Self-care for introverts is often nothing more than tuning out from external activity for a while—even if it might look like rudeness, or worse, to others.
In late August 2018, The Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating article headlined “Sorry, Pal, I Don’t Want to Talk: The Other Reason People Wear AirPods.”
AirPods, if you’re not familiar with them, are Apple’s wireless earbuds. You can use them for obvious reasons like listening to music or to callers on the phone.
But as the Journal article pointed out, you can also use them not to listen.
Or, especially, anyone.
Introverts’ Side of the Story
Case in point, as described in the article: Zach Miles, who had graduated earlier in 2018 from Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma.
He told Journal reporter Rebecca Dolan that he frequently uses his AirPods to intentionally keep people at a distance.
“If you’re not in the mood to talk to somebody, or if you’re in a hurry,” he said, “it gives someone a visual signal.”
Jasiel Martin-Odoom of Brooklyn told the Journal that he often gets frustrated when people around him fail to observe what Dolan characterized as “the stay-away rule.”
Heading to a friend’s house one day, Martin-Odoom noted, “I had my AirPods in, because it’s an UberPool ride—I don’t want to talk to anybody.”
One of his fellow passengers, though, did.
“The fact that I had to pause my music and had to engage in a conversation—which we both could have avoided if she’d just also put her headphones in—bothered me.”
Backlash from Misperceptions
As you might imagine, Miles and—especially—Martin-Odoom took a verbal beating in some of the reader comments accompanying the Journal piece.
Words and phrases like “arrogance” and “a real piece of work” and “narcissistic” and “anti-social” came pouring out.
One reader said:
“It astonishes me that the current generation is so convinced that they’re more virtuous than past generations.”
Another comment concluded that Martin-Odoom was:
“just too good to listen to another human being.”
Yet the headline for the piece—in particular, the “I Don’t Want to Talk” phrase—was precise and accurate.
The headline did not say, for example: “I’m Too Good to Talk to You.”
Nor did it say “I’m Too Virtuous to Talk to You.”
It only said “I Don’t Want to …”
Tuning Out Is Self-Care for Introverts
To this day I’m still hung up on this article—and the prevailing thinking and attitudes behind it—because, while I don’t (yet?) use AirPods (I’m always lagging behind on these things), I engage in the types of behaviors described in the article all the time.
Practically every day, in fact.
It’s almost always subconsciously, even automatically. But it’s every bit as deliberately.
At halftime of my son’s soccer games, for instance, I walk away from the other parents and go sit somewhere by myself for five or 10 minutes.
To take a break from the sideline refereeing that’s been going on, and to avoid the inevitable armchair analyses of how the boys are playing.
Am I being anti-social?
I just don’t want to take part.
When I bring my daughter to gymnastics each week, I look for a spectator chair that is off on its own or, failing that, one that is next to a person reading a book. Like I will soon be doing, if all goes well.
Am I being rude?
Do I think I’m better than everyone else?
I just don’t want to talk.
I want to read.
A Time and Place for Everything
Now, let me be crystal clear: There’s a time and place for everything—socializing included—not to mention a time and place for devoting one’s full attention to the outside world.
In the Journal article, for example, another interviewee expressed shock that in his informal Facebook poll of 80-plus of his friends, only 9 percent said they find it acceptable to wear AirPods during meetings at work.
The guy should be appalled that the figure is so high.
But the many tricks of the daily introvert existence aren’t automatically self-absorption or self-centeredness, either. They are often simply self-care.
Self-aware self-care for introverts.
And they’re just a simple want—nothing more.