“Sure you don’t want to come? We’re just going to Pierce Street in Costa Mesa.” Sara zipped three-inch-heeled boots over Lucky jeans and tucked her long, shiny black hair behind her ears. She delivered the invitation with such genuine warmth that I felt guilty for the lie I was about to tell.
“Thanks anyway, but I have a paper due tomorrow.”
This was an excuse. She knew it and I knew it. This was the roommate dance we did every Saturday night while I was studying at Cal State Fullerton and Sara was working at a local mortgage company. She and her friends piled into our apartment off Culver and Barranca in Irvine, curling irons and MAC makeup in tow.
That was 2005, and I never did go out with the crew to Pierce Street Annex, or Cabo Cantina, or any other Orange County bar or club frequented by students and Sara’s fellow loan officers. While they were out doing Jaegerbombs, I was home in sweatpants reading “Love in the Time of Cholera” and eating spicy tuna rolls. I’d been that way since moving from Long Beach in 2002. I enjoyed hanging out with friends, but I preferred smaller groups and settings with much less noise. Oh, and I liked being in bed by 11. Introverts desperately crave peace and quiet. It’s air to us in the same way lively conversation is to extroverts.
My first few years in Orange County were overwhelming, and I felt isolated. I was content being the one person on New Year’s Eve who chose Red Box rentals over parties. Of course, Sara and I spent many lazy Saturday mornings together, filling up on shumai and egg tarts before catching an early movie or having a “Sex and the City” marathon on our couch. I cherished these moments. Relaxed days allowed for true bonding between friends and a chance to recharge the batteries.
That’s the definition of an introvert. It’s not about being anti-social or shy, but about how we lose and gain energy. An extrovert can recharge between happy hour and last call. Introverts, however, find social settings draining. We’re more likely to meet friends for a quiet brunch and spend the rest of that day (and the next) in solitary confinement. This is why most introverts have few, but lifelong, friendships.
When every social interaction is the physical and emotional equivalent of running a marathon, we introverts are choosy about how to expel that amount of energy. It’s an inconvenient personality trait.
Being myself in Orange County was difficult at first, especially in Laguna Beach where it felt like no one could resist the siren call of Lapu Lapus at The Royal Hawaiian. I was a college student living away from my parents in a county that offered every form of culture and entertainment. The 22-year-old in me wanted to fit in, to go out and flirt, and be young. But the introvert in me wanted to draw the blinds and hang garlic in the doorway.
I found the balancing act increasingly difficult.
Fortunately, life got easier. First, I met some great friends at Cal State Fullerton who were similarly inclined. We were English majors and attended Shakespeare productions at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. We drank vanilla chai at the CSUF coffee cart and debated “The Faerie Queene.” That sort of thing drained my fuel tank, but it felt like a perfectly acceptable ratio of energy lost to friendship gained. With these friends I didn’t have to assume the extroverted persona that I created as a teen to deal with social situations. That patchwork of insincere small talk and forced smiles fooled no one and always left me tired and annoyed.
The second thing that changed my attitude toward Orange County was Edgar. In Sara’s ongoing effort to keep me from becoming a hermit—she harbored a fear of finding me in a “Gilmore Girls” trance, eating Chunky Monkey, surrounded by cats—she introduced me to this goateed man with dark eyes and a dry sense of humor. On our first date, he took me to The Blue Beet in Newport Beach where we talked about everything from Charles Dickens to the show “The OC.” We walked the peninsula and dug our feet into the sand. On another date we strolled hand-in-hand down Marine Avenue, eating Balboa Bars and watching boats in the harbor rock with the current.
This was the Orange County I’d missed while I was home alone. It looked like sandals and capri pants. It sounded like finches warbling in Back Bay. It tasted like frozen bananas dipped in chocolate and rolled in sprinkles. I wasn’t brave enough to seek out this slower, softer side of Orange County on my own, but with Edgar I was eager to explore. Maybe it was the endorphins of a new relationship, but I also think it had to do with Edgar’s simultaneous love of these quiet places and his ability to sell me on them. He’s an ambivert—a gifted salesman and a lover of cerebral solitude—and the perfect middleman on the introvert-extrovert spectrum.
He proposed in 2007, and we married in 2008. Our 19-month-old daughter loves nothing more than to splash around her inflatable backyard pool. But soon, I hope she’ll dig sand crabs, roast marshmallows at Huntington Beach, and feed the ducks at Craig Park, just like her parents did.
I still mostly live a quiet, introverted life. I work from home, so I now actually look forward to social occasions that would have caused me angst in my youth. Parenting comes with birthday parties, Gymboree classes, and endless other outings that give me a reason to put on the boots, break out the curling iron, and slather on some makeup.
Sara should be proud.