Saying Yes When the Heart Says No   

December 1, 2022 § 31 Comments

By Heidi Croot

The boisterous host running a women’s networking event in downtown Toronto smiled as she waved her index finger about the room. “And don’t think we don’t know,” she said, “that some of you are already scheming how to duck out early.”

Was she prescient? That’s exactly what I was doing.

Knowing laughter rippled through the crowd.

My fellow “introverts” I would later realize.

It was a label I would eventually claim with everything in me. But not before a good friend ghosted me for my solitude-loving ways.

I last saw Carol more than 30 years ago. We were hanging out in my back yard on a sunny summer day. It had been my turn to host, and I’d dragged my feet in bringing it about. Carol was full of energy and chatter that Saturday afternoon. While happy to be with her, waves of fatigue were preventing me from keeping up.

I was “scheming how to duck out early.” 

At the time, I’d just started a new job as corporate communication manager for big tech, and life was intense, a daily performance. The constant intersection with people—in meetings, in the hall, in my office as I waited on high alert for the inevitable knock or ring—separated me from myself. I typically left work empty and overstimulated. Most evenings and weekends, I wanted only to duck my circle of family and friends and drift. Read. Write in my journal. Exchange the occasional stray word with my fellow-introvert husband.

When many years later I resigned from corporate life and went freelance, clearing space for me to swim in the creative writers’ pond, I finally found my clan. On my first writers’ retreat in Ontario’s Hockley Valley near Orangeville, our instructor laid out the rules: no talking before noon. We were to conserve our energy for our writing.

No talking! Permission for interiority! Reprieve from small talk! 

Early morning light found me in my plain, small room, bent over the keyboard as I tapped into the writer’s zone, a creative energy humming through the walls as my fellow writers up and down the hall tapped into theirs. 

It was as if I’d been away, and now I’d come home.

More recently, along came the pandemic offering a retreat of a different order. This time, government laid out the rules. Yes, I said, of course I would do all I could to protect myself and my family. Yes, by all means I would maintain a safe distance. Yes, you bet I would stay home.

Survivors’ guilt aside, I was suddenly sleeping better. Waking up happy, calm, expansive. Measuring time with words on the page.

Brain science explains the dopamine effect, “the ‘feel-good’ chemical that affects the brain’s pleasure center,” says reporter Roxanne Roberts in her Washington Post article, “Meet the introverts who are dreading a return to normal.” Extroverts need more of it to be happy and energized, she says, whereas for introverts, “a little dopamine goes a long way, and too much of anything can be exhausting.”

Introverts, she adds in my favourite line, savour their ability to go “for hours or even days without speaking to another person.”

It’s not that as an introvert I can’t socialize. Oh, on good days I can hold my own and with aplomb—especially if the talk dips below small to deep. It’s that with every passing hour, a little more of my energy slides down the drain like flat champagne.

Which is what was happening on that long ago summer afternoon with Carol.

She resisted when I hinted it was time to bring our visit to a close and scolded me for not making myself more available. I saw myself in her rebuke but lacked the insight to explain, either to her or myself, why my desire to be alone wasn’t personal. So, there we were, two friends on opposite sides of the introvert-extrovert continuum. Me, unable to mirror her effervescence. She, unable to mirror my reclusiveness. Neither of us having the words to bridge our divide.

She left and never came back. When it dawned on me why, I grieved her absence (still do) and blamed myself for being a bad friend.

Now I know I wasn’t so much a bad friend as someone who just didn’t know who I was. Who had more to learn about my obligation as a card-carrying introvert to stop saying yes when my heart said no. 

I may have found an enduring way to meet that obligation. I discovered it in a dictum most writers with writing goals know well: butt in chair. For some, a cracking of the whip. For me, a permission slip to stay home with my keyboard. 

I wear the three words on my T-shirt like a talisman. Like a shield.

No, wait—more like a self-embrace.

I miss the face-to-face visits with friends. My people-pleaser self still pressures me to say yes to every invitation. Life is short, this side of me says sternly.

Meanwhile, my writer self, the engine of my beating heart, gently hooks my chin with her finger, turns my face to hers.

Your butt in the chair, if you please, she says. The one friend you need to please is me. And life is short.

___

Heidi Croot is an award-winning corporate writer and a Brevity Blog editor. Her creative work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Brevity Blog, Mud Season Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Ontario’s Northumberland County and is gathering courage to query her memoir. You can reach her on Twitter.

§ 31 Responses to Saying Yes When the Heart Says No   

  • My heart says “Yes, yes, yes” to this piece.

    Misunderstandings between introverted and extroverted friends abound when each doesn’t understand the other’s basic drives. And unfortunately, in our society where extroverts hold the cultural power, it’s too often the introvert side that gets labeled abnormal, wrong, rude, aloof or even sometimes mentally ill.

    Thanks, Heidi, for describing this divide and kudos to you for caring for yourself. I plan to link to this post in my newsletter, Introvert UpThink.

  • Relate, relate, relate. Friends, work, people-pleasing, lacking vocabulary and understanding of who I am as an introvert. You get me, Heidi.

  • I love this. It struck a chord within me I didn’t realize was waiting to be struck. Where oh where can I sign up for the Ontario writing retreat?! Mandated silence until noon among a group of people who appreciate it? I want to go to there!

    • Heidi Croot says:

      Thanks, Sally! Alas, Barbara Turner-Vesselago stopped running her Hockley Valley retreats some time ago. But she describes her five precepts in “Writing Without a Parachute.”

      • Thank you for letting me know about the demise of the retreat… alas… and the book! Really, Heidi, great essay. Good luck with your query. Keep writing. Your style and your content are lovely.

  • youngv2015 says:

    This describes me! I need generous doses of solitude. I understood a lot more about myself after reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

  • Linda MacDonald says:

    Another beautiful and relevant prose from Heidi.

  • cynthia518 says:

    As a fellow introvert, this resonated. Thanks for writing this especially today when I really needed to hear it’s okay.

  • Amanda Le Rougetel says:

    It’s a bit like a language: I speak more extrovert, but am learning the vocabulary and tone of introvert. In a multi-cultural world, the more languages we can understand (even if we don’t speak them all) the more welcoming will be our world. Thanks for this beautiful essay, Heidi.

  • Sally Hannon says:

    Another beautifully written and thoughtful piece, Heidi! I so love reading your work and learning from your insights.

  • dkzody says:

    I don’t do evenings and I now tell people, right out, sorry, I can’t (won’t) come out after 4 pm. Otherwise, I’m up for anything and love seeing and doing and being with people. But I want to be home around 4.

  • I have always felt anxious around people, yet I loved forty years of teaching high school and college, and you were corporate communication manager? You get how our professions are ironic—do I mean ironic?

    • Heidi Croot says:

      I have had that irony pointed out to me before. I was saved by the amount of writing involved in that role. That made me laugh–thanks!

  • BJ says:

    Yes, thank you!

  • Brilliant essay, Heidi. My heart whispered, “She understands how it is.”

  • josiejo54 says:

    Thank you, a little bit of guilt and sorrow that I am missing out left my mortal coil while reading this, and a little bit of FO flew in my entire being – calmly.

  • Deb French says:

    Bravo, Heidi!
    I can relate. You’ve put into words something I’ve not totally understood about myself. We can push ourselves to be ‘in the frey’, belong to ‘the team’ but we’re not doing anyone any favours, are we? For years I enjoyed talking with people in my work and was good at it, so I was told. But introverts can learn to fit in. Just sometimes we feel we have better things to do. We need to be challenged with some deeper, ‘juicier’ stuff. Daily dribble can be boring. But that’s not to say we don’t love people.
    Thank you for your wisdom and Thank you for your blog. Merry Christmas & Cheers!

    • Heidi Croot says:

      Love that it made sense to you. Marcia Yudkin points out that extroverts “hold the cultural power,” and you’re right: introverts push themselves to fit in…and we succeed, partly because we do love people. But too much pushing comes at a flat-champagne cost.

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