Having just celebrated Thanksgiving, I was explaining to a friend that having a houseful of guests for the entire week had strained my introverted personality. She looked at me and asked, “So, why did you do it?”
Good question! Why did I spend hours scrubbing floors, making beds, planning menus, hauling groceries, cooking—and now washing load after load of sheets and towels—in order to create a situation I knew I’d find stressful?
Very simple. As I went down the list of the nine guests we hosted for Thanksgiving, I realized that each and every person was special to me. They were friends and family. I love them. Yes, it would be nice to see them at a more leisurely pace, perhaps two or three at a time, but if the only way I could spend time with any of them was en masse, I’d take it.
Some people thrive on great crowds of friends and relatives, the more, the merrier. Extroverts gain energy from interacting with others. If you’re an extrovert, you are probably scratching your head, wondering what I’m talking about. Why would nine extra people be stressful?
But those of you who are introverts will understand immediately. People wear us out. It’s not that we don’t like them. We do. I love my family and friends very much. But after hours spent together, an introvert will be exhausted, and will seek a place of solitude. I retreat to my office. You might go read a book. The point is that we need alone time to recharge our batteries. Then we’re ready to socialize again.
In the case of our Thanksgiving houseful, I set up my laptop in our bedroom (someone else was staying in my office all week), and periodically retreated from the chaos to go read the news, the comics, and my friends’ Facebook postings. As hostess, I was concerned about appearing rude. I didn’t want to neglect my guests, some of whom had traveled long distances to be here. I just needed my space.
I am the only child of an only child. I have few relatives, and holidays were always fairly quiet affairs. Pete, on the other hand, has five siblings, and uncountable aunts, uncles, and cousins of varying degrees of removed-ness. One year, early in our marriage, we had 19 people descend on us for most of Thanksgiving week. I almost imploded.
We finally came up with a survival strategy. He arranged a daily outing—to the beach, the redwoods, the children’s museum. As everyone was putting on coats and arranging car seats, I generously offered to stay home and cook dinner. It took a little persuading, but eventually we convinced them that I was serious. Pete and family left for the day. I puttered around the kitchen a bit, then poured a cup of tea, picked up a book, and relaxed. By the time everyone came back, tired and hungry, not only was dinner ready, but I was recharged and ready to relate. Then, perhaps feeling guilty over leaving me to “slave in the kitchen all day,” everyone else did the dishes! It all worked so well, I would have been happy if they’d stayed until Christmas.
If you’re an extrovert, consider the needs of your introverted friends and family. Don’t insist on spending every moment together. It’s not that they don’t love you, or appreciate your presence. I’m sure they do. It’s just that they’ll be a lot more pleasant to be around if you let them crawl into their private cave every so often.
What about you? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How do you cope when you’re out of your element?