As a writer, I’ve always had very introverted tendencies and felt compelled to go beyond what I was comfortable with in order to fit in. When I first moved to Kauai a few years ago, I lived “up Kalihiwai Ridge” on the North Shore and was surrounded by lush mountainous ranges, complete pitch darkness in the night, and often total isolation. There were regularly three-day stretches when I didn’t talk to or see another soul. My landlords liked their privacy as much as they afforded mine, and given the seclusion of our location, there was no reason anyone would travel up our way unless they were purposefully coming to see us.
I could not have been more happy.
When I had my daughter, I began to feel the isolation that many mothers experience in the postpartum phase. It didn’t feel good. I could sense the tendrils of depression beginning to beckon. Yet, a part of the isolation was not only familiar, but also something I craved.
Because of my new role as a mother, I now had a more socially acceptable reason to be by intorverted self.
Six months after my daughter was born, my husband and I were chatting in the kitchen and I mentioned how before we met, there would days on end when I wouldn’t even have to use my voice aloud, because being by myself, there was no one to talk to. Our romance was a quick one, where we chose to conceive two weeks into knowing one another, so for as much time as we were devoting to learning about our daughter, we were also getting to know one another better, too.
“I think I’m introverted,” my husband said. I raised my eyebrows and shook my head.
“No, you’re not,” I said gently, but definitively.
“Yes, I am,” he responded, leaning his head to the side, curious as to why I was so certain he was not. “I like spending time by myself.”
“Enjoying time by yourself is not the same as being introverted,” I observed. Over the year and a half we’d been together, I had witnessed how my husband came alive in the company of other people, often chatting away animatedly until the wee hours of night, before I had to pry him away telling him it was time to go. He very much enjoyed running the AirBnB in our home, meeting new people all the time, and being readily available to converse about anything they wanted whenever they wanted. He loves hosting and often wants to plan big gatherings at our house.
He thrives on human contact.
“When I was living in that one-bedroom place before we moved in together,” I shared with him, “there would be days that I didn’t leave the house, and I was perfectly happy about it. When I eventually did go out, I’d feel super anxious about being in public again.”
“Oh,” he realized. “I don’t feel like that. I love being around people.”
“I know,” I told him. “I think you’re an extrovert with introverted tendencies.” He smiled. He liked the way that sounded.
“I am the opposite,” I followed.
After our daughter was born, I became a full-time parent and regularly, it would just be the two of us the majority of the day. I would wave my husband off in the mornings when he left for work and hug him when he came home right before her dinner. The ongoing AirBnB guests in our home frequently left early in the morning and returned late at night in order to pack the most into their vacation. While we had friends nearby, they were also new parents and busy with their own lives.
I would take my daughter to Kalihiwai Beach, near our home. It was just us on a towel. Staring out at the sea, playing in the sand, wading into the water. We might see a family nearby or wave hello to a friend, but I rarely called for anyone to join us. When I took my daughter to run errands “in town” as we called it, I focused on her amidst what we needed to do. If there were a social gathering, I could now easily bow out of it without feeling guilty, by saying that I had to “take care of the baby” which was true, but it wasn’t the whole truth.
As an introvert, sometimes simply being around other people feels like a substantial emotional investment. It’s difficult for me to get over that initial hurdle of leaving the house to be in that shared space. I often don’t answer the phone if someone calls and feel nervous when I have to return a voicemail. And, it’s not because I don’t love the friends I have in my life. It’s simply because I’m somehow built differently, more inward, a person who loves leaning into solitude rather than socializing.
While intellectually, I know people don’t expect anything of me other than wanting to share in happy memories, I have historically had a difficult time leaving the nest that I have built. Now, with my own fledgling, I feel that I am suddenly more justified in being the way that I am. People get it that I’m busy with baby. They undersand I might forget to text back because of a sleepless night. There’s a lot more compassion to my current life stage.
However, I am also very aware that I do not want to place the burden of my introversion on my daughter. I do not want her to feel responsible for me in any way, especially as she grows older and becomes more self-sufficient. I do not want to smother her or stifle her independent tendencies. as my mother did for me, and I also know how valuable it is to connect with other mothers in an effort to build a healthy support system.
So, I am conscious of the ways I show up. I push myself to be more open. I still make plans with friends and family. All while delicately balancing the art of showing my daughter that it is okay to be precisely who you are and to honor what you uniquely need.
I am grateful for how my daughter fits into my life, because it seems now the world has a greater understanding of why I might be shy. Why I want to be on my own with her to do my own thing. Why my friends may not hear from for stretches at a time.
I love wholeheartedly, but a lot of the time, I love the world from afar. And, maybe that’s perfectly okay.