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  • The Reflective Doc

I Accept That I'm Just Not a Party Animal

I sometimes wonder if I’ve over-accommodated to this lockdown lifestyle. Certainly there have been challenges over the past year, as child care dissolved, classrooms became little online boxes of fidgeting children, and planning for the future mostly ceased. I also recognize I have been fortunate to have stable housing, good health, and job security at a time when many others do not.

Sitting today in the quiet of my sunlit living room while my son scavenges for his own lunch, as he now prefers, I feel less restless than when the pandemic began. I’ve learned to make high octane coffee like the little shop next to my office building, and have become quite adept at dressing for the home office. My son calls it “Working on top, relaxing on the bottom.” Mostly I recycle the same 3 pairs of leggings and try to vary my sweaters by day so my weekly patients think I’m putting forth some effort.

Much is being written about adjustments to the “new normal” of post-pandemic life. Certainly many are eager to return to large parties and jubilant celebrations, if spring break revelers in Miami are any indication. However, I am learning to embrace that I’m not one of them. I have actually been quite comfortable with the slower pace of life—more time with my kids, just hanging around, chatting about cicadas and how many tons each type of dinosaur weighs.

One of my guilty pleasures is scrolling on Buzzfeed, where I watch cute animals wearing hats do silly things, and obsessively search for the perfect before-and-after cleaning demonstrations. I also enjoy a random quiz from time-to-time. “Tell us which outfit you would wear to a work function on a pontoon boat and we’ll predict when you’ll meet your dream man,” and other highly informative inquiries. Based on its frequency in quiz-related material, a common concern must be “Am I an introvert or an extrovert? Or an introverted extrovert? Or another kind of vert?”

Through my lens as a therapist, I see that the way someone presents themselves to the outside world may bear little relation to their true self. Some of the most talkative, socially active individuals tell me they can’t wait to get home from a party to change into pj’s and watch reruns under a cozy blanket (Who can blame them?). Others speak softly and seem to studiously avoid taking up space in my office while expressing the joy they feel during crowded outdoor concerts.

The best way I have found to describe the difference between introverts and extroverts is not based on their desire for socialization, but rather how energy flows when they engage interpersonally. My husband and I aren’t at totally opposite edges of the social spectrum, but if you watch our behavior several hours into a party, differences will emerge. I’m wearing out, slowly inching toward the door, trying to avoid contact with anyone who may entreat me to stay for “just one more.” My husband, on the other hand, seems to be just getting started. He is energized by the experience, and gains speed as the night progresses. My attempt to signal him silently from across the room often fails, and I resort to 10-minute departure reminders like I’m collecting my children from a playdate.

Whether you gain energy from groups of people, or need time alone to recharge and recover, you will have moments of discomfort within particular environments. Over the past year, my husband has definitely suffered more from social withdrawal than I have, and though I try to empathize with him, it’s hard to find time between chapters of the book I’m reading on the sofa in my jammies.

What's important to remember, I think, is that there's no “right way” to be. We need all types of individuals to make our society hum. Matching your activities to your unique personality type (I think it’s important to point out that Buzzfeed is not the best place to identify the details on this) can allow you to thrive rather than fight against your inherent preferences. For example, it may be difficult to campaign for public office if you prefer to spend your time reading quietly in the back corner of a coffee shop, but you may write terrific poetry there.

In the past, I would rely on a drink or two to bring out the “fun” version I hoped to portray at parties. I met my husband after 2 chocolate martinis, for example. However, if I could travel back in time and talk to my younger self, I would emphasize that it’s ok if I feel more comfortable in smaller groups or one-on-one conversations. In fact, it allows me to be fulfilled in my role as a therapist, working closely with individuals. Just as we may be night owls or morning larks, our introversion/extroversion tendencies make us who we are, as unique and diverse as our fingerprints.

So if we ever run into each other at a party, I’d be happy to join you in a lengthy conversation about the amazing book you just read, but may not walk up to a circle of laughing revelers. If I’m on the dance floor, I’m more likely to be spinning around in my own corner, rather than seeking a partner or starting a circle demonstration of my breakdancing skills (I have none of these.) Trust that the way you interact with the world is right for you, and find your happy place when you can. I’ll be in the corner, trying to catch my husband’s eye, car keys in hand.

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