Welcome to Unsolicited Advice, the weekly column in which I give advice no one asked for to people who never asked for it.
Every time I turn around, someone is on Facebook posting an article about being an introvert.
Every article wants you to know that introverts don’t hate conversation, they just hate shallow conversation.
Suddenly, it’s become cool to be an introvert. Not “cool” in the overt sense. It’s not cool to try to be cool. It’s cool in the “I’m so different from everyone else” kind of way. It’s one thing to find a kindred sentiment in a random blog post. It’s quite another to be inundated with blog posts declaring the secret superiority of the introverted.
Often, the posts are accompanied by delighted humble brags – see, this is me? I’m not shy/weird/guarded. I’m smart!
Why is there this sudden glut of introvert explainers? It’s not like introversion is a new concept, but it seems like there have never been so many outspoken ones (hilariously). I suspect that the millennial generation – the first generation to grow up so intimately attached to their phones and computers – have developed social anxieties based on their digital isolation. Those same people are now entering the work force and the ones who have managed to eke out a career in writing are beginning to share their content with the world.
And now we have an entire generation that would like you to know it’s okay that they “hate people” because it means they’re smart.
This week’s unsolicited advice is not aimed at the true introvert – the person we called “shy” or “reserved” back before we had labels for personality traits. This advice is aimed at the oodles of young people who seem to be posting daily about their social anxieties as if it were a unique burden. If you gleefully devour every listicle about what the world doesn’t know about introverts, this column is for you.
I like to be blunt so brace yourself. Maybe you’re not really an introvert. Maybe you’re just rude.
It doesn’t make you smarter than anyone else just because you don’t like small talk. The need for “deep conversation” isn’t unique to your personality set. I have news for you – nobody likes small talk. People who engage in it aren’t stooping to a lower intellectual level. They’re being courteous.
Courtesy seems to be in short supply these days, and blog posts like these make me think that there are too many millennials (not all of you, of course) who think they are entitled to be entertained in exactly the way they want to be entertained and on their time table. If it isn’t optimal, it isn’t worth the effort. Again, that is not being an introvert. That’s just being a snob.
I’m an extrovert, but after reading about 300 of these lists over the last few years I, at one point, began to think I was really just an introvert who was really good at hiding her insecurities. Indeed, some of the sentiments ring true to me, as they do for many others. Feeling drained rather than energized after extended social events, needing alone time, dreading small talk. And I’m a writer, you know…so I’m smart. So, obviously, I was just too smart to be an extrovert.
As time went on, I began to realize that what these posts from these millennial writers, in particular, were describing wasn’t introversion – it was just…life.
I’m definitely an extrovert, and I enjoy meeting new people and socializing. However, I never come away from a social event feeling revved up. My energy is expended there. By the time I’m finished, I’m ready to chill and be quiet. I don’t know any extrovert who doesn’t feel drained from expending all that energy.
Human interaction can be draining on many levels, and surely some people are better at it than others. That doesn’t mean that you get to check out of the mundane tasks of community living, slap a label on it and pretend that makes it okay. Wanna know a secret? We “extraverts” feel awkward too. Our instinct is to simply push harder rather than shrink away.
You see? We’re all messed up. We’re all struggling to connect with others in one way or another. I think sometimes we unknowingly limit ourselves by wearing these labels proudly. We think it excuses us from meaningless interaction but the truth is that no interaction is truly meaningless. When you recognize that every human being has value, everyone has something to offer, and everyone has their own story, it becomes easier to engage in the small talk. It’s interesting if you make it interesting.
And let’s not forget that small talk leads to the deeper connections.
Shrug off your labels. Go out there and ask someone about the weather. Make a dumb joke in that long grocery line. Listen to the cheerleader at the Halloween party as she talks about her love for sneakers. You have something to learn from everyone, and that makes everyone interesting.
And you know what? Everyone has something to learn from you. Lose the labels, embrace the small talk.