When I feel like myself, I can’t help but strike up a buoyant conversation with the guy who just sold me a slice of pizza. Or a random guy at the Turkey Trot. Or the woman sitting behind me and my kids in the IMAX theater.
(And these are just examples from the last 72 hours.)
On the spectrum of extroverted to introverted, I’m so far to the left side that I’m dangling off the edge, hanging onto the cliff with one hand — while asking anyone within earshot if they’ve seen any good movies lately.
I know, and admire, and greatly love, many introverts. I’m married to one of them. I’m best friends with another. Some of my most beloved musicians are introverts. In fact, I think my 4 favorite bands in the world all have introverted frontmen. I must be drawn to my inverse in some way.
I greatly respect people who can refrain from saying everything they’re thinking. I admire anyone who is quietly self-possessed and doesn’t worry about what others think. And I’m relieved that everyone in the world is not an extrovert. I would not enjoy living on a planet that was primarily populated by people with my penchant for prattling on and on. (Or for that matter, my annoying affinity for alliteration.)
But restraint and introversion are not where my soul usually leads me. I see the world as a staging ground for impromptu adventures, including the cheapest and most unpredictable adventure you can embark on — spontaneous conversation with friends, acquaintances, and strangers.
I get this trait from the DNA of both my dad (who chats up strangers with ease) and my mom (not an idle chit-chatter, but an avid wordsmith and sterling conversationalist). I combine my dear dad’s love of jovial small talk and my dear mom’s love of in-depth discussion.
When you’re willing to look any stranger in the eye and strike up a random conversation, the entire world opens up. No mundane transaction will ever be either mundane or transactional again. Every cashier payment, every bank deposit, every library checkout becomes a chance to learn a little more about your fellow nomads on an earth full of wanderers.
The first exchange I ever had with someone I knew was gay took place when I was 22 when I chatted up an 18-year-old woman named Sharelle in a New Mexico visitor’s center. Because I threw myself into the conversation like the extrovert I was, Sharelle opened up about being recently excommunicated from her family when she came out to them. Totally cut off by her parents. Unthinkable. And, I can only imagine, unbearable to experience.
It was a seminal encounter for me, hearing about the wrenching trauma that defined Sharelle’s young life. It moved me. It opened up my small world. I was changed.
Ever since I ventured out on my own after high school, when I have been awake and myself (which I periodically am not), I have savored being born an extrovert. A large majority of the formative experiences of my adult life would not have happened if I had been unwilling to leap off the ledge of myself into the arms of a new exchange or a new experience.
Extroversion, for me, is a wild adventure. It makes every day a kaleidoscope of color and light, refracted through the prism of a thousand different interactions with a thousand different fellow pilgrims on this planetary pilgrimage.
I want a chance to know as many people as I can with my one little life. All the introverts (if they’re willing to let me chat them up). All the extroverts (who are usually happy to chat).
People are, by nature, fascinating.
And I am, by nature, fascinated.