When I saw two friends at the end of the grocery aisle, my stomach clenched.  I hadn't seen them in months, so I should have been grateful for a chance to catch up.  But I was picking up supplies for the afternoon of cooking I had planned.  I find bulk cooking saves me effort during the week and builds up my introvert energy reserves.  I hadn't allocated energy for social time that day, and I feared the minutes spent in conversation would risk the energy reserves I was trying to accumulate.  I didn't want to make that trade.

It's easy to see how introverts might get accused of being antisocial.  I just revealed a time where running into friends caused minor anxiety.  It would be easy to assume I shun people and social time.  But that's not true.  I cherish quality time with friends.  I value meaningful activities.  I enjoy surprises, and most of the time adapting comes easily to me.  If I come across as antisocial, it's because my energy levels are threatened or low.

The feeling when my reserves are depleted is raw and desperate.  I avoid it at all costs.  When my energy levels are threatened, my brain jumps into a scarcity mentality.  I calculate the bare minimum actions I must do.  I drop pleasantries and ignore social cues.  My primary goal becomes protecting my reserves.

Running out of energy is a daily fear.  I know there are much larger concerns in the world, and I have no intent to diminish those.  But on the small-scale, personal level, running out of energy is my greatest fear.  To protect myself, there's a constant calculation in the back of my mind about how much energy remains.

So no, introverts are not antisocial.  But yes, next time I see you at the grocery store, you might find me behind the cereal boxes.

Even though I felt betrayed by my own body language, I had to laugh.  My coworker and I had an awkward exchange that was a textbook-perfect example of how personality type affects communication.  Although I didn't ask her afterwards, I'm willing to bet we saw the same situation very differently.  I’ll share the same story twice to decode my introvert body language.

The Extrovert’s Version of the Story

I stopped my coworker in the hallway to ask how she wanted our team to celebrate her upcoming birthday.  She always arranges a birthday lunch for each of us, so I wanted to do the same in return.  Her response was kind of weird though.  She tried to deflect the question and writhed sideways as if physically uncomfortable.  I just wanted to do something nice, so I’m not sure why she responded so strangely.

The Introvert’s Version of the Story

An outgoing coworker stopped me in the hallway and asked me an unexpected personal question.  It was a perfectly reasonable question, not too intrusive, and came from a place of genuine caring.  But I wasn't ready for it.  As I thought about my answer, I unconsciously turned to the side almost as if to protect myself.  I realized this a few moments later and turned back, hoping I didn’t seem disinterested or rude.  The combination of the unexpected attention, answering a personal question, and our close proximity made me feel vulnerable even though my coworker radiated nothing but warmth.