert Indoors
By Emily Weitz
February 28, 2021
What exactly kindles the fire inside extroverts that makes their eyes light up? Introverts may judge, deeming their counterparts shallow or superficial because of their penchant for wanting all the attention. However, it’s not the ‘see-and-be-seen’ cocktail party energy that gets an extrovert inspired, it’s the conversation that takes them by surprise. It’s the unknown, the learning, the journey.
In the ‘before times’, that might have looked like a boisterous conversation over blaring music, laughter exploding too loudly on the down beat. But now that we have to stay inside, the extrovert must find new ways to take a journey.
The term extrovert, coined by psychologist CG Jung in the early 20th century, means “turned outwards”.
“One of the characteristics of extroverts is they need stimulation,” said Dr. Brian Little, author of Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and Well-Being, in a Ted Talks on extroversion. “And that stimulation can be achieved by finding things that are exciting.”
It has now been over a year since COVID-19 hit American shores and turned an extrovert-obsessed country inward. There are only so many nights of PJs and popcorn that the extrovert can take before she needs to see something beyond the horizon of her microcosm.
The Social Media Trap
Social media is the obvious, easiest, and most dangerous solution to the extrovert’s pandemic dilemma. On the one hand, it brings the external stimulation that the extrovert craves, but on the other, social media proves a poor substitute for social interaction. Sure, you can “laugh emoji” someone’s post with their cute kid saying un-kid-like things, and they may respond “I know, right?” But it doesn’t quite have the effect of an actual conversation.
When many of the unsung interactions that fed our social Scobie dried up, the one-dimensional virtual world started to masquerade as a social life. Virtual happy hours, Zoom meetings, Facebook Live shows, a regular scroll through the newsfeed. I invited people into my home through the one-dimensional gaze of the screen, images of my yoga altar adorned with seasonal accents, my coffee table covered in the books that defined me. Being seen, not in the cocktail party sense, but in the deep and validating sense, is an innate longing of the extrovert.
It takes vulnerability and openness to share yourself, but social media is one giant outpouring of expression, with feedback that rarely supports that vulnerability. Being scrolled past is not a sensation the extrovert enjoys. Even a thousand likes aren’t enough love for the extrovert, so social media often comes up empty.
Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket
The strength of the extrovert is in the many bonds of her life. I spent decades cultivating an eclectic web of connections, and I know just when exactly to call on each. The dance partner, the poker buddy, the travel companion, the mom friend. Now, I turn to my introverted husband, expecting him to take on all these forms. That’s a lot of pressure for a guy who just wanted a little space to write. He embarked on all the projects: he was the one bread baking, sewing, and building a tree house, while I continued to flail. There have been moments where I almost resented him for being so okay with this massive global grounding. “Let’s just have a quiet day,” he’d say, luxuriously stretching his limbs as if we hadn’t already had 99 quiet days and counting…
I started to burn things. Clearing the land, burning fallen branches and Amazon boxes and junk mail. I built fires that required tending, and spent hours manicuring my lawn while watching the flames grow. It felt like an analogy for my life. All the busy nights and crowded calendars, the dinners with friends and concerts with strangers, all going up in a giant plume of smoke, leaving a pile of ash, waiting for the phoenix.
My extroverted brain needed something new – a unique personality, a new experience, a fresh idea. I longed for a conversation with someone outside my bubble, with views that challenged me and a perspective that refreshed me. I became acquainted with the mandolin.
At first it felt an impossible summit, but then, just as I would have forged through the tightening jaw and the pursed-lipped listening of a confrontational conversation, I forced my fingertips into uncomfortable acrobatics on the sharp metal strings of my mandolin. At first the sounds were clunky and slow, but after hours of practice and days of YouTube lessons, the sounds started to come out breezier. Breezy, like the way I used to swing my dangly earrings on the vineyard lawn at dusk.
The Scales of Risk and Reward
Even the strongest bonds need tending. A handful of times, I let the scales of risk and reward shift, and I poured a massive exertion into feeding a relationship. Meeting my best friend in a secret forest, halfway between Montauk and Philadelphia, for a masked embrace. Packing breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a round trip to meet friends at the Bronx Zoo, bathing my children in sanitizer all the way. Or, in the darkest days of April 2020, driving five hours to bury my grandmother, standing six feet from my family members, as we each took a turn shoveling dirt on her grave.
A couple of weeks ago, my family and I went to meet my sister on a ski mountain. We drove 7 hours roundtrip to have one day on the slopes with our cousins, without spending the night away. It was crazy, it was too much, but it was necessary. I hadn’t seen my sister in too long, and I had an urge to be by her side. I wanted to be mothers together, our ducks in a row. And I also wanted to go back in time together, on the slopes, like when we were kids and the cold air rushed into our lungs and we weren’t worried about what aerosols or droplets were contained in a deep breath.
So, we woke before dawn, hauled across the state, pulled on our ski boots in the rain. We rode on separate chair lifts, and then, for a moment, we had it. My sister and I, side by side, with our four children skiing away from us. One glorious moment that I wish I could put in a locket and wear around my neck.
But the day wasn’t easy. Ordinarily, I would have put my six-year old in ski school, but for COVID. So, I spent hour after hour bent over her, hoisting her by the arm pits, wiping her tears. There was no communal lunch, no breaks at the lodge. My Herculean attempt to connect with my sister didn’t turn out how I thought it would.
By the last run, my little girl was exhausted. On the chair lift I reached out to her, wanting to honor the fact that this day turned out to be about us, and our all-important bond. But she scooched away from me, disappointed that she wasn’t with her cousins. I looked out at the gray branches, encased in sparkling ice. We had been reaching out across the distance for so long. Our arms were tired.
We unloaded from the chair lift and started down the mountain, each of us trudging through our own silent struggles. That’s when the snow started to fall. I couldn’t deny it – the fluffy flakes falling in slow motion, perching momentarily in my daughter’s lovely golden curls. I couldn’t not see, then, her flushed cheeks and her pouty lower lip, couldn’t ‘unfall’ from love.
“Look!” I said. “There’s still magic, even now.”
“Even in the hard moments,” she said quietly, and she skied away.
Extroverts hate to name grief, because it wouldn’t be fun to talk about at parties. And yet, naming the loss is profound. What have we lost over the past year? Besides, of course, the near-half-million Americans whose absence will never be filled.
We’ve lost the things we never got to have: un-spoken conversations, un-experienced surprises. We lost the day spent making a wrong turn and ending up in a dark basement bar, having a random afternoon with an interesting stranger we’d never see again. Does that count as a loss?
What about the night we didn’t climb up on the stage and grab the mic, we didn’t sing along with the band, we didn’t come home energized like our brain was on fire?
Or that phone call we didn’t get from an old friend, who wasn’t in town, because nobody is just passing through. So, that evening we never had talking about who we used to be, and who we hope to be, and what’s happening right now.
These are the things we lost. The things we never had. And as we look in the mirror and look at how a year has changed us; we face the reality that the one we’ve gotten to spend the most time with, is ourself. What kind of company do we make?
Do we sing to ourselves? Do we dance alone in the kitchen? Do we spend time listening to the value of our own thoughts?
We still can. Tomorrow is still a new day, even if it feels a lot like yesterday, and the day before. Maybe, just as the snow falls in heavy flakes from the deep Winter sky, maybe there’s room for magic, even here. Even in the hard moments. Maybe we just have to look up.
Emily Weitz is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Vice, and Longreads, among other publications. From her airstream trailer in Sag Harbor, NY, she attempts to stay connected to the big, big world by teaching yoga, playing music, and helping to run a small non-profit in Uganda. She is currently working on a collection of essays. Follow her on Twitter @emilyjweitz.