Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on July 4, 2012.
It can only be divine intervention that has brought me to this café/coffeeshop this morning to write a column. Alone. Sans Children. Actually, it’s because my five-year-old is in camp, and my wonderful husband volunteered to take the two-year-old to the park.
It has always been a dream of mine to be able to sit alone and write in a coffeeshop, and I know you are probably laughing at me for that. But for these past six years of child rearing, any time alone is a dream. I can hardly believe I’m sitting on this hard seat, listening to dishes clink, the murmurs of other coffeeshop goers and soft jazz in the background.
I used to think my penchant for being alone was unique, but after reading Introvert Power by Laurie Helgoe, PhD, I’ve realized that I’m not “alone.” Nearly half our population is introverted.
She writes, “What constitutes an introvert is quite simple. We are a vastly diverse group of people who prefer to look at life from the inside out. We gain energy and power through inner reflection, and get more excited by ideas than by external activities. When we converse, we listen well and expect others to do the same. We think first and talk later. Writing appeals to us because we can express ourselves without intrusion, and we prefer communicating this way. Even our brains look different than those of extroverts.”
Although I’ve always known that I’m introverted, and I thought I knew what an introvert was, I learned much more about myself after reading this book. She explains how introverts prefer one-on-one interactions with people, and they appreciate deeper conversation. She thinks coffeehouses have popped up everywhere because introverts need places to “read, write, draw or just chill.”
When I read the book, I thought some of Helgoe’s comments about our culture being extroverted was far-fetched, but after I thought about it, I realized she was right. When I was younger, I never felt comfortable telling my friends I didn’t want to join the crowd. When I worked in an office environment, it was difficult to get out of going to lunch with the work gang. Our culture assumes that you’re being rude if you just want to have some time to yourself.
Now that I’m home with my children, I’m much happier, and I think this is due in part to not having to socialize in large group settings anymore. While I desperately need social interaction, I am more able to pick and chose when and with whom.
The book has given me a new resolve to cease worrying about the “socialization” of my homeschooled children too. This doesn’t mean I won’t give them plenty of opportunities to socialize with other children, but it does alter what most people think “socialization” should look like.
It’s pretty clear that my eldest son is an introvert. Some people may say “shy,” but over this past year, he’s proven that he isn’t shy. He can talk a stranger’s ear off – as long as he’s talking about what matters most to him. He doesn’t like to jump into playtime with large groups of kids, but he loves to play with one or two good buddies, and he can spend ample time by himself in his own make-believe world.
Helgoe writes, “As a psychologist, I have yet to see a child brought in for therapy because he is too social and his parents are concerned that he seems to have little access to his inner life. Yet, child after child is brought in for not talking enough, only having a few friends, and enjoying time alone—for being introverted.”
So I am going to stop apologizing for wanting to be alone, for needing breaks, and for indulging in a couple of hours in a coffeeshop. “You think it’s the coffee?” Helgoe writes about the coffeehouses. “Half. More than half of us now have a place to be publicly introverted.”