The New York Times article, “Start Retraining for Social Interactions,” got off to a good start. The writer caught my attention early with “the prospect of readjusting to in-person social engagements may be a daunting one. For many, it provokes a sense of profound discomfort, apprehension or ambivalence.”
I might have a touch of that. I’m accustomed to being at home, just Harriet and me, or sometimes with Julia or Owen, or all four of us. Home. Family. A tight and highly functional pod. Fully supportive. Unconditional love. Somewhat isolated. Incredibly imperfect. It’s worked well during the pandemic.
For some of us, many writers included, the extended social isolation didn’t equate to loneliness, restlessness, or boredom. By the nature of my work, I already spend a chunk of my life alone, or with made-up people, all in my head. There have been advantages to reduced social interaction: extra time in my best space. Solitude.
The last year hasn’t required a seismic lifestyle shift for me. Even before the pandemic, I hadn’t been scheduling many in-person meetings. I had remote clients and relationships. I didn’t attend a lot of parties. I’ve had the same literary agent for more than twelve years—and I’ve met her only once in person.
When you’re an introvert, you shape a lifestyle that fits your temperament, and you become skilled at gearing up for social interaction, a skill extroverts don’t need to cultivate because socializing is part of their nature. But according to the NYT article, even extroverts “may experience an adjustment period as our brains adapt to planning and monitoring responses to unfamiliar situations.”
Let’s see how extroverts handle re-entry into the social milieu. Likely their transition will be smooth and exuberant, but my hope is extroverts will be discomfited just enough to appreciate the work that introverts must put in to socialize successfully. Introverts need more respect from the extroverted majority. It gets tedious being labeled the anxious little wallflower overshadowed by the extrovert’s outspoken joie de vivre. It’s simply not true.
I also found out from the article I have to worry about offending people who want to socialize more than I do. I have to brace for tough conversations about levels of caution. I even have to set and communicate boundaries—and no one wants to have that conversation.
I can see it all coming up ahead: More visits (yes, with people I love), more gatherings (that I will enjoy attending), more meetings (that I really want to be in).
I want social connection, I need it, I value it. But only for a limited time. Socializing takes tremendous energy out of us introverts. It’s rewarding but also exhausting. Whether it’s pandemic or party time, that fact doesn’t change. So here are my terms: I’m ready, but when I’m done, I’m done, I need to have my space back, need to recharge. Still, I promise you: I was so happy to see you. I had a good time.