Extrovert versus introvert: The roommate struggle

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Among the biggest challenges in this volunteer experience was figuring out a way to adjust to living with a roommate. The final two years of college, I didn’t have a roommate. As a junior, my roommate transferred to a different room the first week of the semester and I never got a replacement. During my senior year, I was able to live with a family I met through church. I lived with other people, but it wasn’t the same thing as having a roommate.

But the focal part of this new experience was living with someone much older than me. The best way to explain why this relationship was so challenging is that we were polar opposites. This was truly my introduction to the differences between extroverts and introverts. She was a solid extrovert, and I was a bottled up introvert.

Leslie liked talking about random things and jumping from one topic to another. I liked having some consistency and being able to see the connection. She talked for the sake of talking, it seemed, sometimes without a clear direction. I prefered having more quiet moments and being able to think.

She attempted to engage me in conversation and, if I wasn’t interested in the topic, I didn’t really make much of an effort to help her out. She tried one, two, three or more angles to learn about my day and how things were going. And I flashed back to my encounters with Mom after school. I wanted time to to myself, and Leslie wanted to talk. It didn’t go very well.

And I wondered if I was attempting to be manipulative and controlling by my pickiness of when I contributed to a conversation. I was particularly sensitive to questions and topics that seemed very superficial. It didn’t seem worthwhile to wade through the shallow topics. I realize now how important those are to establish areas of common interest and to lay a foundation for a stronger relationship. But I didn’t understand that at the time.

Leslie may have been about 35 years older than me, but there was no question she had more energy than I did! And that bugged me, too. She was eager to go explore things, meet new people, and just do something. I often felt drained.

There were periods where the ongoing battle of depression really flared up. And that was especially obvious as I struggled to find my place in the volunteer community and with my role at the paper. I found it interesting to see how the various departments worked together at the newspaper, but there were times when I wondered what I was doing there and how much of an impact I was really making.

I didn’t particularly like being stuck in an office job, working at a desk or in front of a computer all day. And sorting through a bunch of background noises at the office, trying to tune out when someone in the office next to mine played music loudly or hummed along, all of those got on my nerves. And just like my time at school, I absorbed the inconveniences and annoyances at work, out in public, and then needed time to calm down afterward. At the time, though, I continued to think that I was merely super happy and polite at work while failing to find ways of bringing that positivity with me to the apartment.

The transitions from work to apartment (much like previous experiences from school to home) were challenging. I typically walked to the office, especially since it was about a mile down the road. So walking to the apartment after work should have assisted with my transition. It should have helped me release some of the tension. I enjoyed these walks: looking at the signs and all the people passing by; marveling at the crowds of people that were able to cross together before the crosswalk countdown finished. I was also amused and impressed to see women using umbrellas without any sign of rain, but as a way of protecting against the sun. Something I hadn’t encountered before. I used this time to think, too. But I didn’t take advantage of this period to prepare myself, offering a pep talk for what I would encounter and how I wanted to react. Perhaps the short distance wasn’t enough time for what I needed.

There were little things in our small community that bugged me and caused irritation, things that sounded weird to vocalize. They seemed petty and insignificant, things I should have been able to ignore. And yet, I couldn’t. That irritation welled up inside. I realize now that many of these issues were likely sensory-related. All I know for sure, though, is it interfered with our relationship. I didn’t feel like I could explain myself in a satisfactory way or that it was a problem I could share. Mostly, I felt like these problems were things I had to handle on my own.

About six weeks into my job at the paper, I remember writing in my journal during a lunch break. A very long journal entry! I just got everything out on the page, and then I called Sr. Paula to ask for her help in carrying out the next step. If I didn’t tell her in advance, I knew I would talk myself out of raising these issues. So I called her to establish some accountability.

November 21, 2006

Alejandra is the only one I encounter daily who is my age. Is that my problem at the apartment? I’m sure it’s a major factor, but is that really it? Am I indirectly/subconsciously trying to be controlling? A different type of control when choosing what types of conversations to respond to? I want to be left alone a lot more recently. According to this morning’s homily, we need to be among others. “Where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.” Together we are the Church, the Body of Christ. Individually we are special and important, but we lack the entire view of ourselves when by ourselves.

Maybe I should initiate an “intervention” of sorts tonight. It would be therapeutic for me to get everything out in the open and to share what bothers us about community life and maybe we can brainstorm solutions.

Conversations: Honestly, I feel like most of the conversations we have are pointless or superficial. I think it’s mostly my own problem I need to deal with, but it’s there. When Leslie tries to engage me in conversation, I don’t respond because 1) I don’t feel like talking; 2) tired; 3) sarcastic remark I’m trying to avoid sharing; 4) have no interest in the topic; 5) don’t understand the point of what you’re trying to dig at.

I’m not touchy-feely. Mom used to say that when I was a little baby I didn’t like to cuddle with her. I’m just not like that. Nudging me in the elbow or side gets on my nerves. I get on my Mom about that, and I’ve been holding it in here.

Right now I can’t really explain how I feel. To put a label on my emotions, it would be “nothing,” “numb” perhaps. I don’t feel happy and I don’t feel sad. I just feel like I’m existing. I’m not saying I like it or that I’m satisfied with it. That’s just where I am.

I like being around Megan (Sr. Paula’s cat). She’s not expecting answers.

I’m a totally different person at the office than at the apartment. It’s like middle school and high school all over again. At school I always tried to be happy and patient with everyone. At home, I knew I could relax and let my guard down. Which generally meant I took my pent-up emotions out on my mom. Dad never got that because he came home from work after I had a few hours to cool off. I’m trying to transfer my patience and friendliness from the office to the apartments, but something gets in the way. I’m sure I need an attitude adjustment somehow, but I don’t know where to begin.

Leslie, I admire your ability to start each day as a new day. I really do. No matter how much I have lacked in communicating the day before, you begin the day as if nothing happened. I love that.

I have always liked being by myself. So the desire for alone time is nothing new for me. Maybe the frequency of it is different now and more intense. I don’t know the true meaning of it deep down.

(After our conversation that night as a community, I wrote some more.)

At the end of lunch today I called Sr. Paula and mentioned the meeting and that I would need help doing it. It wasn’t easy, but thank you Father for helping me through and nudging me to do this. I do need to learn to open up more. Once again, how else will people learn about me? It did feel good to get things out in the open and to explain myself and share where I’m coming from. We didn’t get everything, but we covered the important things.

So I help them realize that we need to end dinner by getting up and taking my dishes to the sink? Interesting. (They would just continue talking if I didn’t clear my place, prolonging the clean-up process and my ability to retreat to my room.) Yes, I’m introverted. I really don’t like not saying things, but at the same time, sometimes I have nothing to say.

(Sr. Paula offered an explanation between introverts and extroverts, differences I didn’t realize at the time. But it made more sense why the external approach bugged me more. I saw it as people not taking the time to think before speaking.)

Introverts think aloud and problem solve out loud, hoping others will chime in with the answer. While introverts problem solve internally, and then share the answer. I guess I need to learn to let go. I hold in the sarcastic remarks or the stupid comments, but then I also need to learn how to swallow. As if I’m holding my breath, hold it, keep holding it. Nope, can’t stop just yet until I’m about to explode. While holding in these comments, I’m getting more and more agitated that I just want to be alone so I can breathe, unwind and calm down.

I need to learn how to live with other people and to communicate. Good communication. I’m so used to being on my own that it’s hard to transition. That goes with the spiritual life, too. I need to learn how to be dependent to a degree. Not so dependent that I’m helpless and can’t do anything for myself. But that I truly realize how much I need others.

I need to start each day fresh. Like I heard with teaching - each student has to start the day with a clean slate. Teachers can’t hang onto what happened yesterday. Fresh start. So the student-teacher relationship is not limited and stunted. Otherwise, it will seem like the student can do nothing right and how does that build self-confidence and self-esteem?

How can I be happy from work to apartment? What can I do to improve that transition? I need to first of all release the negative grudges I have toward Leslie. Why do I automatically feel let down when I see her? She’s done nothing wrong. Each encounter has to be perceived as the first time. I need to start each day fresh.

(What I meant here: It’s not that I didn’t like Leslie as a person. It’s just some of the things she did or the way she approached things bothered me. Rather than letting go of what was experienced from the previous day or week, it continued to linger. Those small grudges and attitudes. I continued to tense up and be on edge, rather than beginning the day with a clean slate.)

I found another journal entry that I think helps explain some of the internal process for identifying an annoyance and yet not being able to address it.

Yesterday I drove up to Ventura with Leslie. I am amazed we survived the trip. She was going on and on about every little thing we passed. How do I tell her to stop all the excess talking? I just want to enjoy the view. I guess I need to flat out say so. That’s hard for me to do, but if it keeps me from boiling inside and then exploding I need to give it a try. How I hate speaking up like that.

To her credit, Leslie was excited to show off where she lived, pointing out all the little details. But it ended up bothering me more than being helpful. From her perspective, though, she probably didn’t know how to handle my silence. Maybe it would have been better to ask her to rein in the history unless I asked about something specific.

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