In conversation yesterday, a co-worker said that she has been shy as a child, but wasn’t any more. This interested me a) because I am nosy and like to know everything about everybody, and b) because I have lifelong dual citizenship in the realm of shy v. not shy. I have taken the Myers-Briggs test many times in my life, and have come out about half the time as an “I,” or “Introvert,” and half the time with an “E” for Extrovert.” I can’t make any accurate statements about myself as a person who is outgoing or would rather sit in a dark corner and observe; it depends on the day, the circumstances, and, possibly, the messages I receive from my planet of origin. It’s complicated.
My job requires me to be an extrovert for hours at a time. As a practical matter I am paid to cook and serve food for various functions, but my official title is Hospitality Coordinator. I have to be “on” when I’m working, schmoozing my volunteers so that they have a pleasant experience and know that they are appreciated, showing empathy and compassion for families suffering a loss, dishing up ziti with a smile and remembering who lost a tooth, had a birthday, or hates garlic. When I am in that zone, I am totally alive, clicking, every nerve ending relaying messages of satisfaction to my central nervous system. I am in love with my “customers,” with the world, with the ziti, and with the whole notion of community and connection. I am, at those moments, a complete and unabashed extrovert, my personality a blazing fuschia and smelling like gardenias.
Shortly after the end of an event, it is as if someone has opened the little air nozzle on an inflatable pool. I need to lie down, I need it to be quiet, and I cannot deal with inquiries about sleepovers, weekend plans or the whereabouts of the other black sock with a gold toe. I don’t hate everybody, exactly, but I want them all to stay far away from me for along time unless they are popping in to bring me the remote or a couple of chocolate covered peanuts. I have entire days like that, days in which I crave solitude, no agenda but my own, and (most of all) no pressure to make anyone laugh, or feel better about anything. I simply have nothing to hand out for a while as I recharge, dream, and fold laundry. I become the palest robin’s egg blue, and might give off a faint scent of ocean.
This may all be perfectly normal; I suspect that everyone has moments of feeling social and moments of turning inward. I worry, though, that my swings are so extreme – I have often had the experience of having someone tell me how outgoing I am, or how easily I make friends, only to recoil at the failure to recognize all that my spurts of friendliness take from me. The wattage can be turned up, I can illuminate a meeting or a dinner party, but by the time goodbyes are spoken I am longing for the inside of my dark, silky shell. Often, I make extravagant plans and promises in moments of extroversion only to find them looming on my calendar and causing waves of dread and panic. It is as if some other woman, the smiling one with all the friends, was trying to force the real me into being More Social and Getting Out More. In sweats, with no makeup and half of a good novel to go, I kind of hate that woman.
Am I Charlie Sheen, or Sybil? Probably not. I think I may just be an introvert who has learned to be an extrovert in short, bright bursts. Last night I was “on,” engaged, and feeding off the gemutlicheit of everyone around me, hugging, smiling and initiating. Today I am turned in, quiet, and alone, i.e. myself. Myself, the I/E.