At Northwestern College, and all throughout the town of Orange City, it is a common practice to smile, wave, or say hello to every person you walk or drive past. This is something that everyone praises; it’s part of the appeal of the small Christian college in this small Iowa town. People say things like, “Everyone is so friendly here! Everyone says hi to you when you pass them” or “This place is so welcoming and everyone’s nice!” I love the idea of this. I think it’s wonderful that you can be greeted with so many smiles in one day.
But in actual practice, I hate it.
Why would I hate something so small and wonderful as saying hi to everyone I pass? Because I’m an introvert. Specifically, a shy introvert. I am very much a wallflower, and I like it that way. I hate having attention drawn to myself. (In my next post I will talk about different types of introversion and why all introverts are not the same as me.)
For example, the other day, I was walking out of one of the buildings on campus and the chaplain was walking in. I was in an especially introverted mood and I just wanted to seem invisible as I walked back to my apartment where I would shut myself in my room and read. I paced my walking so that we would pass through different sets of doors at the same time and not have to make eye contact or say hi. I also looked at the ground, pretending I didn’t notice him. It would have worked, except he paused at the door, just so he could say hi to me as I walked out.
Who does that?
I was trying to avoid social interaction, but he actually stopped to be able to say hi. I returned the greeting and practically ran back to my apartment to avoid any more social interaction.
In case you aren’t sure what I meant when I said I was an especially introverted mood, below you can see an example of an introvert in an introverted mood (on the left) versus an extrovert in an introverted mood (on the right).
Another time, I was walking through the music hall and I saw someone that I’ve had some conversations with, but not many. As I walked down the long stretch of hallway, I debated whether I should acknowledge him or not. This is the worst—when you kind of know someone, but not well. What if he thought it was weird to say hi to him? What if we weren’t on the friendship level of saying hi to each other when we pass each other around campus? (Introverts tend to have a level of friendship that they have to reach before they want to say hi.) What if he was in a bad mood and didn’t want to be cheerfully greeted?
I made up my mind to make eye contact and smile.
And he looked away!
This was even worse!
Now I had to figure out why he didn’t smile or say hi and why he looked away. In reality, he probably was not paying attention and didn’t notice me smile at him. It would have made no difference whether I smiled or looked at the ground.
But that’s the thing. To most people, saying hi to everyone they pass is completely normal. But to introverts, especially shy introverts, it is complete torment.
Am I alone in feeling this way about these kinds of interactions? If you’re an introvert, I’d love to hear from you. And don’t worry, since this is the Internet, you won’t have to smile and nod!