November 5, 2005

"Recognize that it's not a choice. It's not a lifestyle. It's an orientation."

Jonathan Rauch’s 2003 article “How to Care for Your Introvert” was the most-read article at The Atlantic’s website this past week (according to the email they just sent me). It’s interesting to see that this older article is still so popular. It should be! It’s memorable – I’ve always remembered it since originally reading it. It starts like this:
Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?

If so, do you tell this person he is "too serious," or ask if he is okay? Regard him as aloof, arrogant, rude? Redouble your efforts to draw him out?

If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands—and that you aren't caring for him properly.
Are you taking care of your introvert? Are you an introvert that is not getting proper care?
[E]xtroverts have no idea of the torment they put us through. Sometimes, as we gasp for air amid the fog of their 98-percent-content-free talk, we wonder if extroverts even bother to listen to themselves. Still, we endure stoically, because the etiquette books—written, no doubt, by extroverts—regard declining to banter as rude and gaps in conversation as awkward. We can only dream that someday, when our condition is more widely understood, when perhaps an Introverts' Rights movement has blossomed and borne fruit, it will not be impolite to say "I'm an introvert. You are a wonderful person and I like you. But now please shush."
UPDATE: Thanks to Kevin Drum for linking. Althouse readers -- who generally seem to think Kevin's is the best of the "rational, intelligent liberal blogs -- should check out the comments over there.


PatCA said...

The Meyers Briggs is interesting; people tend to skew more Introvert as they age, which is true in my case. I was always borderline I/E, but I guess as we get older we have simply many more thoughts and need more time and energy to muse on them, especially if we are artists or writers. And, yes, big social events are great but tiring. That rang a bell!

Troy said...

I've become more introverted as I get older. In undergrad I was all over the social map and was never at home. Law school changed that practically (except after exams!). I'm not sure if I was originally wired as an intro or extro -- perhaps some people are ambi.

wildaboutharrie said...

My then boyfriend sent me this article, as a not so subtle hint to shut up sometimes. It didn't work so well, but he married me anyway.

WordReader said...

I'm like Troy. I've become more introverted the older I get. Hey, I'll bet introverts make great bloggers..

Anonymous said...

In answer to your question, I'm an introvert who isn't getting proper care but doesn't consider it other people's obligation to give it to me. Suck it up, Jonathan!

Swimmy Lionni said...

Funny article.

Of course, the Jung typology's division between extroverts and introverts is far more nuanced. This is why it's so difficult to label a certain percentage of the population "introverted." I think what most people think of when they hear the word - and what Rauch makes himself out to be in this article - is an INTJ. It's quite possible to have introverted thinking yet still act, often out of curiosity, like an extrovert.

Bruce Hayden said...

I don't think it is everyone. I think I am a lot more extroverted than I was years ago. But then, it was probably more shyness than anything, and I got over whatever I had left of that in my first year of law school. For me, it was surviving 5 minutes of one-on-one with my torts prof about half way through.

I think though that what age really does is make you more of whatever you were before. Maybe it is that you don't worry as much about the social niceties as you used to. In other words, if you were reasonably introverted before, you just find less reason to be extroverted as time goes on. You just don't care what others think as much.

Troy said...

Someone doesn't need a hug...

Mark said...

That is totally me. But I'm going to be working a lot more in the Mississippi Delta region in the near future and would like to not be thought of as rude. It's a business decision. Is there a "Dummies Guide to Pointless Southern Banter" book out there somewhere?

chuck b. said...

I'm a big introvert. On the Myers-Briggs test, I think all my answers on the I/E axis go 'I' except for one or two. That test helped me understand myself in ways that two years of therapy did not. (Not that two years of therapy weren't great--they were. Just different.)

A good clinician administering the test will tell you what you might expect from yourself as you get older, since different parts of our personalities emerge and develop at different stages in life. For example, as I ease in to my 40s (in four-five years), I shouldn't be surprised to see myself behaving more as an extrovert. I see flashes of it already now and then. So it's no surprise, to hear extroverts in the comments trending in the other direction as they get older.

I also learned from that test how to manage stress better because I never really understood why I got so bogged down with details. Paralyzed, really. It happens because details stress me out and when I get stressed about details, I obsess over them. Now I can see that coming a mile away and deal with it better.

I had a friend who worked at the center that writes and sells the Meyers-Briggs test in Palo Alto, and she said it was the most dysfunctional work environment she'd ever been in.

Andrea said...

Sentences such as "hances are that you have an introvert on your hands—and that you aren't caring for him properly" (emphasis mine) make this introvert's skin crawl. Hint, extys: the way to "care" for an introvert is to quit bothering him with all your "caring."

Troy said...


I lived in Texas for 33 years before relocating to SoCal. Pointless banter in the South and west can include the weather, church (NOT religion, but the cultural event), football (which is not pointless to them or me for that matter) get to know the high school team, the local college favorite and at least be conversant. The south is more educated than Yankess give credit so don't be pedantic. :-) Oh and talk about food. These are, of course, stereotypes, but as with most stereotypes, there's some truth in there.

And if all else fails... tell a joke about Arkansans and you're in the clear.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Rent the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" and you'll be in the know.

Mark said...

Troy, thanks for comments but Arkansas is exactly where I'll be working so I'll skip the Arkansas jokes.

BTW, I've never met more polite and nicer people than those in OK and AR. This in contrast to Minnesota, where I'm originally from, and where they pride themselves on some sort of "Minnesota Nice" concept. (What a bunch of horseshit)

Mary Gee said...

As an INFP, I don't mind a bit of banter - I can small talk with the best of them - in small dosages. When I lived in Canada, I couldn't stand the fact that I coudln't get people to engage in small talk with me. That was difficult to deal with. On the other hand, I can't abide hours of constant chatter. By the end of a work day, I can't wait to come home to my quiet home where no one is talking. I need hours a day alone and quiet.

I found it helpful when I realized that this is not because I am grouchy or hateful - it is because I am wired that way.

amba said...

When people talk to me I can't help paying intense attention, and it's exhausting. Especially when tired or low-energy, I often dread having to listen to people and to dredge up a response. I am amazed by people who can chatter on and on and seem to get recharged rather than horribly depleted. They don't seem at all aware that I'm giving them something, and it costs me. I started out an introvert and have actually gotten better at extroversion as I've gotten older, but it still drains me and I need time alone to recover. It's not my default state.

Anonymous said...

Introversion is real. The Meyer Briggs is junk pseudoscience.

A real con law prof would be doing her damndest to keep junk science out of the courtrooms.

The lower courts, family court especially, have been invaded by an industry of fabricators and manipulators. Judges regularly defer to these con artists as a way to avoid their responsibility (coming to a decision), and as a way to clear their calendars quickly.

And for some reason, the courts and con law profs have let this take place.


XWL said...

Could the top placement on a list of EMailed stories from The Atlantic of a puff piece from 2 years ago reflect that magazine's growing irrelevance rather than the particular article's relevance?

Oh, and the reason introverts feel drained around people is because they feel compelled to actually listen, which requires concentration and mental effort.

Extroverts on the other hand feel free to expound endlessly and bask in the attention of others without regard to the effect it has on their audience.

So seemingly paradoxically, introverts tend to be more empathetic and responsive to others than extroverts.

KaneCitizen said...

I'm going to print out 50 copies of the Rauch articles and keep them in my briefcase. When an extro comes to talk to me, I'm going to hand him/her a copy.

However, I might accidentally drop the page as I hand it over to the extro, and while he/she is picking it up, I'll make a clean getaway.

Undercover Christian said...

Mark, I think you'll find that people's attitudes vary wildly depending on where you are in Arkansas. Most of the state is pretty rural. As for the parts that aren't, central Arkansas is pretty "Clinton-y," and northwest Arkansas is pretty "business-y" (aside from the People's Republic of Fayetteville.) You are a man, so you won't need any "pointless banter" unless you are in the central part of the state where people are much more political and chatty.

vbspurs said...

My then boyfriend sent me this article, as a not so subtle hint to shut up sometimes. It didn't work so well, but he married me anyway.

Of course.

When I read this tongue-in-cheek post/idea, I realised a lot of people never got the "opposites attract memo".


vbspurs said...

Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day?


Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience,


but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk?


Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate?


Although I'm a homebody, but I love parties too.

Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?

Ugh, away with these socially inept boors!

When I was growing up, my teachers always mentioned that the world is divided into Dionysians and Apollonians.

The thing is, I am both.

Apollonian in my instincts. Dionysian in my expressions.

IOW, I am quiet person until you get me going, and then, watch out!


vbspurs said...

Introversion is real. The Meyer Briggs is junk pseudoscience.

A real con law prof would be doing her damndest to keep junk science out of the courtrooms.

Ploopygirl would've been much snarlier and profane with her constantly niggling posts.


wildaboutharrie said...

"When I read this tongue-in-cheek post/idea, I realised a lot of people never got the 'opposites attract memo'."

No, not tongue-in-cheek at all. Some extroverts, I gather, are very good at caring for their introverts. But some of us are too busy gabbing.

Frank from Delavan said...

The worst thing for an introvert is that those dang extroverts are now yacking away on their cell phones 24X7.

My personal motto is from Toh Lehrer. "If you can't communicate, the least you can do is shut up!"

Anonymous said...

Cell phones are a godsend. Every minute the extroverts spend talking to someone on a cell phone is a minute they're not talking to me.

Quxxo, don't you need to go off by yourself and recharge for a few months?

Ann Althouse said...

Quxxo: Conlawprofs are obliged to deal with ordinary evidence rules that have to do with weighing prejudicial and probative values? Weird! Anyway, I disapprove of Myers-Briggs testing and think it is widely abused, something I thought I'd written about on this blog, but can't find the old post.

Bruce Hayden said...

Ann - thanks for the post. A lot of this has struck home.

Above, I described myself as starting out fairly introverted, and becoming a lot more extroverted as I grew older. But maybe a better way of describing myself is as a mild extrovert with an extreme introvert job (patent attorney - which I love). The result is hours of extreme concentration with intermixed periods of being extremely social. I crave both - though I would rather talk on heavier subjects: politics, science, etc. than sports, weather, etc.

That said, I am surrounded by introverts, in my family, and my girlfriends.

The thing that has really struck home about this discussion is that all of you introverts talking about the exhaustion of being around extroverts. It has taken over 50 years to figure out that I do exhaust a lot of those around me with my talk. My girlfriend first pointed it out, maybe 4 years ago. But I see it with my father, my daughter, her (of course), and Friday night, my next brother.

I am already a lot more sensitive to this than I used to be. Mostly, when these people suggest that enough talk is enough, I immediately stop. But the place where I think I need to figure out better is how to protect my girlfriend when in public.

The problem is that she still has the looks (as she nears 50) that strange men are still walking up to her and asking her to marry them. So, we need to figure out how she can be seen (which she likes) when we are out in public, but doesn't need to talk very much with strangers.

So, any suggestions on the care and feeding of introverts (esp. in public) is appreciated.

wildaboutharrie said... could give her a ring. That might stop the proposals, anyway...

KCFleming said...

The Meyers Briggs is interesting. It is not however junk science, but simply an imperfect attempt to explain myriad personality types. It is useful to a degree; when abused it can become junk science (and it can be abused), but that merely states the obvious.

It can explain to introverts like me the ideas mentioned here, on how tiring is intense listening, and how much isolation can be preferred to parties.

But I don't think myself virtuous for my introversion. I no more chose it than I did my hair color (or my religion, for that matter). Such accidents of birth are amoral characteristics that deserve no sense of self-satisfaction, much less congratulation.

And there is a dark side to introversion. It's hard to rise in the ranks of any profession when you prefer to eat alone. People can mistake your aloofness for an oddity warranting suspicion, and steer clear of you even when you're finally in the mood for company, however brief. There is a danger too, I've felt, in disengaging entirely, because the world will reliably prove to you that people are frequently dull, needy, selfish, and ultimately draining. And isolation becomes self-reinforcing.

I don't know, but introversion is a curse as much as a blessing. I can live all day inside my head, and think and think on matters I love to reason over. But my sole human contacts some days are customers, an often rote and cursory role.

There are days I long to be free to experience the obvious joy extroverts feel. I suspect they do not return that jealousy.

Anonymous said...


Consider the opportunity cost to society when you waste your time teaching yet another generation of weasels and psychopaths lessons in ordinary evidence rules that any third rate law prof could be teaching intead of using your time and talents to defend the courts against a cult religion and junk science industry that is never mentioned in the constitution and that is responsible for bad judgments, increased costs, and denial of constitutional rights including denial of privacy rights, due process and equal protection.

Think of the opportunity cost to your soul.

Pogo, as an introvert myself, I wish you the best in learning about intoversion and yourself. There are plenty of texts that will explain just why Meyer Briggs is complete crap. On the other hand, you may wish to look up Dr. Judith Orloff, M.D. who will be happy to sell you all sorts of crap about psychic vampires that want to suck your energy out too. Her theories are just as predictive and falsifiable as those behind the Meyers Briggs.

I prefer Pastafarianism explanations myself and the fact that the Flying Spaghetti Monster needs to touch me with his noodly appendage.

Anonymous said...

Ann, seriously, you have some very valuable skills and knowledge. There is a war on, and we need your hands in this fight. It's time to put the chalk down.

Kurt said...

The "junk science" question interests me because I've been wondering lately how much these characteristics change over time. When I took the test 15 years ago, I was an INFJ; I just took one online a few months ago and it said I was the exact opposite--an ESTP. I still feel more like an introvert, though, I've certainly grown a little bolder and more outgoing as I've aged.

Since Rauch is employing the language of orientation here, I wonder how many other things could be classified in that way. I've often thought that political outlook is also an orientation--a classification which would be useful if people could accept that one's views on certain kinds of political questions is as much a matter of personality as anything else.

president2012 said...

the article is cute, but too many people take it seriously, like being a man or a woman or a catholic or an american or from the south or from brooklyn or redneck, or a yuppie, or an artist or a lefthander... its just an observation about behaviour & the definitions don't define YOU, just a behaviour you & others exhibit. this is why people take medications cos they're bipolar or all that other crap.

PDX_Wanderer said...

Hi there,
I ended up reading this very interesting blog and maybe somebody can give me some advice.
I'm currently dating this person, few months now, who I deeply love.
I'm quite an extrovert and she's quite an introvert!! I'm trying my best to take care of my introvert in the right way but I don't think I'm doing it very well (otherwise I wouldn't be here!).
I'm doing my best to thoroughly listen to her and give her as much personal time as she need. But being big time extrovert I'm used to more conversation and personal time with her which end up overwhelming her when it happens.
I can be quiet but then I get the feeling that I almost bother her when I talk .... confusing, confused... what do I do?

bung tobing said...

i agree with's not a lifestyle