Extroverts have challenges, too.

I’ve had a week. Not like, Oh my GAWD all kinds of horrible things happened. Not that kind of week. Just as in Holy cow, that was long and intense, am I ever glad for the weekend. I got to the end of my week, Friday, to discover that …

*cue ominous drumroll*

… I had no plans for Friday night. I was devastated. And full of anxiety.

Let me explain.

I am an extrovert. Like, really an extrovert. It’s a continuum — most people are neither completely extroverted nor completely introverted, but rather somewhere in the middle. I happen to be prrrrrretty far over on the extrovert scale (ENFP if you’re curious). In case you don’t know what it means to be super extroverted, this doesn’t (necessarily) mean I’m (always) loud and obnoxious. It means I get energy from being around other people. This is how I recharge. It’s a need. Like people need to eat and sleep. Like I need coffee in the morning. I need people around me when I’m tired in order to feel recharged.

You might think this is easy. There are people everywhere! You might even think. Well. Let me tell you: It’s not like that at all.

People have lives. People have families. And not everyone is an extrovert like me. Not everyone gets energy from being around others. I get that. But man, does it ever make my life depressing when I get to Friday night — without plans. Seriously — no joke: It is one of my biggest nightmares and fears. I know this sounds silly, but frankly, I don’t care. It’s the truth: I genuinely get anxious knowing that I don’t have anyone to share, exchange, chat, and connect with at the end of the week.

After doing a bit of a Google search, I have discovered that I’m not alone (thanks, interwebz). Other extroverts feel similarly to me. One person described it as anti-social anxiety — as in, the anxiety around not having social plans. Please don’t misunderstand — this isn’t loneliness. I have written about that before; I’m rarely lonely (mostly because I’m too busy!). It’s knowing that spending Friday night alone will make me even more tired than the week that preceded it.

In situations like this, I do have coping strategies. Typically, it involves going out somewhere there will be other people — strangers — and just hanging out in that space. Tonight that was Macritchie Reservoir Park and the bistro on top of the hill there. It was lovely. But it wasn’t the same as catching up with someone about how the week was and what’s on for the weekend. It’s like craving a pizza but all there is on the menu is a sandwich. It’s got bread and cheese, but it just isn’t the same. But I knew that if I didn’t do it, I’d be depressed and exhausted at home alone. I’m such an extrovert that I will often try to get the pizza even if I know it’s not on the menu. I’ll chat with complete strangers about their shoes, the weather, the beautiful colour of the sky, where the nearest 7-11 is, you name it — I will find a way to talk to someone. This works better in some places than others.

New York.

New York is an extrovert’s heaven in this sense. Nobody in NYC thinks it’s weird to talk to a stranger about how their dog got his name, which ice cream parlour has pistachio flavour, or why the guy at the corner grocery always wears his cap sideways. This alone is one reason I will always love NYC. It welcomed my extrovert ways with open arms. I belonged there — me and all the other people dying to talk to other people. In a few cases, I made friends this way. Literally, I made friends with random people on the street. T-shirt vendors (there was a guy who sold cool prints at Union Square and on the corner of Prince and Greene — he even offered me a job once), the woman who waited tables at the bar on the corner (ah, Milady’s, I miss you), and then there was the Greek guy in the LES outside Katz’s who ended up coming to my birthday party several months later.

Asia, notsomuch. Granted, Singapore isn’t too bad. There are cultural issues embedded in this, of course. In general, Singaporeans don’t greet each other with “Hey, how’s it going?” or any question that is so open-ended. Greetings tend to be short and sweet and predictable. Have you taken your dinner yet? Yes, already. Or No, not yet, in 30 minutes I will. End of conversation. Hear the extrovert’s brain die of asphyxiation, gasp gasp.

Coupled with the need to talk to people to recharge and feel energized is FOMO. In those moments that I am alone, but around people, at a restaurant, mall, park, wherever, I can see other people talking and connecting and all I can focus on is the fact that I am not doing that, and therefore I am missing out on this experience. Forget the fact that I have done that already 4 (or more!) times this week, not including my very socially interactive JOB — no, no matter that, because even so, I can’t handle the fact that on any given night when what I need most is to re-charge (read: be around people), all these other people are out there, right in front of me, talking and exchanging ideas, and I’m not a part of it. Ouch. 🙁 All I want is some other-human energy, man. Is that so hard?

Anyway, I’m also a mature (usually) adult and I recognize that hey, there will be times like these. That’s life, dude. And like I said, I’ve got my coping strategies. They’re not perfect, but they work alright, and I’ll be fine. I’m lucky enough to live in a place with lots of other people around.

Sidebar: several years ago, when I was in my 2nd year of teaching, I lived and worked in a very suburban (nearly rural) community in the Bible belt of the Lower Mainland. I didn’t know anyone outside of where I worked, and everyone there was married and with kids except me (well there was one recently divorced guy, but he wasn’t very friendly, or social). Anyway, let me tell ya — I struggled that year. Holy HELL did I struggle. I was out every night, walking, sitting at the coffee shop, hanging around in the mall (woot — 9pm on Friday in Safeway), trying to make small talk with strangers. I was desperate to be social and it was a painful year. Looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t get arrested for being the creepy, overly-friendly and smiley 20something at Starbucks every night…

That’s not to say that sometimes I don’t need my own time to just be alone. Heck yeah, I need that. I just find that I don’t need (or want) it when I’m tired. I’m getting better at recognizing when I do need it — like many extroverts, I often find myself so over-scheduled with social events that I don’t listen to my body/mind until I’m ready to drop. Because I get energy from all these events and people, I completely forget that I need time for myself until I suddenly come home one day to realize I haven’t done laundry in 3 weeks and there’s no food in the fridge, and I can’t remember how it got to that point. I could really relate to this article about how extroverts often don’t pay attention to the signs when we’ve crossed the line into exhaustion. It’s one of my personal goals this year to learn to recognize this better in myself.

I digress. Well, I’m not entirely sure where I was going with this… except to resolve that I am going to aim to always have plans on Friday night. Not wild party plans — I’m well past that — but just sit and talk to someone plans. Anyone game?

And if not, you might see me wandering around the reservoir or the mall… me, the creepy, overly-friendly and smiley 30something (hah! barely!) trying to chat up strangers about which wine they’re drinking, their favourite walking route, or how long this road construction is meant to last. Heck, tonight I even talked to a stray dog who was pretty intent on following me halfway home. He wasn’t rude, but he wasn’t what I needed either. He was the bruschetta on the menu.

… and I’m still searching for pizza!

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