Intellovert and Other Variations

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Personality typing and tests are super popular at the moment, particularly in regards to the introvert/extrovert question. How do we need to treat introverts and extroverts differently, how can introverts and extroverts get along even though they’re completely different, and what do you need to do to care for your introvert/extrovert self? I’m all for opening up discussions of the different ways that people function and thrive, but I’m certainly not the first person to point out that the introvert/extrovert dichotomy misses a lot of nuance in how people interact socially.

For the last five years or so, I’ve firmly identified as an introvert. I have a lot of social anxiety and so spending time in large groups is draining for me. I need alone time and personal space, I love to read and write (alone), and I recharge by taking long naps and watching Netflix. But in my current relationship, I’m finding that I want to spend more time together than my partner does, as he needs more recharging time than I do. I’m finding that when I’m out of work, I want to be with people nearly every day. So am I an introvert or an extrovert?

In my last therapy appointment, my therapist mentioned that one of my needs as a human being is intellectual stimulation. I get bored easily, and when I don’t have something to keep my mind occupied I start to lose it a little bit. Interestingly, I find that intellectual stimulation is an incredibly difficult need to fulfill without the help of other people, particularly in the form of conversation.

When I’m having engaging, deep conversations with other people, I feel my batteries recharge. When I have to make small talk, be around a large group of people, talk to someone I don’t know very well, or interact with other people for simply practical needs (setting up an appointment for example), I feel drained. Where does this put me on the introvert/extrovert scale if there are some social activities that I find rejuvenating and some that I find horrible?

Well it probably just makes me human, since I’m fairly certain that this is true of everyone. But it might make more sense to talk about introversion and extroversion in relation to specific activities or types of interactions instead of overall personality traits. I’m extroverted when it comes to intellect, puzzles, very close friends and family, and public speaking (yeah, I’m a weirdo). I’m incredibly introverted when it comes to big groups, loud atmospheres, strangers, casual acquaintances, or overstimulating situations.

It’s pretty easy to see some patterns here. There are some things which will make me feel rejuvenated whether or not they happen with other people: learning, validation, deep connection, feeling competent, or getting attention. There are other things that will wear me out whether or not they involve others: overwhelming environments, too many things to pay attention to at once, or repetition of basic information.

While introversion and extroversion are helpful concepts in some ways, it might be helpful to also start to think of how we recharge our emotional batteries with or without people. Almost everyone has some things that feel good and restful both with and without other people. These things might point towards what it is that we crave as individuals, what our emotional needs are. If we see what we want from our lives, it might be easier to set up social interactions to successfully cater to those needs.

Example: when I think of myself as an introvert, I try to schedule more downtime for myself. I inevitably end up bored and frustrated after a few hours of entertaining myself. If instead, I think about fulfilling my need for stimulation without an overwhelming number of things to pay attention to, I set up quiet coffee dates, game nights, movie nights, and other similar quiet activities that let me talk to other people and stay engaged.

Maybe I’m an intellovert: I get my rest and relaxation from exercising my brain. It’s quite possible that there are lots of other ways that people find rejuvenation. Perhaps someone is oriented towards physical exertion, human touch, sensory cues, or something else altogether. I don’t think it’s useful to get rid of the words introvert and extrovert altogether, but it might be time to rethink the ways we use them, or introduce some new concepts to think about when we’re explaining what fulfills our personalities.

The Common Language of Pop References

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Yesterday a friend of mine off-handedly mentioned the phenomenon in which someone will make a pop culture reference and use their audience’s reaction to judge the people who are listening. You got my obscure Firefly reference? You’re awesome and a good human being. You didn’t? Well…you might not be worth my time.
I suspect that we’re all guilty of doing this sometimes, and I know I’ve felt that burst of connection when someone else knows my favorite book, so I couldn’t stop thinking about whether this was pointless judging or whether it might serve some purpose. And then I read this absolutely lovely article about a pair of sisters who found a way to communicate through Supernatural. The show gave them templates and referents through which to talk about their relationship. It seemed that sometimes coming at the problem head on was too scary or direction, but the shared media gave them a common foundation on which to build their emotional understandings of each other.
Suddenly it all came into place: we all do this. When we reference things, we’re using a different language that holds much more content because it assumes the shared experiences of the media we love. Instead of trying to explain a complex, semi-abusive relationship, you can just say “it’s like Spike and Buffy”, and someone will have a full emotional picture of what’s going on.
So when we make references to some pop culture thing we love and someone responds positively, we suddenly have an entirely new shared language of referents and emotions and relationships to draw from. It can be incredibly liberating to find that you don’t have to explain yourself but can use a reference to immediately instill a certain emotion or understanding in your listener. There’s a certain safety in having those shared understandings of the world, in knowing that no matter how differently you perceive the world, you have this touchstone with which to communciate and connect. These kinds of shorthands aren’t simply an easy, quick way of communicating, but they’re also a way to signal that you understand and care about the person you’re interacting with. If I respond positively to a reference, it means I want to engage with the person who has made it. I am interested in understanding what is going on in their brain and I’m willing to search my memory for a reference in order to do so. If the reference comes easily, it means that we don’t have to struggle to understand each other as much as we might have otherwise.
Of course there are in-group elements to references, and of course the references we make and the ways we value references have a great deal to do with the way we assign value as consumers, but somewhere in the practice of making references we find that pop culture names, quotes, and places become symbols for feelings or plot arcs or ideas that are far more complex. Just as Biblical scholars have an entire lexicon of symbols that hold a different kind of meaning than they would to anyone else, so fangirls of Supernatural have a shared lexicon. Carry On My Wayward Son isn’t just a song, it’s an anthem of family, heartache, long journeys, impossible tasks, and endlessly broken hearts. Where you come down on the Spuffy/Bangel split will tell me immediately whether we’ll get along (protip: Bangel sucks). The reason I get excited when I see someone making a reference that I understand is that I suddenly have an entirely new window into this person, a new lens through which to view them, an entire set of experiences that we had together about which I can get their reaction. It’s not quite the same as the trust you gain from firsthand seeing how someone reacts to new situations, but it is a helpful simulation.
Especially for a reference that is uncommon or that few people would recognize, it’s like a special shared moment you get with another person. It’s as if you’ve found another kilt-wearing unicycle enthusiast: you thought you were the only one, but now you can find someone who resonates with those feelings and reactions you had. Now nothing about this implies that making judgments about others based on their pop culture references is a brilliant and ethically sound decision. In all likelihood you’ll be misjudging a fair number of people. But there are useful things about making references, and the better we understand those uses the more effective we can be in our communication.  It’s being able to say that you’re the Marshmallow to my Lilypad and not having to explain any further, and that’s a kind of connection that is kind of beautiful.