Introverts and the Suburbs

Image credit:

Image credit:

A fellow introvert and I had coffee recently. She showed me pictures from her new house in the distant outskirts of Houston in what I could only call a rural area beyond an exurb. The pictures featured views of unending pine trees with nary a house, structure, or paved path.

I grew up in the suburbs and hated it. I couldn’t live in the suburbs again. Give me rural—a house in the mountains, anyone?—or urban. I’ll stay away from small-town and suburban America, thank you very much.

Introverts thrive in cities and rural areas.

People—diverse groups of people—pack cities. If you notice everyone, you’ll have sensory overload. If you obsess about people who seem different in some way, you’ll get overwhelmed. So many people and so much variation in one space prevent anyone from paying too much attention to any one person or small group of people. In cities, you can feel completely alone in a crowd. And though that may seem melancholy to some, introverts thrive in it.

As my friend has found, rural areas can provide the seclusion that introverts crave as well. In rural areas—areas in which large swaths of land and space separate people—you need to make an effort to interact. Introverts like social interaction, but rarely when it’s unplanned and unexpected. We have to get in the mindset for it. In rural areas, rarely will someone drop in. Rarely will you encounter someone you know out and about.

Suburbs don’t work for introverts.

Suburbs spread out just enough to limit diversity: People tend to move into suburban neighborhoods with people just like them. Though an adjacent suburb may have another type of people, the distance keeps them apart. Suburbs lack critical density for invisibility: They have just enough people for everyone to know each other and interact. Therefore, people in the homogeneous suburbs notice outliers—and their low concentration levels promote scrutiny.

People in the suburbs watch each other, compete with each other, notice every difference and discuss it, require acknowledgement or interaction with everyone they encounter, and feel slighted if someone doesn’t carry out community “obligations.” And as most people in suburban neighborhoods know each other at least tangentially, every public foray becomes an adventure in unexpectedly seeing people you know.

Suburbs seem like manna for extroverts—and horror houses for introverts. (Including me.)

Which do you prefer: City or suburbs?