I generally don’t do well with silence.  This serves as both a blessing and a curse: I can be just as productive with the radio or TV blaring as I am without, but tend to feel more comfortable with a cacophony of noise.  I sometimes compare myself to Joe Pesci’s character in “My Cousin Vinny”, wherein he gets his best night’s sleep while serenaded by the sounds of a prison riot.  I am without a doubt an extrovert, thriving on the energy that comes from interacting with others and getting antsy if I go too long without it.  As a result, by far the most uncomfortable silence I experience is that which comes when I’m with other people.  If I’m driving in the car with people and there is a lull in the conversation that goes on too long, I don’t like it.  If we’re enjoying a meal and their isn’t a robust conversation, it doesn’t sit right.  It feels like we should be talking in these situations.  And if we’re not, I tend to assume it has something with me.  “Should I say something?  They’re not saying anything.  Are they not talking because they don’t want to talk to me?  What did I do wrong to bring about this insufferable silence?!?!?!”

I’m working on getting comfortable with this.  I’ve come to realize that silence is somewhat normal and that not every situation, not even every human interaction, needs to be filled with noise or sound.  Coming from a family of talkers, as I have, is not necessarily the norm and is not everyone else’s context.  Their can be beauty to silence.  And I’m working on realizing it.


One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.


  1. You just need good walking shoes, an ermine cape and a folding chair.

    I have a couple friends/family members who are very introverted, and I had to learn not to fill every lull with chatter. They’ll talk when they’re ready.

    There’s also a programmer where I work, with a rep for being both brilliant and difficult/irascible – one of those old hands who get the “guru” designation and are spoken of in nearly mystical terms. He frequently uses silence as an intimidation tactic; people become uncomfortable and leave him alone and don’t bug him with questions and problems.

    When I was the new guy I got sent to him to ask some questions on an issue we were having, and I learned to just stoically stick out the uncomfortable silences until I got my answers. Thereafter I was always the delegate when we needed to deal with him.

    He and I get along well now.

    • If you didn’t click the extrovert link, I recommend doing so. It really helped me understand that introversion was not equivalent to shyness or social anxiety or nervousness. There might be some overlap there, but it is rooted much more in how we respond to socializing.

      I think part of my struggle with silence is that I need to keep my brain active and engaged. If I’m not listening to or dialoguing with someone, my next outlet is often to read. Growing up, my family always made fun of me because they’d often come down in the morning to find me eating a bowl of cereal and reading the nutrition panel because I’d already read every other inch of text on the box. I simply can’t turn off. I am working on this. But I can’t.

      Knowing this, if I were to be on a long car ride with peeps and we were experiencing an extended bout of silence, with the other folks are quite comfortable with… would it be rude of me to take out a book and read, provided I’m not actually the one driving the car? It feels like it’d be rude. Doubley so if I did this at the table. But if we’re otherwise sitting their in silence and I’m weary of starting an unwanted conversation but my brain is screaming at me, “DO SOMETHING!!!”… what then?

      • Design video game.
        Play “I’m the driver”.

        I wouldn’t mind if you’d read, particularly if you’ll stop if I’ve got something to say.

        • Oh, I would absolutely stop.

          Trouble is, I don’t know if there is a clear way to explain this that isn’t awkward.

          “I’m going to take out a book because it is clear we are riding in silence and you are cool with that. If you want to talk, I’ll put it away.”

          Taking out the book will likely be read as, “Don’t talk to me.” In fact, people do precisely this on public transportation to communicate that very message.

          • In my book, that’s not rude or awkward at all. It’s every trip over half an hour with mu family. The downside is I’m usually the driver, so I’m not the ne who gets to read (come on, driverless cars–you can’t get here too soon).

          • you know, just saying that…:
            “I’m going to take out a book because it is clear we are riding in silence and you are cool with that. If you want to talk, I’ll put it away.”

            … would be fine. Thing about introverts is they’re used to awkward.

            On public transportation is a different matter, because you’re in a more public space. But (pretty much anywhere) pulling out a book without saying anything means “I’m going to pay attention to this now.”

      • That link is pretty good. I’m an introvert who is exactly 2 beers away from extroversion, which means that if you give me 2 beers, suddenly I can’t shut up and I’ve known everyone since at least one of us was a teeny lil baby.

        • I flip back and forth. Sometimes I need the energy, sometimes I provide the energy, and sometimes I just want everyone to go away.

          The people to learn to recognize (and they can trickily appear to be introverted OR extroverted) are the real Energy Vampires.

          The extrovert variety is at every bar or party, intent on witnessing – or better yet creating – unnecessary interpersonal strife and drama. They superficially appear “fun” until you recognize their MO.

          The introvert variety is quiet, until you make the mistake of trying to bridge the gap, only to have them start complaining about anything and everything and sapping your will to live.

          Energy Vampires are to be avoided at all costs – there ultimately needs to be some parity in energy exchange (or at least not consistent net loss).

      • There is something I find stangely compelling.

        Doing nothing.
        Being in a quiet place-preferably in the woods or desert, at morning, watching and waiting.

        If you quiet your surroundings you’re amazed at how much noise your brain makes thinking about “trivial stuff”. When you bannish all that “stuff” from your active mind, you end up thinking about the important things and getting it resolved.

        “When you stare at the mirror long enough, the lies you tell yourself shatter in front of you, revealing your true self. Be warned. You may not like what you see.”

  2. Coping with extroversion isn’t easy. I’m an extrovert out here. I’m a somewhat cynical extrovert at work, glad-handing, saying the needful, encouraging people who need it, keeping management happy. But as a solo artiste, working out of the crib, I’ll sometimes go for three or four days, not seeing another human being face to face.

    I’ve worked for introverts, had them work for me. Want to encourage an introvert? Introducing him to someone else (happens a lot by me) I’ll tell that third person “When this guy talks, pay attention. Every word he says matters.” Even introverts need company. They’re like some cats I’ve befriended, particularly this big oaf cat in my girlfriend’s chair just now. She just likes being around people. Not much on being petted, just likes people on her own terms.

    It’s sorta like that old joke about women talking to men. Obviously, I don’t mean to categorise all women or all men along these lines, but when women talk about a problem, men tend to respond with a solution. This irritates women no end; all they want is a word of commiseration, a bit of empathy. Women talk to hear each other think.

    Even worse is the jackass who, when you tell him about a problem, must consistently one-up you. So you broke down ten miles from town? He’ll tell you about breaking down fifty miles from town.

    Introverts aren’t necessarily shy. They just communicate differently. They’ll talk, when the time comes. They enjoy our silences as much we’re distressed by them — and vice versa. Robert Frost: Revelation.

    We make ourselves a place apart
    Behind light words that tease and flout,
    But oh, the agitated heart
    Till someone find us really out.
    ‘Tis pity if the case require
    (Or so we say) that in the end
    We speak the literal to inspire
    The understanding of a friend.
    But so with all, from babes that play
    At hide-and-seek to God afar,
    So all who hide too well away
    Must speak and tell us where they are.

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