Thursday, April 16, 2020


Sometimes when I’m running trails in the woods, I’ll play a little game in order to keep things interesting. As soon as I spot a person up ahead, I turn around and run away from them. This way I never know quite how long my run will be beyond a certain minimum goal. The trick is that I have to turn before they see me, which is easy to do if they’re headed in the same direction as me but requires much more alertness if they’re moving toward me. This is not the most interesting game in the world, but one thing of note: I’ve been doing this for years, not just right now.

The other thing of note: I do this everywhere. I’ve been skipping aisles in grocery stories all my life if there were too many people in them—or, because I shop at odd hours when fewer people are around (10:30am on a Tuesday is awesome), anyone at all. If I were a character from Doctor Who, I’d be a Weeping Angel—those scary aliens who turned, literally, into stone statues whenever anyone looked at them. Only when people look away do they come to life.

It isn’t because of any virus or really anything definite I can name, and it does no good to tell me that this is irrational behavior. Of course it’s irrational. That’s the point. That’s why trying to use reason to counter it absolutely will not work. Nor do I think it should be countered. The convenient name for all this is, of course, introversion, and it’s not a condition that needs to be “fixed.” If anything, right now introverts across the land are likely struggling with a tsunami of schadenfreude, if I may culturally mix my metaphors. We have to stay at home. We must avoid social gatherings. Weep no more, angels; this is your moment to live.

But I’m not one of those introverts who sneeringly dismisses extroverts as chatty, vapid bubbleheads. Some of the smartest and most interesting people I know characterize themselves as extroverts without hesitation. Nor should they hesitate; as everyone should know by now, in layperson terms -verts are characterized by whether they feel energized by social interaction (extro) or drained by it (intro). And like most things that initially appear to be either/ors, there’s a lot of variation. I know extroverts who are not terribly talkative and introverts who are. Talk can be a defense mechanism; it’s how I ended up becoming a teacher, a profession that you’d think would be a nightmare for an introvert but really isn’t. Create a persona, arm that persona with words, and your intro self can curl up in a corner, safely hidden away.

What’s more, just because social interaction drains an introvert doesn’t mean they shun it always. I’ve spent much of my life struggling between being lonely and being exhausted. Even the person—me—who cringes right down to their toenails at the thought of being surrounded by people still seeks people out on a regular basis. Frequently regrets it afterward, but still, does it. If you go by the definition that introverts are drained by social interaction, it makes sense: I seek to run really long distances on a regular basis, too, something that drains me quite a lot but ultimately benefits my well-being even more.

I wish I had something more profound to say during this profoundly strange and harrowing moment in our lives. In truth, my own day-to-day life hasn’t changed all that much, for which I am deeply fortunate. I (still) work from home. I (still) avoid most social gatherings. I (still) run, though that has become more challenging with more people hitting the trails than ever before. The fact that a lot more people are living like I am does, I’ll admit, irk some petty part of me—I avoided people in the grocery store before it was popular!—but I suppose it’s also reassuring, in a way. We are not weeping angels, after all; being aware of one another will not turn us to stone but rather keeps us who we are.