Peopled Out: Introverts On the Road

Last year I met someone who makes me look like a wild, outgoing, party-animal who never met someone who wasn’t an instant friend. No, I’m not naming names, but I was hiding in a quiet area reading, trying to get away from people for a while, when Superintrovert walked in at a very brisk pace, glanced around, and sat. After a minute I looked up and asked, “Peopled out?”

“Oh yeah. Peopled out.” Ten seconds later Superintrovert departed for truly solitary climes. I felt a little bad, still do, about speaking to Superintrovert and possibly chasing said person away. Then I returned to my book and basked in being alone.

In defense of Super, we had driven together from Texas and would drive back, in a vehicle without a separate trailer to hide in. And Super has darn good reasons to intensely dislike crowds, even happy, polite and 99.99% harmless* ones such as you find at LibertyCon. And yes, 700 people at LibertyCon is not a crowd to DragonCon veterans. For those of us who prefer our fellow man widely spaced and encountered at the times and places of our own choosing, 700 is a crowd. Especially when a well-meaning friend singles us out in front of a bunch of sci-fi buffs in a crowded hallway and says “This person is why [successful series] got started! Wave so they can recognize you, [Superintrovert]!” Heck, I’d be on hands-n-knees crawling toward the exit.**

I’m an idea person, not a people person. When I was between job and grad school, I went for weeks at a time only interacting with people at my place of worship, the airplane rental counter, and the grocery store. I timed laundromat visits to avoid other humans. Oh, and the ice cream store, almost forgot that. Otherwise I read, wrote, read, went hiking, did archive research, and read. I loved it. I’d been peopled out the last few weeks on the job, and doing a secondary project for the county historical association. Cold-calling people to do telephone interviews is close to my idea of purgatory.

I realize that if introverts ran the world and set the norms for social behavior, humans would have gone extinct, oh, back in the Paleolithic. The first time someone suggested settling down in a village to farm, we’d have fled for the brush, never to be seen again. That’s not good for expanding and maintaining the gene-pool. And introverts can spend a little too much time inside our own heads, especially those of us with vivid imaginations. Writing fiction is addictive, in that I find it pushing things like work-work or doing bookkeeping out of the way. Not good. I control fiction worlds. I still need to be able to cope with the Real World.

One way to keep sane when spending long days with groups of outgoing, chipper, or frustrated/tired/confused/fascinated/excited people it to insist, and pay for if necessary, a room to myself at the end of the day. Barring an emergency, when I shut the door, I’m not to be disturbed. Likewise if I’m out walking just before sunrise (I have yet to encounter anyone from my groups at that time, unless you count the chronic jogger a decade or so ago. He was seriously strange—nice gent, but strange. I wasn’t in charge, so not my problem.)

I may just sit there, or lay on the bed and contemplate the ceiling tiles. I may read, or write down the day’s notes in a more expanded form, or study up for the next day. But I am alone, in the quiet, hiding. And recharging my battery. Where many extroverts are energized by being with people, socializing drains me. And if I’m translating/interpreting and socializing? It is a rare evening I don’t have a headache from brain overload. I have pure awe for professional simultaneous interpreters.

Another protection is knowing there is a quiet hiding place, such as at LibertyCon. No one was in the pool, no one needed the space, the outer door remained unlocked during the day, and so people could hide. There was a sort of unspoken agreement that strangers nodded in acknowledgment and then went back to ignoring each other, rather like the Diogenes Club of Moycroft Holmes, or two cats pretending neither is really there.

I’ve found that the older I get, the more physical space I prefer to have around me. This means that crowds make me even edgier than they used to. I suspect my experiences with the mass of people at Stephansdom in Vienna on Christmas Morning plays a strong role, as does the awareness that crowds can be targets for mayhem. Even well-meaning, large numbers of people all moving toward a single relatively small exit can be dangerous if someone trips and the people around them can’t spread out. Am I a bit paranoid? Yes. I’m also the one who almost tripped.

Jen, who runs the Cakewrecks blog and Epbot, found that wearing a mask helps ease her crowd anxiety. She is up with Superintrovert in many ways, and her analysis of why the mask helps is intriguing. Basically, if she can’t see the enormous mass of people, and the sounds are dulled a little, the crowds don’t pass her “threshold of anxiety” (my words, not hers). She’s not ignoring her surroundings, just far less hyper-aware of them. She also has an outrider to help get her out of trouble if she starts experiencing difficulty, or if someone gets a little too “Oh Hi you’re the famous person from the internet SQUEEEE!” two inches from her.

Me, I’d rather just hide every so often and practice sitting quietly with a book, or just sitting quietly. Volunteering in the ConSuite worked too, because I was too busy doing useful things to be anxious about people. Yes, that was me, hiding behind the lasagna.

*I’m not certain any Con with Col. Kratman, John Ringo, Michael Z. Williamson, and a whole lot of military personnel, fans of sharp, pointy things, and generally interesting people can be more than 99% harmless. YMMV

**Details changed to protect the innocent, the enthusiastic, and the author.

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7 thoughts on “Peopled Out: Introverts On the Road

    • Yeah, I should have stayed quiet and pretended to be engrossed in the book once I saw who it was and knew the individual was (at that moment at least) harmless.

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