On the Peculiar Strain of Being an Extrovert While Social Distancing

img_3519After a long time without posting, this isn’t the one I expected to post.  I’m sure by now, the impact of the COVID19 pandemic has been seen in your life.  Many restaurants, bars, and other establishments have closed often at the directive of a government for public health purposes.  Similarly, if you are not under a Shelter-in-Place or Stay at Home order, the guidelines say to keep at least 6’ away from everyone else and don’t have more than 10 people in a confined place at any one time. For a lot of people, this is hard and has significant and serious mental and emotional health challenges.  Often, on the internet and social media, I have seen well written and thorough descriptions of introverts particular challenges but rarely have I seen such for extroverts. Oftentimes, authors put extroverts as oppositional and antagonistic to their introverted posts and to this day I see a lot of tongue in cheek jabs at extroverts on social media.  This does a real disservice to people, like me, who have a compounded mental and emotional burden while social distancing and that lack of real human interaction. 

I want to try to shed some light on what I mean when I say I am an extrovert, how this current status of social distancing and shelter in place is hard, and what it means to me.  It’s easy to dismiss extroverts as attention seeking loud mouths; many social media memes do just that. It isn’t true any more than mistaking social anxiety for introversion. At its core, the idea behind the introversion and extroversion axis is that people recharge their energy in different ways – it takes energy for introverts to be around people especially in larger groups while extroverts have to expend energy the longer they are alone or in limited contact.  This often comes along with a level of social comfort as you may imagine the natural habitat of each type makes them more agreeable so as they each respectively recharge they feel better and are able to eventually return to those environments that take energy. Extroverts can think as well as introverts and introverts can speak as well as extroverts, but what sort of balance they need is where this will matter. This is about when you can mentally and emotionally *rest*, not about whether you are antisocial or obnoxious.  

Here is where I tell you how this has been affecting me and what sort of things it means for me. Other extroverts, I encourage you to chime in and let me and others know if this is like what you experience or if it is different; Introverts please don’t think you are being overlooked as I write from personal experience. For an extrovert, it is harder to go about a day with minimal or no contact with humans – actual contact; we’ll talk about social media and teleconferencing in a moment.  This is the equivalent of having to be “on” or “on stage” because it takes energy to go through the day. There is a mental and emotional load that comes with the distancing and lack of human to human contact right now. In addition to the general sense of energy being spent, extroverts are often viewed as more socially open and in these times can be called on by friends and family to share some of the stress and pain going on. That’s a mental and emotional load as well. Because those loads are only unburdened and the energy recharged around other humans, the lack of that going on means it can feel like never getting a good night’s sleep.  A fatigue and weariness at the edges of your being that can make it harder to handle the stress that we are all under right now. It is hard for people who feel rested right now or who don’t have as sharp a reaction to this social distancing. 

That recharge and release can be described many ways, and how it manifests is different for every person.  This isn’t about needing to be loud and act out nor does it require being the center of attention. It is about direct human to human interaction – my shoulders loosen when I can sit down with a friend, or even a stranger and talk.  While social media provides a shot in the arm of *something* at this time, it isn’t the same. Video chats can give you part, or maybe even most, of that interaction but the slight tinny sound to a voice across a speaker and the narrow focused camera doesn’t tell the whole story.  Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for what time I can get with people through social media and video chats, but it doesn’t serve to replace the need for being within a shared space with other humans. Hearing the bustle of humanity in a restaurant or a bar energizes me as well as I can feel the world around me. In the stillness of loneliness, there is little to wake me.  Hearing someone laugh and seeing their eyes twinkle is priceless. Sharing moments of celebration and exultation brings a shared spirit and lightens everyone’s load. An extrovert is revitalized when they hear the din of other lives passing by, see the city and humanity as a breathing organism, and let the social truth of the human condition be acknowledged.  

In Politics, Aristotle wrote “Man is a political animal.” Not everyone realizes that this is meant to mean that humans are social creatures and that we find and derive our very Being from interactions and interrelations with others in a community, or polis.  Check in on your extroverted friends. We are not doing alright. We may not tell you how much we appreciate the check in and what time you do have to share right now, but it is cherished. When the social distancing has been relaxed, know that we will want to see your face without pixelation, hear your laughter without reverb, and probably get a good hug.  Until that time, know that it may be harder on us than it seems.