The introverted Connector

I read Jonathan Fields’ post about trusting the pendulum over the weekend with interest. I feel this swing inside myself, from extroversion to introversion, on a regular basis. I’m not sure it’s quite the same as the person he describes, but I have long felt tension between how I am perceived on this particular topic vs how I actually feel. I’ve written about this “perilous gulf” before, and, at least for me, it exists in so many dimensions of my personality. This is just one of them.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a little quiz that I found on twitter to ascertain if you are a connector (Malcolm Gladwell style). To my surprise, I apparently am. This reminded me of the ways that I am very often a resource for people on myriad, random topics: do you have a pediatrician to recommend, do you have a book I would like, can you put me in touch with a babysitter, hey thanks for sending me the name of that person in my new town, she is my new best friend, thanks for referring me to that professional connection, I have a new job.

What I felt when I read about being a connector was both surprise and vague unease, which I think speaks to my turmoil about this whole topic. The truth is, I most often choose to spend my free time alone. I like to read, and write, more than anything else. I don’t even really like the telephone, preferring to be in touch over email, text, or IM. There are very few people whose company I would choose for extended periods of time. How to square this with my apparent ‘connector’ self and the fact that many people have told me I appear “social” and “extroverted”? I am not sure.

What’s more interesting to me about this lack of inside/outside congruence, though, is the indistinct but inarguable internal discomfort I feel about it. Where does this come from? It’s not from a judgment of more-social vs. less-social people, I don’t think. What it is, I am concluding after a day of mulling it, is a frustrated feeling of being inaccurately labeled. To be told I’m one way when I don’t think it’s that simple is aggravating, and makes me feel reduced to categories that don’t quite fit. The labels don’t capture the nuance, the tensions, the tradeoffs. The description of me fails to notice the ways that my interest in solitude or company shuttles back and forth sometimes with the regular, metronomic click of those office toys with swinging silver balls that hit each other.

Maybe I am simply a connector who very much appreciates time alone. Maybe I’m a loner who happens to know a lot of people. Maybe I’m a crazy schizophrenic! I don’t know. What I do know is this is just one more way that I feel misunderstood by the world. I know, I now, this anguish is just so adolescent: even as I write it I sort of cringe. But it is true that I chafe against the way that the world seems to see me regularly and with more agitation than many people I know. It is true that I am apparently easily reduced to simplistic, caricatured qualities in the eyes of others.

My mind flits, again, to the wonderful Walt Whitman line, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”  There are innumerable dimensions of humanity, and I think most of us have at least several on which we refuse simple categorization.  I think both the desire to fit people into these categories in order to more simply understand them is as innate and natural as is the frustration on the receiving end of this forced classification of people.  It seems to me this is just another manifestation of way that the paradoxes at the heart of life and people are both unavoidable and discomfiting.


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15 Comments

  1. Christa
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    Wow. The Walt Whitman line is wonderful – so few words for such a huge concept.

    Expansion, contraction – all a mystery to me, too. I constantly shift between the need to be alone, center, focus and the need to provide, help, connect. Lots to think about.

    I think of it as riding the wave…

    Thanks for the incredible food for thought.

  2. Posted May 11, 2010 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    I love that Walt Whitman quote. I read a great post on White Hot Truth a while ago about celebrating your contradictions. http://whitehottruth.com/white-hot/you%E2%80%99re-a-mess-of-contradictions-how-very-beautiful/

    It’s natural, though, to have these thoughts…. I have them often as well and I’m not sure that they will ever go away. But we can work at just accepting and appreciating our uniqueness rather than trying to understand it.

    admin Reply:

    I loved that post when I read it too!!

  3. Posted May 11, 2010 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Lindsey! This post SO resonated with me. I, too, feel the swing of the pendulum. And I, too, “chafe against the way that the world seems to see me regularly and with more agitation than many people I know.” People are so quick to call me “outgoing” and “social” but the truth is, I often avoid crowds and groups, preferring to just be alone with my book or movie. I have whatever it takes to be a social person, but those environments make me feel vaguely ill at ease. Like I’m being forced to perform. Anyway, thanks for posting this because it gave me one of those “she’s just like me!” moments. A moment of feeling understood in all my contradictions. xoxox

  4. Posted May 11, 2010 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I love the questions you create in my mind. i like to think of my myriad of levels, faces, emotions and experiences like the ocean. tranquil one day, then teasing, then pissed, then powerful, awesome, breathtaking. then quiet. It’d take an entire thesaurus to adequately describe all the facets of that body of water…and of me, too.

  5. Posted May 11, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m right there with you in chafing against categorization, Lindsey. I find myself strangely drawn to personality quizzes in magazines, but I have to remind myself again and again that they are probably about as accurate as horoscopes. As much as I am drawn to order in my life and in the universe, I have to resign myself to the fact that so much of my identity will be found outside the lines.

  6. Posted May 11, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I think you are absolutely correct – in your assessment and your frustration. And I am in complete accord. It is in our human nature to seek answers, explanations, labels and yet they never entirely fill the void or satisfy the questions. Perhaps, the more we become comfortable with simply not knowing, not defining, not compartmentalizing, this need will lift and labels will disappear. Perhaps.

    Thank you for sharing this!

  7. Posted May 11, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    I experience that same sort of irritation that the world doesn’t see me the way that I see myself. If one of us is wrong, what if it’s me?

  8. Posted May 11, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    I totally can relate to this post. It makes me think of Gretchen Rubin’s Secret of Adulthood, “The opposite of a great truth is also true.”
    I think it’s absolutely possible to technically be “a connector” while also being someone who enjoys solitude. I write all the time about feeling like a need better relationships, and yet at the same time I’m told often that I “know everyone..” it’s a strange contradiction, but you’re not crazy. it’s just a crazy world.

  9. Posted May 11, 2010 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    I really relate to this, Lindsey—I took that quiz and could hardly believe how many names fit people I know… yet I’m rather introverted and it just leaves me thinking that it’s important to let ourselves be confusing to others. Maybe that’s a quiz of a mile wide and an inch deep, at least for a circle of acquaintances… as for how many people on that list you want to have dinner with, perhaps that’s another story.

    As for pendulums, I do wonder if I might be swaying toward the world more than I ever have so far in my life (but I doubt that will ever make me prefer a loud crowded room to my bed and a book).

  10. Posted May 12, 2010 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    I could have guessed the connector result. I’ve already experienced it firsthand–the possible friend in a new town, a book I would love… :-)
    As for the labels, I think we all resist them because they fall so terribly short of the whole picture. It’s like stamping a label on the Kitchen Aid Mixer that says “cookie dough maker”. Sure, it can make cookie dough, but there is so much more to it.
    The other thing at play with us (I say us because I also am an introvert routinely mistaken for an extrovert) is that we have adapted our default preference (introversion) to what our professional life required (extroversion). I hate business-related cocktail parties/ mingling with a passion, but you’d never know it if you saw me in the middle of one, “networking” like a pro. I can’t tell you how many times I found myself in one of those stuffy NY hotel ballrooms, pinot in hand, looking down on my chatty little self thinking, “Gawd, who IS that girl?”

  11. Posted May 12, 2010 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Surprisingly, I had many a conversation about this very thing while in b-school. I had a professor who appeared to be one of the strongest extroverts I have ever met explain to the class that truly he is an introvert. Yes, we (yep, you guessed it, I’m an introvert) can be extroverted, social, connectors, whatever you want to call it, and we may be very good at it and enjoy it at times. But the truth is that we introverts are not charged by people. It takes large amounts of energy. The recharge takes place when we are alone.

    I have a feeling that me and you and tons of others are sometimes drawn to people because we are so introverted. What I mean is when I spend so much time alone, thinking, I begin to wonder what others are thinking. And so the connection is sparked, in a way, by the things I enjoy doing alone.

    This is so interesting, Lindsey. Do you think most people feel they are inaccurately labeled? I am beginning to think it is more like everyone!

  12. Posted May 12, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    The great thing about every person in this world is our multidimensionality. I do, however, think extraversion is more valued in American culture. So I imagine people view it as a compliment, which is no consoloation when it doesn’t feel authentic to you. Also…people misuse terms like introvert and extravert all the time. I don’t see anything contradictory about enjoying your alone time, but when you DO have to be out in the world, it seems natural that you’d find ways to connect with others. I think on some level we’re all misunderstood at one time or another. Very thoughtful and interesting post.

  13. Posted May 13, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Crossing to Safety…check. Mark Rothko…check mate! (have to add jeans to the list…would be happy to sacrifice all else!)

  14. Posted May 20, 2010 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Wonderful post. A number of years ago, I read that introvert/extravert has nothing to do with being social.

    I am a very social introvert. My son is a very social extravert.

    The difference is an extravert’s batteries are recharged by being with people. An introvert’s batteries are drained by being with people.

    Both can enjoy being with people – it just has a different effect. And, points to different paths of “self care.”

  15. Posted October 28, 2010 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I always though I was an extrovert too, until one day a friend asked me how I recharge. What do I do when I’m at my limits, when I need to recenter, or find more energy or get inspired. Do I seek out people or social situations, or do I retreat to peaceful solitude. My answer, of course, is that I refuel alone. That simple short conversation gave me so much clarity – it allowed me to embrace the part of myself that loved being in a crowd, or speaking in public, or bringing together big groups of people, and also gave permission for the part that needed to be alone, to not speak, to hole up with my journal and a book and close off the world. Since then I’ve decided that I can be the most social of butterflies and revel in every extroverted cell in my body 30% of the time, as long as the other 70% people leave me the hell alone :) :)

    J.