Our western social structure with our understanding of status and hierarchy and the subtle rules and principles that govern our communal lives has been largely constructed by extroverts, overwhelmingly from the male point of view.
Our culture is rife with unwritten gesture and behavior that act as grease for the grinding wheel that is our crowded community life. For introverts and women, behavioral expectations that on the surface may seem benign invite a host of complex inner conflicts.
The conflicts stem from the fact that western society undervalues the traits inherent to introverts and tends to portray their preferences as anti-social. I think it is because an extrovert sees an introvert’s desire to temporarily shut out the world as a denial of the social nature of existence. It isn’t true of course, and other introverts know it, but other introverts also know that there is a stigma attached to their inward looking personality.
There is a double stigmatization for introverted women because our gender is expected to smile and be receptive to other people’s needs over our own. Introverts are constantly pressured to act like extroverts, and female introverts are additionally pressured to ignore their guts and let people get closer and friendlier than our instincts tell us we should.
Take the elevator, for instance.
What is more unclear that elevator etiquette?
Tell me – how long are we actually expected to hold a door for a person who is approaching? It’s not as if this is the last elevator ever and if we let the doors close and leave them on the main floor that they are abandoned. Why do we feel pressure to hold the door and why is there a stigma attached to pushing the door close button?
What input do I have over the determination of a non-creepy amount of time someone holds the door for me? If you choose to delay yourself am I expected to rush in hurried gratitude? What if I was purposefully going slow in order to avoid company on the elevator? Then how do I get out of it?
I suppose if you are standing next to me while I wait and I get one first I should hold the door – that is unless I am feeling particularly misanthropic or you creep me out, in which case I will avoid getting on by faking a phone call to avoid being stuck in an enclosed space with you. But aside from changing course, how do I refuse the door held for me?
We’re following rules and forgetting to communicate.
Truthfully, unless you have caught my direct gaze and I clearly want on that elevator when you hold the door for me or ask me to hold it for you, you have put me in a position that is uncomfortable. This is doubly uncomfortable for me if you are a man, because I have not had time to decide if I want to be trapped on an elevator with you – especially bad if it is only the two of us and I also feel vulnerable. If you are a man I am put in the position of acting the charming girl in addition to acting the extrovert, and all the while I am thinking about egress.
Honestly, unless you have made it obvious that you want me to hold the elevator, I am going to push the door-close button to avoid the possibility of discomfort. If I feel uncomfortable I am going to push the button either way.
I titled this blog ‘misanthropy and the elevator experience’ on purpose.
The desire to opt out of social encounters is far too often portrayed as a rejection of other people, or snobbery or bad manners. But it isn’t. It is an embrace of self and an act of self preservation.
Elevator doors are like a portal to an unknown world. So, please, let the door close.
“You call me a misanthrope because I avoid society. You err; I love society. Yet in order not to hate people, I must avoid their company.” ― Caspar David Friedrich
“There is nothing I detest so much as the contortions of these great time-and-lip servers, these affable dispensers of meaningless embraces, these obliging utterers of empty words, who view every one in civilities” ― Molière, The Misanthrope