None of us have “sandwich boards” hanging from our shoulders that declare to the world who or what we are, though that might be very helpful. I can see it now, check the other person’s list, hmmm “likes to party”, OK we need to meet. Or “enjoys killing small animals”, oh oh, definitely avoid. The world is not that simple, so we find ourselves learning about other people through guesses… trial and error. How someone appears to us may not be a true representation of who that person really is. Added to that perplexity is the very definition of the words we use to describe someone to others and to ourselves. If I tell you that someone is an introvert, that immediately creates a list of characteristics in your mind that may or may not be accurate in describing that person.
I spent some time teaching English as a second language to Spanish speakers. Because of my advanced age and experience I was given students who were advanced in their studies. Most of the classes were very small, 6-10 students and their ages were usually 18-30 or so. Since we could have conversations of a sort, I tended to spend about half of our two-hour class talking about history, culture, music, life, and such instead of the boring grammar stuff. Needless to say, I was a pretty popular teacher (only obsessive-compulsive sadists really care about grammar). One day I decided to talk to them about personalities, specifically about extroverts and introverts. So, I drew a line on the board and numbered segments along it from one to ten with 1 being psychotically introverted and ten being over the top annoyingly extroverted. The point of the exercise was to give them something interesting to talk about in English and what could be more interesting than talking about ourselves. I went around the room asking each of them to rank themselves on that scale. Everything was proceeding as expected until I got to the young lady in our class who was only 15 years old and rarely spoke, spending most of the classes huddled in her North Face parka hiding. (The climate in Costa Rica is mild and many of the inhabitants are very cold natured). When she said she was an 8 or 9 extrovert, every mouth in the room dropped open in amazement. I reexplained the definitions to be sure she understood what we were talking about and she did. Our perception of her from those two-hour classes three times a week was nothing like she perceived herself. The point being, people may not be what we believe them to be. I have been fooled many times.
Depending upon the study it is thought that maybe 30-50% of the population are, to some degree, introverts. A lot of the “experts” try to describe introverts as needing to refill their energy by being quiet or alone. For myself, and I consider myself to be around a 2 or 3 on the introverted scale, I feel that it is less about refilling my energy and more descriptive to say I enjoy spending time with myself. In those times I am not having to meet someone else’s expectations or conform to “normal”. I didn’t enjoy the “job” of teaching. I didn’t like thinking about it or preparing for the lesson or walking the 2 ½ miles to the classroom through the mass of humanity of downtown San Jose. But when I stepped into the classroom, it was like walking on stage. I enjoyed every minute of the actual teaching, but I knew I was acting a part. I put on the character (possibly disguise) during those two-hour segments of what I thought a teacher should be.
I enjoy people, but in very small settings. One to one conversations are my favorite. But if you add another person, the depth of the conversation becomes more shallow and less interesting to me. If you add a third person or more then we are reduced to talking about the weather, sports, the price of gas, or something else equally inane. While I can be in a group of people and know how to act (act being the operative word) it is not something that I seek out or really enjoy. But I have often found, in social gatherings, that if I walk around the edges of the group I will frequently find someone who is alone, quietly sipping their drink, waiting for an interesting conversation.