Monday, April 9, 2012

Finding Love as an Introvert

All my life I have admonished myself for not wanting to be “out there” more. When I was in grade school, I was always jealous over the “it” girl in class. In high school, I wished I was part of the cool crowd, reigning supreme at the back of the bus. Into my 20s, I took self help workshops to learn how to be more dynamic and likeable. Even in my 30s I spent inordinate amounts of time trying desperately to be someone I wasn’t.

Thank god for aging. It wasn’t until I got into my 40s that I began surrendering to the hand I’d been dealt, which involved a long and arduous process of struggling, in earnest, with who I really was. And I’ve come quite a distance. Many years of solitude and introspection have enabled me to get out of my own way. My character has finally begun to take shape and find expression. And I am far more interested in living my own life than anyone else’s, even with all its uncertainty. For the first time in my life, I have found liberation in not knowing. I’m going to be 50 in June, and I’m very, very excited.

For years I have heard from women about how great the 50s are. You finally start relaxing and learning to really enjoy life. You don’t sweat the small stuff. You are in your element sexually. You tell it like it is. The list goes on. I intend to reap all of this and more. But more than anything, my 50s will be an ownership and a celebration of my true, introverted nature.

I can thank Susan Cain for this, in part. Her book, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking has opened my eyes to a “cultural evolution that reached a tipping point around the turn of the 20th century.” America, she says, has shifted from what the influential cultural historian Warren Susman called the Culture of Character (which focused on inner virtue and honor) to a Culture of Personality (which focuses on outer charm, and how others perceive us). In other words, extroversion has become the North American cultural ideal. Today, she says, “we make room for a remarkable narrow range of personality styles….we are told that to be great is to be bold; to be happy is to be sociable.”

But the great thing about this book – I am still reading it – is that it is helping me to see myself in a new light; to “take stock of my talents” as an introvert and to appreciate all the qualities that come with it. Of course, most of us are on a spectrum, so I do have an extroverted side, born of a stronger inner core – but it’s interesting that, when people see that, they can hardly believe there is an introvert buried underneath it, calling all the shots. I have become someone I never thought I would be and frankly, spent much of my life fighting: a deeply sensitive, unconventional outsider who needs substantial alone time in order to assimilate, integrate and refuel.

That makes finding love extraordinarily difficult. I have spent the vast majority of my adult life on my own, outside the bounds of any conventional relationship. Couples who have found happiness in spending most of their days together are foreign to me; I cannot imagine living that kind of life. I have always put passion over domestic love; I am what author Esther Perel calls a “romantic”. Since I don’t get out much, I have been on dating sites, but I find small talk intolerable. I ache for something real – thought provoking, deep discussions that expand my mind, touch my heart, or inspire me to see the world differently. And I aspire to affect others the same way. When this happens, it rocks my world. I treasure it; become hungry, reach for more. But at some point I have to back off, re-group – and none too soon. I need my space, and lots of it. Somehow it makes whatever was shared mean that much more.

I know there are other people like me out there, but finding them is another matter. Intimacy with someone you trust and have chemistry with is a gift. But so is a connection with self. The life I have chosen, the solitude I have had – it has, many times, been lonely, but I would rather be lonely alone than lonely in a relationship. And it has taught me a lot about independence. I suspect, if I were ever challenged by the prospect of an ongoing, long term relationship, I’d have to learn how to do it. Learn how to “do” a relationship. Maybe I’ll get lucky. Maybe I’ll find someone who needs time alone as much as I do.

Or maybe not. Either way, I want my 50s to be a time when it all starts coming together; of coming home to my destiny, and living in harmony with all my core values. Cultivating a rich, inner life, I think, is what helps make that possible.


Brian Wilkerson said...

Congratulations! I feel happy just reading this. I myself came to a similar conclusion: "I like being with friends but I need plenty of time alone." About that 'Culture of Character" vs "Culture of Personality", I think I read about that in college.

Jessica Mendes said...

Hey Brian

Thanks for the note....great to hear from a kindred spirit!


Pauline Esson said...

I'm treading the same path, with curiosity... how to have enough space and solitude and be in a relationship. It's worked for me if not living together and seeing each other 2 or 3 times a week.

I've come to the conclusion that I'd need to live in a house by myself and see each other like that 2 or 3 times a week. I haven't managed to get the time to myself that I need whilst living together.

I'm curious about whether it could work though... maybe with our own bedrooms and bathrooms. I seem to recall (forgive my memory if it's faulty) the author Tove Jannson and her partner lived in adjoining apartments and arranged dates to watch films or to cook together when they'd open the connecting door. That sounds perfect to me.

I wish us both the matching solitude loving partner fr our 50's and beyond.

Jessica Mendes said...

Thank you, Pauline, for your thoughts. It occurred to me I should have invited comments from all introverts, it's wonderful to hear from kindred spirits. I like what you are describing below -- I can't imagine sharing the same room and the same bed with the same person for 20 years!

Yes, here's hoping.

Oriah said...

Lovely and insightful piece. When Jungian Analyst James Hollis was in Toronto last year he told us that the powers that be in the US were considering putting Introversion the DSMV (or maybe it`s VI- it`s the Diagnostic Statistical Manual used for all psychiatric disorders.) The Jungians were fighting it as ridiculous and I don`t know how the battle ended but it is indicative of how an extroverted culture sees introversion.

Basically it boils down to what gives you energy. Introverts may love people but they recharge alone- and extroverts (to my complete amazement) actually recharge from interaction with others. It`s all about knowing and accepting ourselves for who we are. Ahhhhhh. . . what a relief :-)

Jessica Mendes said...

Wow, Oriah, thank you for sharing this. Very interesting indeed! Having conducted interviews in past on how the DSM is conceived -- and the push by drug companies to create more and more illnesses in order to market product -- this comes as little surprise, but a nugget nonetheless. You have inspired me to see what I can find out on this (a quick Google search yielded disappointing results).

Likewise, with your second point. I am only half way through Susan's book, but I've no doubt more insights await. I actually recharge by time alone AND from interaction from all depends on the timing and my frame of mind at the time. Food for thought.

Anyone else?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing. As an introvert, I'd say this isn't just about love but also about finding friendship. So many times I've had that experience of wondering how I can be one of two or three women who are "new" to a school, a job, an event, a group all at the same time and they make immediate connections and I struggle for months. I know that among the reasons I'm with who I'm with (and why I dread the thought of being single) is that I'll never find another person again.

That said, my 30s have been rough but so far they are my "coming together" time that you describe that you hope your 50s to be. Hopefully this means that over the next decade or two, there will be continuous improvement!

Like Oriah, I've also heard about how introversion is being treated by some as unusual or unnatural. That I resist wholeheartedly. My natural introversion definitely contributes to my depression and difficulty in connecting with others at times, but I resist that there's anything wrong with it.

Jessica Mendes said...

Thank you for your insight and thoughts, "seekingmymuchness". I deleted your first comment (from the other identity) because it was identical to this one.

You are indeed correct that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having trouble connecting with others -- it is even understandable, given the "extroversion idealist" culture we live in. I strongly recommend you pick up and read the Susan Cain book I mention in this blog post. It is most uplifting in the sense that it really helps you to value your introverted virtues, so to speak, and to see them in a new light that inspires pride instead of self consciousness.

In fact, if you do decide to read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

Thank you for taking the time to write.


Scribe Doll said...

Lovely, thought-provoking post. Have you seen the film 'An American in Paris'? There, George Guetary's character says, "How old am I? Let's just say that I'm old enough to know what to do with my young feelings".

Jessica Mendes said...

Katherine -- no, I haven't! Not quite sure I follow the sentiment of this quote, but will have to watch the film to find out! Thanks for writing.

Anonymous said...


I too am an introvert. Which is why it was quite a surprise for me, in my thirties, to have an all-too-brief relationship with a lovely, sweet woman in her fifties. It ended because I'd like to have children, and she was getting uncomfortable with seeing a man only a few years older than her son. I wrote in a few weeks ago about that.

And therein lies the problem. It is not that I don't value older women. I value the "tell it like it is" personality that you mention. I like the warmth and maturity; too many of my contemporaries are mall rats. And yes -- oh yes -- many older women are incredibly gorgeous. Like you, I long for real, thought provoking discussions, and I don't like small talk. Sadly, that is what I can expect from many of my contemporaries. Oh yes, one more thing: people think I'm in my forties, so that attracts older women, but less so those of my age. But at the end of the day, I'd like to have kids. If such was not the case, then I would have offered that beautiful, sweet, artistic fifty-something lady a ring by now. I was indescribably happy when I was with her, and finding someone else my age that will make me that happy is a daunting task.

Jessica Mendes said...

You write such a beautiful note, Anonymous -- so personal. And yet you don't offer a first name, which I find odd. I want to reach back, but not in this forum. At the very least, you sound like someone I could talk to.


Jessica Mendes said...

p.s. If you'd like to connect, let me know.

Anonymous said...


Thank you very much for your kind words about my writing.

Yes, I would like to communicate more with you, but not by posting everything on your blog. How can I e-mail you? I probably won't be able to do so until Friday, but I definitely look forward to hearing from you.

Jessica Mendes said...

You can reach me at jesseheretic (at) yahoo (dot) com -- HOWEVER --

Please do not send me something without your first and last name attached, or from some cryptic Sender, as it will likely get filtered into my spam or rejected. And contact me whenever you like -- there is no rush, here, we can chat when the time is right. If I don't reply within a day or two I didn't get it.

mjo said...

I have just turned 62 and am happily alone today, searching google for "introvert". Yes, I've spent my life wondering why I hate making small talk, why I am happy spending most of my weekends alone instead of interacting. I work in a very social field - human services -- but I am an administrator and spend most of my time at the computer. My organization atually sent me to a Dale Carnegie course to try to make me more extrovert. The instructor, I am proud to say, thought me eccentric. I think Dale Carnegie courses that try to flog introverts into extroversion should be outlawed. My point is that it has taken me until my 60s to recognize and accept my introversion, to think of it positively (because it's not going away and it is who I am), and to begin to explore how to best be totally myself.

Jessica Mendes said...

Well, mjo, it sounds like you would really enjoy Susan's book then (The Power of Introverts). It was a validating experience for me for sure, but also compelling and interesting and beautifully written.

That said, it sounds like you prefer no human contact at all, and that I do not share with you. I need some, and I need the contact I have to count for something. I want intimacy in my life. And most introverts I know feel the same -- it's all a matter of degree. But no matter how extreme your need to stay away from your fellow humans, it is your life, and you have a right to live it how you so choose -- good for you for accepting and embracing who you are, and all the best to you in your later years.

mjo said...

Goodness no. The occasional dinner with friends, out dancing for exercise one or two nights a week, and, though I don't work directly with clients, I see hundreds of children, youth and adults pass by every week. But I love lots of alone time, privacy and quiet, And most of the meetings, events and social gatherings that are part of my profession of fundraising, I leave to my extrovert coworker.

Anonymous said...