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Swift: When introverts are friends, long distance might be better than face to face

Tammy Swift, columnist. The Forum

FARGO — I have a friend, “Pearl.”

Pearl is delightful, hilarious, compassionate, thoughtful and generous-hearted. We have magnificent texting conversations, in which we routinely crack each other up with our lively one-liners and banter. She just “gets” me as few others do.

We frequently talk about getting together for coffee, bookstore browsing or some sort of social outing, but here’s the deal: Even though we live in the same community and we talk about getting together at least once a month, we almost always cancel our well-intentioned plans at the last minute.

Do we secretly loathe each other? Are we all talk and no walk? Should I glower and fret because we almost never have face-to-face time?

Hardly. We both understand each other perfectly. We mutually respect each other’s need for space and anxiety over social obligations.

You see, we are both introverts. We know this about each other, so we don’t take it personally. It’s just the way things are when introverts are friends. We need connection, although we prefer limiting it to a few close and trusted individuals.

We can be fantastic at empathizing with others and offering sage philosophical advice. A witty introvert can even be the life of the party. The problem is getting him to show up at the party in the first place.

The extroverts of the world will find this bizarre. Why not attend an arena concert, crash a networking event and hobnob with the movers and shakers of the world? Maybe because we are more shakers than movers.

Social interaction, small talk and large crowds exhaust us. We do need human connection, as long as that connection takes place:

  1. Via text, email or the occasional letter delivered via carrier pigeon;
  2. In our own homes, so we don’t have to awkwardly banter with baristas, fend off store clerks who ask, “What can I help you with today?” or risk being cornered by a roving TV reporter for a “Mortified Man on the Street” interview.

In fact, Pearl is so anxious about offending her fellow humans that she won’t even go to rummage sales with me. “I feel so bad when I walk away without buying anything!” she says, as if every homeowner has a close sentimental tie to every chipped Gerald Ford mug and 1970s blow comb in their inventory.

But such is the way with the introvert. We can be highly observant, empathetic, sensitive and hypervigilant to our environment.

Maybe it’s because we’re watching for encroaching threats, which include but are not limited to: carnival barkers; rude people who barge in line; loud talkers; dog fights; large tribes of horn-blowing clowns; trash-talking comedians; roving karaoke contests with guerrilla recruitment tactics; speech teachers; Jumbotrons; speed-dating events; Pamplona Running of the Bulls recruiters; leadership training that requires role-playing; job interviews; bottle rocket fights; runaway monster trucks; screamcore; schmancy galas filled with confident socialites; computer-generated animation that looks too life-like; air horns; “Saw” movies; street performers who think it is hilarious to recruit people from the audience; presidential fitness tests; and daisies that grow too aggressively.

So now you can imagine the challenges when two introverts are friends. Even if we visit each other at home, that means one person has to leave behind their cats, their favorite teacup, their knitting, their book and their favorite spot on the couch.

This will also cut into their valuable time spent binge-watching the latest Jane Austen miniseries on Britbox or listening to public radio. Not to mention if you are accosted by a monster truck or roving street performer on the car ride over.

Nope. Too risky. It’s best to stay at home with your afghan and your chamomile and Mr. McWhiskers.

Maybe you and your friend can agree to watch the same show at the same time, while texting pithy one-liners to each other. That’s it.

Now where did your Mr. McWhiskers put your knitting?

Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.

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