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On Being an Extrovert in the Time of Social Distancing


Queer people have often turned to found family and groups of people for stimulation. Here's how one gay extrovert is coping. 

On day 5 of self-isolation, when I posted my 46th "Which Sondheim Song Am I" InstaStory or the third day of my "Live From This Side of My Kitchen" Instagram Live, you were thinking, We get it. You have a camera on your phone -- doesn't mean we need to see that!

You're fatigued by my extraness. I can feel it. I try to turn it off but before I know it I am frantically tweeting my opinion of each moment of Tiger King, because OMG!

Anyone on Bumble knows there are several different ways to classify people's personalities. Everyone puts one in their profile (usually that INFJKLOL one) hoping someone sees it and is all "OMG, this guy's so self-aware" and gets super hot for you, but few of us have read any more than the broad overview of these types, because who has time for that?

I'm no personality expert, but I do know two things for sure about myself: (1) I am an extrovert, and (2) I require absolute isolation to recharge.

During normal days (not this weird dystopian fever dream mix of Mad Max and EdTV we're currently in, but normal days, like ... February), I would wake up, make myself some coffee, and take my dog, Fisher, for a walk. Fisher and I live alone, but in a Los Angeles apartment complex, so I generally see a few other people in my building or directly outside. I always say hi. If I know someone to be a non-engager, I simply smile and nod. Respect their bubble, but still make contact.

Then there are usually two or three people with dogs that Fisher has relationships with. I say hi to the dogs first, then to the owners, and, depending on previously established relationships, I chat with them about things I know they like to discuss. There's the gentleman who only wants to talk about his dog, Flora, never about himself. I don't even know his name. I've decided it's Arthur, but there is no proof of that. I usually comment on Flora's lovely coat and something about today, like, "Does Flora like the new floral bed down the block?" or "Did Flora poop yet?" (Side note: The poop talk seems aggressive to people who aren't dog people, but I have learned from previous interactions that "Arthur" experiences tremendous relief whenever Flora poops regularly).

Then there's another dog, Mavis, and her owner, Lily. Mavis could take or leave Fisher, but Lily the human adores him. So I usually never even talk to Lily or Mavis in my own voice; I talk to them both in "Fisher's voice." Fisher's voice is a cross between Wallace Shawn and an obtuse "cut for time" Fred Armisen SNL character. Lily loves it and always talks directly to him, which I appreciate. She really gets the game of the bit. After dog business, we head home.

Inside, I take a long, quiet shower and recharge. I get ready, respond to a few individual text messages and group threads, post or reply to something on social media, do my due diligence on my dating apps (quip quip, emoji, face palm) and off to my first stop of the day: Starbucks.

I mobile-order, but that doesn't mean I'm in and out. To Barista 1: "Hi, Sally, you cut your hair?" She did. Then I flirt with Barista 2, Stevie. Stevie ... is not interested. I don't make it weird, but I do just the right amount of flirting that says, "I know you know I like you, and I know you don't like me back, but I'm not giving you the power to dim my light," all while trying not to be a weirdo, to which Stevie usually smiles appreciatively.

I work in the theater, so my day-to-day involves a lot of large personalities, people whose jobs are also a version of their personalities, even the introverts (lighting designers -- lighting designers are all introverts). Despite the myth, not all actors are extroverts, but those of us who are, well ... you know.

I take up a lot of space. All day. And people notice me. All day. And most people like me (not all day). I fill the unfilled spaces. When Cara accidentally mentions the same disease Mary Lou's sister has, I change the subject. When Frank forgets the new girl's name is not Alicia, it's Alecia, I jump in with a quick bit, probably a "Liza With a Z" joke, and we breeze past. And if people can't speak for themselves, I try to speak on their behalf. I fill in the spaces between the awkward silences, the uncomfortable relationship dynamics, the uneasy new people, the annoying never-go-away people, the over-talkers, the under-talkers.

After work, I often meet a friend for dinner or go to a group fellowship situation and balance myself with people who fill me up without effort (God, these people are important).

I realize that I might sound like one of those obnoxious office party planner types or the loud friend of a friend you wish wasn't at the group hang. But I'm not. I actually blend in quite well. All this "extraness" I just described, you only see it when it's aimed in your direction, and I try to only aim it at you when you need it.

I can't speak for all extroverts (remember, I never read even one full article), but for me, the past few weeks have been hard. Not because I hate being alone or doing nothing. Quite the opposite. I love doing nothing. Doing nothing is how I charge my extrovert battery.

Remember when you got your first smartphone and they told you not to leave it on the charger once it's at 100 percent? Well, extroverts are like smartphone batteries. We easily recharge to 100 percent, but if we don't use that charge throughout the day, we're going to explode. In isolation, I have too much time to charge my battery and not nearly enough opportunities to use that power in a healthy way so I don't explode.

So next time you see your "most extra" friend, Lucy, going live on Facebook for the third time today to show everyone the almonds her Aunt Linda sent her, or your friend Angel trying to get you to respond to his fourth "Ask Me Anything" story, don't roll your eyes or hate-watch. Try to remember that Lucy and Angel are just finding their pandemic style of burning some of their extrovert battery remotely in a way as satisfying as how they'd usually spread it around the world, making it a fuller place.

Ryan O'Connor is an actor/writer/director known for his appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Big Little Lies and his autobiographical musical, "Eat, Pray, Vote." He can be found on Instagram at @ryanoconnor81.

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