are you an introvert?

People sometimes mistake “introvert” for “shy.”

I am not shy. Or rather, I am, but in much the same way as the Princess from “Once Upon a Mattress”

In other words, I’m the kind of shy that doesn’t look very shy.

No, what I am is an introvert.

The technical definition of an introvert is someone who gets energy by being alone or with one or two close friends, and drains energy being in a group. Extroverts, by contrast, gain energy in groups and feel drained when they spend too much time alone. The idea is that introverts expend energy in a group, and have to be alone to recharge, while extroverts expend energy when they’re alone and have to be with a group to recharge.

You can tell your an introvert or an extrovert by thinking about this question:

Imagine that it’s Friday evening and you’ve had a long, hard week. What are you going to do to relax?

If your answer is along the lines of “go out with friends” or “go to a party” or “go dancing,” you’re likely an extrovert.

If your answer is along the lines of “read a book” or “watch a DVD” or “snuggle up with my lovebucket,” you’re more likely an introvert.

It’s not an all-or-nothing thing; many people are somewhere in the middle.

Most statistics say something like 10% of people (in America) are fairly pure introverts. Like me.

This week the students got back – or rather, the student leaders got back. The residence life staff, the tutors, the orientation leaders, those folks. As the “wellness” person on campus, my role is go from group to group, teaching about “wellness.” This week it included: dangerous drinking, stress management, mindfulness, sexual assault, motivational interviewing, sleep hygiene, and (of course) sexual health.

I love this week. There are few domains where I feel more at home than leading a group of students in the direction of self-care. I know that stuff is happening in their heads that may change their lives forever – or at least plant a seed that, when it sprouts years from now, will have an impact. The work I do is important. Critical, even.

But I’m an introvert.

This week I averaged 3 hours per day in front of a groups ranging in size from 10 and 100. The last thing I did, Friday afternoon, was spend an hour in front of the international students, many of whom are jet lagged, culture shocked, and only marginally functional. I had to bring a LOT of energy to that group. It was worth it: they learned some things and, more importantly, they felt good about me and my office and will remember me if they need something. I pushed out every drop of energy and enthusiasm I had and left it in the room with them.

And now I am TOAST. As I walked back to my office, I felt the remnants of my energy dissolving, like sea foam on the beach after high tide. I have a headache. My muscles feel achy, like I’m recovering from a fever, or like I biked 100k yesterday. My brain is dull, slow, unresponsive. Like the engine of a beat up old lawnmower.

Dear extroverts of the world take note: this is a real, physical experience. I wasn’t doing hard manual labor but my body and brain are exhausted. Depleted. Drained. As a public service announcement, I would like to draw this to your attention:

If you or your partner is an introvert, sex can be a great energizer. It will, almost by definition, come from WILLINGNESS, rather than DESIRE for sex. But if you’re willing to get started with some back massages and low-key, low-light, quiet intimacy, sex with someone an introvert trusts and appreciates can do a LOT to revive, renew, and reenergize the introvert.

You can’t demand sex from a drained introvert – you might not even be wise to ASK for sex. But if you suggest that maybe the introvert take a nice long hot shower and you could maybe give her a massage and make a make-out session and see what else feels right, that can go a long way in reviving the introvert’s inner light.