Life is easier in binaries.

Classifying people into "us" and "them," "left" or "right," "right" or "wrong" — that really simplifies things. The problem with widening boundaries is that life is more complicated than simple labels. People will defy the narratives imposed on them. Some people are us and them, like us and unlike us at the same time. I bring this up to explain why I find misconceptions about introverts interesting. Introvert is already one half of a label, so it shouldn't comprise everyone every person who is quiet, withdrawn, socially awkward, has few friends, or thoughtful. The word is problematic, but I still use it and identify by it.

That's why, as an introvert, I'm annoyed by how easily people conflate introversion with shyness.

Introversion is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as the “action of turning the thoughts inwards, i.e. to one's own mind or soul, or to the contemplation of inward or spiritual things” and the Dictionary of Psychology defines it as a “predominant concern with one's own thoughts and feelings rather than the outside world and social interaction.” The emphasis is on self-reflection over external socializing. This does not preclude socializing, but indicates that the introvert has a natural predisposition to rumination.

Search on Google “define introvert” and the first option you get is “a shy, reticent person.”

The problem I have with defining introverts as shy is that it implies there's a problem inherent to introversion. I'm an introvert and I'm not shy, but I used to be. The difference in how I am now is quite stark from how I used to be. When I was a shy, gangly teenager, I couldn't approach people to talk with them unless they were close friends. Strangers were out of the question, but I could reluctantly initiate conversations with acquaintances. Shyness is timidity, nervousness, and anxiety.

I assure you that after putting on antlers and dancing in front of my school, I am not timid about how I present myself to strangers. Foolish and weird, sure, but I like attention and enjoy making new acquaintances. A younger me wouldn't be able to endure the spotlight. Although I still have “shy traits” such as getting drowned out in group settings, hating small talk, and not enjoying parties, these traits are indicative to my partiality to meaningful interactions. I'll talk a long talk with a friend over blithe small talk with people in class. I dislike trivialities and like deep connections.

The difference between introverts and shy people is that introverts dislike extroverted activities and shy people fear those activities. Introverts have the choice to withdraw. They can handle socializing, but they prefer not to. Shy people don't have that choice, since they struggle to socialize. Introverts enjoy time alone and shy people are only comfortable alone, so the key difference is that introverts “recharge” and shy people “escape.” Preference over necessity.

There are degrees to both introversion and shyness. Some shy people struggle a little with new situations and meeting people, but are otherwise competent socially. Introverts may not always prefer being alone. I tend to choose socialization over being alone. I spend enough time alone that I truly enjoy spending time with other people and enjoying new activities. Nevertheless, after a long day with friends, I still like taking a quiet walk. I still need a chance to catch my breath before plunging back into action and activity.

A shy extrovert may seem like an oxymoron, but it can exist just like a gregarious introvert. The problem with binaries like introversion and extroversion is that they obscure anomalous behaviors. The shy extrovert longs for interaction and may feel depressed when away from friends, while the social introvert enjoys interaction and enjoys time alone for rumination. Don't stereotype yourself. People are more complicated than we expect.