The Coming Conflict Between Introverts and Extroverts

When the social floodgates open, not everyone will want to use their newfound freedom in the same way.

Black and white image of two women walking arm in arm, one with a big smile on her face, the other with a coat over her head, obscuring her face
Kirn Vintage Stock / Corbis / Getty

Once, we had a wide world of socializing opportunities: crowded bars and intimate dinner parties, stadiums full of strangers and weddings full of everyone we loved most. The coronavirus pandemic made many of those things dangerous or impossible, and shrank our social worlds dramatically.

Now, as vaccination rates go up, the floodgates of social life are poised to reopen. But not everyone will want to use this newfound freedom in the same way. Even before the pandemic, introverts and extroverts disagreed on the optimal size and frequency of gatherings. Post-vaccine life may breed some misunderstandings between the extroverts who want to dive headfirst into a sea of other people and the introverts who are excited to see their friends but don’t want to pack their schedules so full that they have no time to just be.

To get a sense of how these personality types are planning to approach life after the pandemic, I had a chat with two of my colleagues—Amanda Mull, an extrovert, and Katherine Wu, an introvert.

We talked about what they are and aren’t looking forward to, how they would design the new normal if it were up to them, and how we can be kind to our friends who aren’t ’verted the same way we are.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Julie Beck: If we had an imaginary scale of introversion and extroversion with extreme introvert being negative 10, and extreme extrovert being positive 10, and zero being true neutral, where would you place yourselves along the scale? And why?

Katie Wu: I don’t appreciate the connotation that I’m the negative one. I think I’m a negative six.

Amanda Mull: I would say that I’m a positive seven.

Wu: Amanda, I’m really curious why you consider yourself an extrovert and why you picked seven.

Mull: The difference between being energized or drained by being around other people and being energized or drained by being by yourself seems like the most reasonable way to think about that. I just really like being around other people. I like being in a crowded bar. I like being on a subway train and just looking at everybody. I like people-watching. I like the energy of a situation in which there are a lot of people talking and being together. I find myself recharged by those situations. And it doesn’t mean that I dislike being by myself at home. There are definitely times for that.

Before the pandemic, I would spend a couple of hours at home, and then I would just get bored and want to go walk around or sit at the coffee shop or see if a friend wanted to get a drink. It would just start to psychologically wear on me if I was alone for too long. It seems I pretty classically fit the idea of an extrovert in that way. I picked seven because I think I am a more ardent extrovert than the average person who fits that mold.

Beck: Katie, why did you pick six?

Wu: Amanda, when you were rattling off all those things that give you energy, I felt my heart rate go up, which was a big flag for me that I have identified my correct allegiance. I see myself as an introvert not because I’m a complete agoraphobe or don’t like people, but because I don’t derive any energy from being around other people. It drains me. I recuperate and gain energy from being alone.

I appreciate the presence of other people. But I think what I desperately need in my life is the ability to control when I am around them. I don’t like being surprised by crowds. I like being able to set aside alone time and know that for these next three hours I don’t have to deal with anyone else. I think small talk is the tax that God exacted for the privilege of human speech.

Beck: Damn. That was real.

Wu: Yeah, I can’t do it. Honestly, I really need a haircut right now. And half of the reason I haven’t gone is because I want to wait until I’m fully vaccinated, but also because I’m really dreading getting asked a lot of questions by my hairdresser.

Mull: I used to have a hairdresser who I really loved talking to, and sometimes on Friday afternoons if work was slow and nobody was in the salon, I would go get a blowout just because I wanted to chat with him for half an hour.

Beck: Do you think that the pandemic has changed where you fall along that scale or made you reassess your number?

Mull: I have realized that I’m even more of an extrovert than I originally thought. Before, there were times when I would get overscheduled and think, It would be nice to have some more time to spend at home. And then I got a lot of time to spend at home, around no one, and I realized that I was scheduled like that because that is genuinely what I like.

Wu: I miss social interaction, but I’ve been very fine this year. I really miss hugging, like, five other people, but I have no desire to see all of them at once and no desire to go to a bar or a party. I could do this for a while.

Beck: What did you most hate about pre-pandemic life, and what did you most love?

Mull: I hate scheduling things. I like to be able to call my own shots. If I want to go do something for dinner, then I’m going to go do that. Having to keep appointments and dates straight is hard for me. That’s probably not related to me being an extrovert; that’s probably related to me having ADHD. So I like the simplicity of things now.

The thing I liked best about pre-pandemic life was being able to go sit in a bar on a Saturday night, and it’s just full of people. You’re with your friends, and you’re gossiping, just catching up on the Sturm und Drang of everybody’s lives. I want to go sit in a bar when it’s cold outside and it’s warm inside, and the front window gets clouded up. And everybody’s having a good time, and there’s good music. I really, really miss the energy of that situation.

Wu: So many things had become background noise to me. I never really enjoyed being in crowded places or waiting in lines. But they’re not things that really bugged me on a daily basis. I do feel like there was a decent bit of social shaming of people who didn’t want to rally and go out all the time. I would feel guilty about that. And that’s something I don’t miss a ton.

Beck: What have you most hated about pandemic life? And what do you most love? Setting aside the virus and the possibilities of illness and death, which we all hate.

Wu: Yeah, I definitely hate those things. I really do hate not being able to touch and see other people. I actually didn’t live with my partner during the pandemic until a few months ago, because we got married and then he moved away to do his medical residency. For the first six or so months of the pandemic, I was alone in my apartment with my cats. That was a huge bummer. And now I’m so grateful I have him, but I have only him pretty much. I miss my friends. I miss my family.

Mull: Something I really appreciated about the last year is that I really like to cook, which is not a great extrovert activity. This time has given me the space and opportunity to explore that hobby a little bit more, and I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing experiences that I enjoy in order to do it.

The thing I hated about the past year the most is how cut off I’ve felt, not just from my friends and family but from the community as a whole. I live in New York, where the community life is—you’re sort of cheek by jowl with everybody. I was a regular at lots of places around my apartment. I saw lots of people I knew just walking around, going about my day. I really, really miss the serendipitous bump of energy I was constantly getting off of that. I can’t wait to see the people I used to see whose names I don’t know. I want those people back.

Beck: If you were the boss of everything, how would you design life as we emerge from the pandemic?

Mull: I think we had built a lot of unnecessary structures and expectations before the pandemic. What would be nice for everybody is to have some more flexibility and self-determination—flexibility in how people interact with work, flexibility around how people choose to navigate their social lives. If somebody finds it draining to go to the office every day, or if somebody has a particularly long commute, we know how to navigate around those things to make life more humane for more people. So why don’t we just do that? That is the big thing for me: Why would we discard the flexibility we found in the past year? We should keep it.

Wu: I agree with that. I surprised myself by realizing how much I actually did miss having an office to go to this past year. I would love to meet my co-workers in person; I haven’t done that yet. But it’s not just about that. I really liked having separation, for work-life balance. And it’s going to be tricky to navigate that post-pandemic because now we’re all in this blurred state. But I hope conversations about that continue.

Beck: What do you think the norms should be as we’re getting back into socializing—norms around how we make plans, or norms around how and whether we rekindle the relationships that got back-burnered during the pandemic?

Mull: Something that has been valuable about the past year is that we have talked more explicitly about boundaries. My friends have been forgiving of one another when somebody has a concern that means they choose not to participate, or when someone is just not feeling up for something. We have all learned to be more generous with one another and more mindful of one another’s psychological needs. Why not be just as mindful of one another in the future?

Wu: I think this is more specific to me than necessarily an introvert thing, but I don’t do super well with people who just want to play plans by ear. Like, “Let’s meet up later.” I can’t put “later” in my calendar. Communication is super key.

I also think a lot about what crowded gatherings are going to look like after this. I genuinely wonder if people are going to have trouble shaking the fear of, Am I actually standing six feet away from this person? I’m curious to see how that plays out in all the public spaces I inhabit.

Beck: You guys are both very considerate and thoughtful. But in a broader sense, do you think there might be any conflict between introverts and extroverts in how they want to approach post-pandemic life?

Wu: I have a lot of friends who are now planning their post-pandemic hooplas—weddings that were postponed or canceled, super-belated birthday parties, graduation parties, all these things that we missed—and I want them to be able to celebrate those things. But I’m also slightly panicking about the 15 weddings I’m going to get invited to in the span of four months. It’s a lot of pressure. I love all these people. But I personally need space between events to recharge.

I always think of—this is so nerdy. I played a lot of Pokémon when I was little. There were those very evolved Pokémon who would do a really big move and had to spend the next couple of turns recharging. They couldn’t make another move. That’s me. I can’t do it!

Beck: You’re just super-evolved.

Wu: It feels like people are going to try to make up for all the lost social time, and I don’t think I’m equipped for that emotionally.

Mull: Definitely in my mind, I’m like, Can I go on vacation? Can I go see my parents? Maybe I should have a party. I can see that people in my position who are really excited to be able to do those things might feel like people who are reluctant to do them, for non-safety reasons, are maybe being a little bit rude. I could see those miscommunications happening.

Beck: Let’s do a lightning round of: Are you looking forward to these things?

Working in an office. Yes or no?

Wu: Yes.

Mull: Yes. A couple of days a week. I don’t want to go back every day.

Beck: Eating at restaurants?

Mull: Yes.

Wu: Yes.

Beck: Travel?

Mull: Yes.

Wu: I hate travel. And now everyone’s gonna hate me.

Mull: I will say that it gives me a ton of anxiety to have to plan a trip. I like being there. But I really dislike the logistics aspect of it. So I can agree with you on that.

Wu: If I love you, I will travel to see you, hands down. That is always worth it to me. But I find travel stressful a lot of the time. I think it’s largely because of the ambiguity and too much novelty.

Beck: Public transit?

Wu: No. I was a staunch biker before the pandemic.

Mull: Yes. I took the subway yesterday for the first time in more than a year to go get a root canal. And I was genuinely so glad to be on the subway.

Beck: Parties?

Wu: Nope.

Mull: Yes.

Beck: What about visiting other people inside their homes, not necessarily in a party situation?

Wu: Yeah.

Mull: Yes.

Beck: What about big gatherings, like concerts or sports games?

Wu: No, no, no.

Mull: Sports, yes. There’s too much standing at concerts.

Wu: Concerts are the few big, moshy-type things that I have enjoyed going to in the past. But I can’t do more than a couple a year.

Beck: Are you looking forward to the end of Zoom meetings, or the great decrease in Zoom meetings?

Wu: This one I feel kind of conflicted about. This is terrible, because I’m a reporter, but phone calls and video calls do scare me. I always have to psych myself up for them. I would much rather see someone in person than over Zoom. But Zoom is also super convenient sometimes; I’ve liked having the flexibility.

Mull: I have not used Zoom that much. I have probably two Zooms a week. I really like talking on the phone. I appreciate Zoom as the tool it is, but I am glad that we won’t have to rely on it as much.

Beck: Are you looking forward to the end, or decline, of Zoom happy hours?

Wu: Yeah, it is really hard to have a happy hour on Zoom. I’ve been to a lot of awkward ones. But I super-appreciate the effort. Is it better than no happy hour at all? Probably yes.

Beck: But only just.

Mull: I have not been to a purely social Zoom happy hour since May 2020, I think. As soon as my friends were able to go sit in a park or sit outside of a bar or something, we started doing that instead. I cannot imagine a scenario in which I will opt into a purely social Zoom happy hour ever again. Unless there’s another pandemic. I think that they are a poor excuse for the real thing.

Wu: If I come to a happy hour, there’s a 99 percent chance I came primarily for the free food. Can’t do that over Zoom.

Beck: You can’t. That’s true.

Mull: Gotta provide your own snacks.

Beck: Okay, great lightning round. Do you have closing thoughts on how we can bridge the introvert-extrovert divide as we emerge into the sun again?

Wu: I have been slightly sad to see the stereotype that all introverts want quarantine to last forever. That seems oversimplified to me. I think we all want the pandemic to end and to see one another. I love my extroverted friends.

Mull: I think that to bridge the gap, what has worked so well, at least among my friends, is just being really explicit and direct with our needs and our concerns. I could imagine a future in which, if I had an introverted friend and they needed to cancel something because they just needed to recharge—if they told me that, it would be totally fine. I hope that we can continue to be really explicit with each other about our needs and our boundaries.