I am happy to say that I’ve survived the weekend. My mental health is more or less stable, my friendship is thriving, and I’ve been social enough for the rest of the year – yes, it’s only April, but that is besides the point.
In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, my extremely extroverted friend, Tai, came over to spend the weekend in my tiny, tiny bedroom. I talk all about that and how to prepare for extroverted visitors in my very first article, How To Survive a Short (and Not So Short) Visit From an Extrovert. You might want to read that one first, it’s not necessary to understand this week’s article but it’d make this author really happy.
Read it? Thank you! Now let’s move on.
As expected, Tai got me out of my warm and cozy safe space and into the real world to interact with real people, more times than I had expected. On Friday, we went out for drinks with some of her friends to celebrate her birthday, and I’m happy to say that my strategy to avoid social interactions the weeks before her arrival actually worked and, by the time we left the house, I was in need of people. I made new friends, watched everybody get drunk, and then took a cab home. As far as being social goes, I’ll mark that one down as a success.
And then came the next day and my friend gave me the news: instead of a quiet night home, we were going to attend a barbecue with more friends, none that I already knew, and we’d stay out all night. Our schedule was thrown out the window, but I still had some social energy left in me and I love a good barbecue, especially if it’s prepared the way we eat it back home. On to another adventure I went.
Saturday was longer, louder, and way more social. This is where I point out that everyone at the barbecue was Brazilian (like me), and I don’t know if you ever met one of us, but some stereotypes are true. For the most part, we are a very friendly bunch, and if you are an extroverted Brazilian, then I dare say you are the epitome of extroversion.
Everything is bigger, everyone is louder, every interaction is endless, and suddenly you find yourself with six new best friends, three future events that you have to attend, and trying to keep track of every line of conversation in the room. It can be overwhelming, to say the least.
What I wanted to talk about, though, is not how our perception of extroversion and introversion change from culture to culture (that’s a subject for another article). I want to talk about the Russian woman.
She was someone’s girlfriend and arrived around midnight. As you can imagine, she did not speak Portuguese, like the rest of the room did. On itself, that was not a problem because everybody was fluent in English, so we could communicate, but sometimes we’d inevitably fall back into our own language because there were just so many of us. An in one of those moments, I looked at the Russian woman to make sure she was not uncomfortable and I realized something.
While everyone around her was speaking, fast, loud, and plenty of Portuguese, she had this look on her face that I immediately recognized. It was the same look I get after hours of conversation, when I’m tired and start planning my escape plan. The “this is fine but when can I leave?” look. She was lost in translation, and so was I.
Suddenly, I understood why I get so exhausted in events like this. No one in this mad house of fun and games and alcohol spoke my language. We were not on the same page. These happy, friendly people talked to each other in fluent Extrovert, which is not communicated through words but behaviors and volume and touches. I had a decent understanding of it, but I was far from fluency. It made no sense to me how these people could keep up talking for five hours non-stop and being social without wanting to crawl back into their bedrooms – although I think the alcohol had something to do with it. I’m still investigating.
My idea of a satisfying human interaction was limited to few people and a couple of hours. We would eat, talk quietly, and then I could leave to be by myself. Their idea of satisfying human interaction was that more time with more people is always better. I was lost in a country where no one spoke the same language as me, and when I tried to speak my own language, they looked at me as if I were crazy.
“It’s time for me to go,” I said, around 1am.
Five strangers immediately replied to my quiet request at the same time.
“But you just got here!”
“But it’s early! You’re so old!”
“You can’t be tired!”
“The party’s just starting!”
“I’ll give you a ride home! Stay for another drink!”
You know, the usual stuff.
The only one who didn’t pressure me to stay was my friend Tai, who kindly asked, “Do you really have to go?”
“Yes, I really do.”
“Okay, see you at home.”
Tai, being my best friend, knows me. She’s already learned my language. She knows that when I say “It’s time to go”, it’s not my way of saying “I’m uncomfortable and I hate this party and these people” but rather “I need to be alone for a while”. She already understands the language of Me. Other people don’t. I dare say strangers will never speak our language unless they’re introverts as well.
And so, it occurred to me that life would be much easier if we could explain to others how we feel and educate them to leave us the hell alone when we want to leave. With that in mind, I’d like to leave you with a couple of questions: What should we add to an Introvert/Extrovert Dictionary? What words, phrases, and behaviors would you add to it to educate others and make your life easier?
Let me know! Perhaps we’re on to something!
Edited by Viveca Shearin