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When introversion collides with the desire to connect

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2017

In The Ultimate Guide To Being An Introvert, James Altucher describes a scenario that is recognizable to anyone who is an introvert:

A few months ago I was at a dinner where everyone was “networking”.

I was totally frozen. I was speaking inside my head but I couldn’t open my mouth.

People were talking and laughing and getting to know each other.

Inside of me, I wanted desperately to talk, to think of things to say, to bond with the people. But suddenly I felt tired and dumb and like I had nothing to say.

And then I was afraid everyone thought I was stupid and boring. Then I thought they didn’t like me. So that made me want to talk even less.

I didn’t speak for the rest of the dinner. I went home but I couldn’t sleep. I kept whispering “sh*t” out loud even though I was trying not to. I just wanted to go to sleep and disappear.

My mind wouldn’t let me. For hours: “s**t”.

This has happened to me literally hundreds of times…at dinners, at conferences, at parties. That desperation to talk, to connect to other human beings, is so powerful but is matched by an even greater uncontrollable desire to sink right into the floor and out of the room. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten more comfortable talking to others in these situations…with mixed results. I don’t know if it’s introversion or some other weird thing, but my brain is so engaged in listening to other people and paying attention to social cues that I don’t really have time to figure out what I’m going to say. So I end up just saying whatever I’m thinking…aka, my inner dialogue.1

I don’t know about you, but my inner dialogue is fucking weird and sometimes not fit for sharing with others. This doesn’t happen all the time, and I do have a filter that keeps most of the truly dumb stuff unsaid, but not all of it. At best, I’ve noticed this TMI tendency can come off as charmingly intimate and at worst, needy or unbalanced. As I get to know someone or am in a more familiar situation, this direct pipeline from my brain to my mouth shuts down, but while it exists, it can make it difficult for me to get to know people.

Hell, I don’t even know why I’m telling you all of this. I guess I’ve decided that, with apologies to not-Mark Twain, it’s better to speak and be thought a fool in the interests of getting to know others and hope that the people on the receiving end are understanding enough to recognize my earnest desire for connection among the sometimes hamfisted conversation.

  1. As I was telling a friend the other day, in this very tiny way, I sympathize with Donald Trump. There’s clearly very little filter between what he thinks and what he says. But, unlike him, I don’t do it all the time, I’m aware of it, I try hard to filter it when I can, and have chosen a line of work that allows me the luxury of taking time to shape my thoughts into something a little less stream-of-consciousness…present post and footnote excluded.

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