I’m sitting in a park drinking a cup of coffee and doing some reading for work. Or at least I’m trying to. I haven’t been able to concentrate for the past 30 minutes because a nearby woman has been loudly monologueing into her cell phone about the injustices of the world and the stupidity of all other people. It’s hard to believe that anyone could be so patient as to be listening to this insufferable, incessant monologue on the other end of the call.
Then again, I’ve been that person on the receiving end of monologues for much of my life. My mother is an extroverted monologuer. To this day, she calls me up, dives into a 30-minute monologue, and then says, “thank you, darling, I really needed someone to talk to.”
At your service.
I feel sympathy toward extroverts during Covid. Their struggles are so apparent. They are desperate to speak at other people, to be heard. I’ve had total randos come up to me over the past year, desperate to tell me their life story, while I slowly back away to politely (?) disengage.
Extroverts are still portrayed as the fun ones, the life of the party. Introverts are allegedly the socially awkward ones, more comfortable with books and video games than real people. That hasn’t been my experience. Extroverts have sought me out my entire life. Few are interested to learn about me, but they really want me to know everything about them. My most rewarding, engaging, and witty conversations, though, are with fellow introverts. We bring our own interests, perspectives, and questions to the conversation and we build on them so that we come away feeling like we both contributed and received something new and worthwhile.
So what to do? It took me 40 years to realize that I don’t owe anyone an audience. If I feel like a conversation has become too one-sided, then I either interrupt or simply say I’ve got to go. Life is too short to become captured. If I care about the relationship, then I’ll say something like, “we’ve been talking about X for a while now, let’s shift topics and talk about Y.” And then I’ll start off sharing my perspective first. When I first tried this move I thought it would come across as crazy rude. But the extroverts don’t seem to mind at all; if anything, they’re grateful to be able to keep talking about something, anything, no matter the topic. I wish I had learned this trick 25 years ago.
It’s not like introverts have it all figured out. We’re not great in big groups, where conversation can feel more performative than purposeful. And it can seem like we’re being evasive or withdrawn if we don’t perceive the full attentiveness of the person with whom we are speaking. These are all things I’m trying to work on myself. So it’s time for me to stop writing now and to go chat with a human. But not the woman on her cell phone.