An introvert guides an extrovert through lockdown

Jessica Pan, author of Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come, speaks to a self-isolated extrovert in need.

An illustration of six rooms in a house, in Covid-19 lockdown.
Mica Murphy/Penguin

It’s a beautiful Sunday. A quiet breeze and gorgeous afternoon sunlight are both pouring through my open window and across the pages of my open book, but my finger, poised gently to keep my place, hasn’t moved for at least five minutes. Across the room, my girlfriend is happily immersed in her book and her beloved ‘alone time’, and I… I am slowly withering. Perhaps my fellow extroverts will recognise the feeling.

It’s not that extroverts never need alone time. The so-called ‘introvert-extrovert binary’ has a soft boundary: nobody exclusively wants to be left alone or surrounded by people; everybody needs a balance of the two. I might be mostly extroverted, but I still love, usually, to cosy up with a book. Yet, after weeks of lockdown, I can’t focus anymore. I want to see people. I need to move around, hug a friend. Please, somebody just stand ten feet from my doorway and watch me gesticulate while we converse.

My challenge as an extrovert – to live suddenly, in lockdown, as an introvert – is precisely the opposite of the one Jessica Pan wrote about in 2019 in her book Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come. Subtitled An Introvert’s Year of Living Dangerously, it told Pan’s story of her year spent ‘extroverting’: learning to friend-date; hosting a dinner party; and her Everest, trying stand-up comedy.

"I think, because I spent a year talking to strangers and meeting new people and realising that people were a lot kinder than I thought they were, it’s probably making me miss them more [now]," she tells me. "I miss real life more than I would have, because that year was so rich."

'I think we need to take care of our extroverts. I see them online or texting and they need our attention.’

I tell Pan about my troubles focusing, that I feel fidgety, that I’m dying to see people – and that, oddly, I’m finding ‘connecting’ via Zoom, Houseparty and FaceTime to feel less like a balm than I thought it might.

"I think, because extroverts get their energy from social interaction, they’re relying on social media and posting more; they’re doing all these video calls. But talking to my extroverted friend who wanted advice, he and I both kind of agreed it might be better not to try so hard to be social digitally.

"Of course, if you’re totally isolated, FaceTiming with someone you love is going to absolutely make you feel better, but will Zooming with acquaintances every night? Maybe not! These digital interactions are never going to be as fulfilling as they are in person, so maybe don’t try to do them all the time. They’re exhausting. We don’t have to be as social as possible, just because we’re in our homes."

What to do, then?

'We don’t have to be as social as possible just because we’re in our homes.’

"Maybe try to connect with one person, on the phone, without a video. I don’t know why everything has to be a video just because it can be; why do I have to look at my own face when I talk to you? That’s distracting! I prefer focusing on the other person; I feel like the connection is stronger with just voice and not having to worry about what I look like. This can be a time to reconnect one-on-one with people we really love, and take the chance to go deeper in conversation."

Pan has advice for introverts, too: ‘don’t isolate too much because you enjoy it; try to maintain contact with the people who matter to us; it’s easy to just not text or call people right now, because everyone’s going through a weird thing, but it would be sad to lose those connections that we’ve worked hard for over the years.

"We’re all in this weird, vulnerable, scared state, and I think that makes us more open to being real, and not just talking about trivial things. The trivial things have been taken from us: we can’t talk about sports, or the concert we went to, or our commute. It’s an opportunity now to talk about how you really feel or think, with the people you love. I feel closer to my community just knowing we’re all in this together."

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