I have always been an overthinker, so when it came time to consider parenting, I was overwhelmed by all the choices—first with the question of whether or not to have a kid, then with the decision of when to start trying for one. Pregnancy brought on a new round of decisions— could I eat some sushi if it was cooked? Which people should I tell the news to and when? Should I risk running baby names by anyone or guard them like the contents of a teenager’s diary? The social aspect of parenting was also a big adjustment for me. On the one hand, having a baby makes for a pretty good excuse to turn down an invitation to an awkward dinner party. On the other hand, parenting thrusts you into an array of playdates, park interactions, and birthday parties, which can be overwhelming when social interactions leave you feeling drained.
I’ve also always needed alone time to recharge, and becoming a parent meant I was suddenly with another tiny person during most of my waking and some of my sleeping hours. While said tiny person won’t force you to engage in banal small talk about the weather, they are almost always within chatting distance. A baby can make it difficult for you to do something as simple as go to the grocery store alone.
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People like me often identify as introverts, although the exact definition of introversion can vary. In broad terms, introverts draw energy from alone time and an inner world, whereas extroverts draw energy from social situations and the external world. People who are somewhere in the middle are ambiverts. I teach at the college level (something that has taken me a while to get more comfortable with), and while I enjoy teaching and interacting with students, after a class I often feel drained and in need of time to recharge. I once chatted with an acquaintance at a small party about teaching (this was before I had kids, when I had a lot fewer excuses for avoiding parties). “Don’t you just walk out of the room completely energized after a class?” he asked. That’s the difference between an extrovert and an introvert. At the party, I just stumbled through some awkward response to the guy and then probably made an excuse to head home, since I could check off “accomplished some socializing” on my mental to-do list.
I’M NOT HERE TO MAKE SMALL TALK: CHARACTERISTICS OF INTROVERTS
Since the world often feels built for people who aren’t exhausted by the thought of attending a networking mixer, discovering you are an introvert can be a relief. You don’t feel weird for avoiding team projects or for feeling relieved when some plans are canceled—you have a legitimate personality type! Susan Cain’s excellent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking discusses introversion in great detail. The book identifies some common characteristics of introverts, including that they often:
- Prefer less external stimulation (are more comfortable in quieter spaces or socializing in smaller groups)
- Enjoy solitude
- Dislike conflict
- Prefer listening to talking, and tend to think before they speak
- Prefer deep discussions to small talk. Introverts are good listeners, make good friends, and enjoy discussing subjects that interest them. But living an involved inner life can lead to a lot of overthinking and second-guessing. And since raising children is not exactly a quiet and conflict-free existence, becoming a parent can pose just a few small hurdles to introverts.
REASONS BESIDES INTROVERSION WHY YOU MAY AVOID SMALL TALK
Introversion is different from shyness (feeling awkward or worried during social situations) , and extreme discomfort and fear in social situations can sometimes be a condition known as social anxiety disorder. Some people (like me) are both shy and introverted—having to attend a birth class full of people I didn’t know made me both anxious (Who will be there? Will I be called on to answer questions? Will I have to role-play something?) and drained of energy afterward. Shy extroverts may feel worried they will say something awkward during the class but may be energized by the social interaction when it’s over. Outgoing extroverts are the ones volunteering to act out a birthing position in front of the class and trying to get all their newfound friends to meet up for dinner when it’s over. I’m guessing that last one does not describe you, but if it does, welcome, and thank you for being willing to draw attention away from the rest of us at times.
“Babies Don’t Make Small Talk”
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There are some people who have personality traits that can have some overlap with introversion, like highly sensitive people or empaths. If you are unsure whether you are any or all of these, there are several internet rabbit holes of explanations and Buzzfeed quizzes just waiting for you to search them out.
IS THIS BOOK FOR ME?
So, who is this book for? You need not be a card-carrying introvert. (Besides, the cards are sometimes hard to acquire because no one wants to meet in person to hand them out.) You might be an introvert only in certain situations, or you might consider yourself more socially awkward or anxious than introverted. You’ll probably find the content of the book more interesting if you are a parent or are on the road to parenthood, but if you have recently taken up an interest in reading about parenthood for some other reason, that’s okay too. This book might be for you if some of the following statements sound familiar:
- You often let your phone calls go to voice mail and then text people back.
- You’re still thinking about the time two years ago when a server said, “Enjoy your dinner,” and you replied, “You too.”
- The thought of hosting a party makes you anxious.
- The thought of attending a party makes you anxious.
- The thought of you being the center of attention at a party where you must wear a crown made of diapers kind of terrifies you.
- You’ve been told you are quiet, shy, or you should “come out of your shell” like you are some sort of ocean-welling mollusk.
- You’d prefer not to be overscheduled and are sometimes relieved when plans are canceled.
- Whenever you attend a networking event, big holiday gathering, or particularly rowdy knitting circle meetup, you need some downtime at home afterward.
- You are preparing for parenthood like it’s coursework for a PhD by reading every book and website on the subject you can get your hands on.
- Some of the rest of the statements on this list apply to a friend or loved one, and you are trying to understand why they spend so much time hiding in the bathroom.
But most of all, this book is for people looking for some comic relief. Parenting is hard; sometimes laughter can help.
Excerpted from “Babies Don’t Make Small Talk (So Why Should I?).” Copyright (c) 2021 by Julie Vick. Published by The Countryman Press, a division of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Julie Vick is the author of “Babies Don’t Make Small Talk (So Why Should I?),” a humorous advice book for introverted parents navigating the early years of parenthood. She has written for New Yorker Daily Shouts, Parents magazine, Real Simple, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. She teaches writing at the University of Colorado Denver.