September 26, 2019


The Escape Manual for Introverts. By Katie Vaz. Andrews McMeel. $14.99.

     Human beings are social animals, and there certainly seem to be far more humans who are comfortable in social situations than ones who are not. That is, extroverts significantly outnumber introverts – who are made uncomfortable by circumstances that most people enjoy and find energizing. Introverts need time on their own to recharge and be able to interact better with everyday life, including with extroverts; but extroverts, most of whom are constitutionally unable to understand introversion, traditionally tell introverts that they simply need to “get out more” and “push through discomfort” and “get used to mingling.” However well-meaning those ideas are, they all amount to the same recommendation: be what you are not so you will fit more readily into the world at large.

     Katie Vaz, a professed introvert herself, has a better idea. The Escape Manual for Introverts offers suggestions, from the serious to the silly, to help introverts cope with everyday interactions with which they would just as soon not have to cope. Divided into five sections called “Friends,” “Relatives,” “Coworkers,” “Acquaintances,” and “Strangers,” the book calls up likely scenarios involving members of each of those groups and offers thoughts on ways to get out of circumstances that extroverts find enjoyable and energizing but that introverts tend to find cringe-worthy.

     Vaz manages to have fun with some of the ideas here while offering others that are genuinely useful. For example, “When saying goodbye after a family gathering drags on and on and on,” she seriously suggests scheduling important appointments right after any such gatherings – letting you decide in advance just how long you will stay, and providing a ready-made excuse for leaving at a specific time. And she also, much less seriously, recommends becoming “skilled at walking backward smoothly,” so that your motion is barely noticeable but you keep getting farther and farther away from unwanted interactions. There are also some suggestions that could go either way – serious or at most semi-serious – such as dealing with unexpected encounters at the supermarket with people you barely know by becoming “a loyal shopper at a 24-hour grocery store” and stocking up only after 11:00 p.m.

     Vaz knows that unwanted interactions with people of all sorts are inevitable in the life of an introvert. Her basic idea is to plan your exits before making your entrances. So, to limit time with “eager and attentive workers” at craft-show booths and other havens for (undesired) personal attention to customers, you may want to create a budget for “exit purchases” that let you escape by finding “the least expensive item,” or you may prefer to “hire a kidnapper” whose contact number you keep “on speed dial.” Either will work.

     For introverts, many of the most-awkward situations do not involve interactions with strangers but ones with friends and family – those are people with whom you want to (or have to) remain close, but ones who can prove exhausting if their extroversion becomes overwhelming. So for most readers who turn to The Escape Manual for Introverts for genuine advice rather than simply for amusement, the “Friends” and “Relatives” sections will be especially important. So, for example, if you see you are receiving an incoming phone call from someone you like but to whom you just do not want to talk, you can answer, but quickly wrap up the conversation by saying your phone battery is about to die (a ploy that would not have worked in the days of landlines); or you can answer the phone in a whisper and say such-and-such is napping – using the name of a roommate or pet.

     Being an introvert in a world of extroverts is never going to be easy. At worst, it can make introverts wonder why evolution allows them to exist at all – if humans are at their best in social groups, what evolutionary advantage could there possibly be to preferring quiet “alone time”? Well, think about it – yes, thinking about it could very well be the reason. While all those comfortable minglers are comfortably mingling, someone has to be in a quiet place, settling in to have important thoughts that can only be formed away from people such as the “loquacious regulars” who seem always to be at “your favorite park.” Vaz has an answer for the park problem, by the way: “Invest in a jet pack. The quickest of quick evacuations.” Just be sure it is a single-person jet pack, so no extrovert can ask to go along for the ride.

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