I belong in a cave, I get that. I am not a people person. I thrive on solitude, and I suffer [terribly] amidst chaos. I am a bonafide, to-the-bone introvert. Many of my friends don’t believe that about me, because over the years I’ve learned to adapt. I can be sociable, and even charming, at times. But it’s always a struggle. I need my alone time, and in this modern world that is a very hard thing to come by.
People drain my batteries, they suck the energy right out of me. They don’t mean to, but nonetheless that is what they do. As my energy depletes my patience depletes proportionately. Little irritations become big irritations, and annoyance becomes anger. I am not alone, there are millions and millions of introverts roaming this planet. If you aren’t one yourself then you know many who are, whether you recognize them or not.
Statistically I don’t know if introverts outnumber extroverts, I would guess that it’s the other way around. I think that we are probably the minority. I am also noise-adverse. To be perfectly clear I am “manmade” noise-adverse. The only real exception to that is music (but it’s the strings and woodwinds that soothe my soul). Percussion and brass jangle my nerves. Rhythm and flow works, discordant notes don’t. Cellphones jar my sensibilities (one of the first things I did before leaving the States was to destroy my cellphone, I will never own another).
Am I an easy person to live with? No, I am impossible to live with. I’m sure that is a huge reason why my relationships never seem to work out. My ex-wife was an extrovert who loved noise and people. We were total opposites in every way imaginable. She would often have two or three televisions going at the same time (in different rooms), while she was playing the stereo and talking on her cellphone. She could never understand my annoyance (and anger).
I don’t do shallow. Your banal conversations bore me to tears. Your reality television programs make my gorge rise. And your pop music sets my teeth on edge. Your ignorance and lack of curiosity often staggers me. Petty drama and confrontation threaten my very sanity. When my batteries are fully charged I can just manage to tolerate these banalities, but when they are depleted I need to escape and find refuge [quickly]. When unable to do this both depression and anger fight for ascendency. I know that most of my fellow introverts feel the same way.
My ex-wife complained “bitterly” to her friends that her husband was a “deep thinker”. In her extrovert mind that was a crime that bordered on sin. Given her OCD tendencies and controlling nature she sought to overhaul my psyche. The more I retreated into my cave, the more ruthlessly she tried to drag me out. Whereas, had she given me more time in my cave to recharge, she would have wound up with a much better husband. But extroverts don’t allow introverts that courtesy. I took it until I couldn’t take it any more, then I left (the final retreat).
My work has always involved a high degree of stress and social contact. Military service, sales, sales management and banking management. Without sufficient decompression time these jobs took their toll. There is no solitude (or privacy) in the military. Sales and sales management meant that I was “always” on stage and banking management with its long hours and weekend commitments didn’t provide enough recharging time for an introvert. Home should have been the logical refuge from the chaos, but it never was with an extroverted wife and her household to-do list. Parties, social interaction and household chores left zero time for recharging, and just further depleted my already dead batteries.
Is it the extroverts fault? No, of course it isn’t. But it’s not the introverts fault either. With good communication many (okay a few) couples learn to accommodate the differences. We never did. What started out as a marriage ended up being a twenty-four year sadomasochistic endurance test. We both felt as if we were the victim: to her I was the emotionally unavailable husband (true), and to me she was the hormonal, manic, bitch of a wife (also true). The more she pursued the more I retreated. The more she tried to control, the more I rebelled. We are much better off apart; that it took so long to do something about it is a pity. I am still the introvert, the man who is impossible to live with. But at least now I am reasonably happy and free.
It is still very hard to find adequate alone time. I am travelling the world full-time (and have been doing so for the last four years). This has been a joint venture with my brother, my best friend, and even though we think very much alike it still doesn’t allow for the amount of alone time we both seem to need. We share expenses, so that means sharing a hostel or local hotel room and all meals. We are joined at the hip 24/7 and that (on occasion) pushes the limits of patience. We are fairly tolerant of one another’s petty annoyances, he more than I, as I must frankly admit (if I am to be truly honest with myself). But even so I still feel the urge to crawl into my cave on occasion (and it feels selfish, but also necessary for survival). When I can’t do that I feel the old anger rising up in me.
Fifteen years of Buddhist training has curbed this tendency somewhat, but my old nemesis anger still raises his ugly head from time-to-time. Maybe it’s time to resume formal training after a long absence. The conundrum (or koan) appears when I am fully recharged and energized: at that point I openly seek social interaction, and will go out of my way to insert myself into a social situation. But for the most part I dream (fantasize) about a mountain cabin, a roaring fire, a good book, soothing music, a tasty single malt Scotch whisky and a GREAT dog (and a premium cigar would fit nicely too). Now that’s the kind of cave I could live in. It is good to know one’s self, but it is not good to dwell on it for too long. In reading various biographies of 18th and 19th-century explorers I find that many shared the very same traits that I’m talking about here (coincidence?). I’ve always felt that I was born a century or two too late.
I woke up this morning in a particularly grumpy mood. Lack of sleep, depleted batteries and the need of some alone time all contributed to this foul state-of-mind I think. Or maybe it’s just time to hit the road once again, we’ve been here in Huaraz, Peru, for about a month and a half. It’s a beautiful small town, with a population of about 170,000 people, but it’s very congested and noisy (lots of manmade noise). Another jungle stay might just be what the doctor ordered, or maybe a quiet riverboat cruise on the Amazon. Fewer people and more nature. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Just thinking about it makes me feel better already. Fewer people, no cellphones, no computers—just the tranquil sounds of nature.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer and World Traveler