Introvert Moments in Love and Traveling: Navigating Extroverted New Orleans

I found myself in Walgreens on Canal Street in New Orleans looking at rows of nail polish but not really seeing them. My mind working at warp speed going over every nuanced word and intense reaction that occurred between my man and me over the last few days. I was on vacation in New Orleans with him but after a tear-filled confrontation in the hotel lobby, I pulled away and walked to the corner Walgreens (at the corner of healthy and happy, right). It was day four of our getaway.

Day 1: Love birds, airports, oysters and beds of pudding

Day one we were the happy couple, smiling and touching just enough not to be obnoxious in the airport and talking the whole two-hour flight from Minneapolis to Dallas. Despite our 4:00 AM wake-up, we traversed airline chaos, delays, crowds and iffy weather and arrived relatively cheery in New Orleans around dinner time. We asked the desk clerk at our hotel where to go for dinner. She directed us to Deanie’s Seafood, just a few blocks away. There was an hour wait but we squeezed in at the bar and got served immediately. Soon we were feasting on boiled red potatoes (instead of the usual bread basket), red beans and rice, oysters the size of your head and gumbo. So good!

We walked up and down Bourbon St. after dinner for about fifteen minutes and then headed back. The ubiquitous brassy bands and herds of hurricane cocktail imbibers, were what I expected but wasn’t in

Bourbon Street

the mood to join. My man has an ingrained impulse to be on guard in crowds so they aren’t his favorite either.

With our stomachs full and our bodies exhausted from the early departure, we were in bed by eleven. We were given two full-sized beds instead of a king. This was a little annoying to me but workable. We were so tired, no romance that night. I slept alright despite the marshmallow fluff softness of the bed. It was like sleeping in pudding. My man didn’t sleep well at all. He was wired from traveling. His mind would not turn off.

Day 2: Cemeteries, mansions with stories, Trent Reznor and turtle soup

Day two promised the best weather for the week so we did a walking tour of Lafayette Cemetery and the Garden District. Our guide was a long-haired middle-aged man wearing red cowboy boots who got choked up telling us about how decendants of

opposing parties of the legal case, Plessy v. Ferguson (African American man, Homer Plessy, rode an all-white railcar. Judge Ferguson ruled this in violation of the law, thus perpetuating segregation) got together and formed a foundation to teach about the history of civil rights.

He gave us interesting knowledge regarding the burial practices of the first inhabitants of New Orleans. He also had intriguing stories to go with the beautiful southern mansions of the Garden

Trent Reznor

District. For example, when lead singer of alternative band, Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor, wanted to move into the area, the neighbors tried to block his application. They thought he would be too rowdy and noisy, given his occupation. They failed and he moved in. Turned out he’s a quiet, introverted guy and everyone loved him. Introverts are so likable.

That night we went out for dinner at Commander’s Palace. I highly recommend this restaurant. Several famous and groundbreaking chefs got their start there, including Emeril Lagasse. We had a staff of about eight, just waiting on us. White linens, dress code, soft lighting. It was elegant and delicious. We got the table right next to the real tree that grows

Commander’s Palace

through the roof of the restaurant. I had their famous turtle soup, lamb and bread pudding dessert. Do you get the impression I enjoy food?

My energy tank wasn’t fully drained after this day. I still had a little in reserve to flirt and follow through once back at the hotel. We tried the other bed in our room. It was less squishy. I slept well. My man struggled again.

Day 3: WWII, French pigs, jazz and hitting the wall

Day three is where things started to get dicey. Neither my man nor I knew the Sugar Bowl was to be held in New Orleans on January 1st. That’s how unsportsy we are. Needless to say, the city filled up with sports fans ready to root for their team and party like they already won.

We thought we were choosing an activity off the beaten Bourbon St./French Quarter path by choosing to go to The National World War II museum. We were wrong. Throngs of people flocked to the museum. We spent an hour getting tickets. I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibits but the constant weaving and space checking required to navigate the crowds took a toll on my nervous system. My brain was constantly making order out of chaos as we maneuvered toward each new placard or video. By the time we made it to the Imax 4D movie narrated by Tom Hanks, my circuits were overloaded. I struggled to keep my eyes open during the show. I think my system was ready to shut down and reboot. My man loved it. I liked it too, what I managed to stay awake to see.

We did dinner afterwards at Cochon (French for pig). My favorite restaurant of the trip! It’s popular so we had to wait an hour for seats. I had a cocktail (did you know the word cocktail was coined in New Orleans?) while we waited. I had slow cooked ham hocks with black-eyed peas and a beet/citrus salad. Incredible.

We planned to go hear some jazz so we went back to the hotel, changed shoes and walked up to Frenchmen St. I noticed my interest in carrying on a conversation waned. We walked up a relatively quiet, but pretty and quintessential French Quarter street (balconies and wrought iron) called Dauphine. It was about a 25 minute walk. My man kept pointing out little things along the walk. I felt obligated to acknowledge his comments but really wanted to walk in silence.

We finally made it to Frenchmen Street. Music and laughter floated out of the open doors of all the dark and bourbon-infused joints: Blue Nile, Snug Harbor, The Maison. We settled on The Maison. We stood because there were no open tables. My man was good with standing but I wanted to sit. We finally got a seat. My man tapped his knee and played the air drums. He was into the music. I tried to string a few words together and talk in the noisy space. I really wanted to get into the scene but…

I knew I was done.

I was hitting the wall but I tried to push through. How do people whoop it up for hours? How did I used to do it? I knew we had a 25 minute walk home. I felt like such a dud but I could not work up energy and enthusiasm. I just wanted to go back to the room, read and get swallowed up in the Jell-O pudding bed.

I stuck it out until my man could tell I was not enjoying myself anymore. We walked back. He tried to get me talking by pointing out things on the way. I mumbled, low and quiet responses — honestly all I could manage. I put one foot in front of the other, wove around people when necessary, landed squinting on Canal St. (brightly lit, highly commercial main drag) and then turned onto our side street and hotel.

I got ready for bed. My man turned on the TV. He’s a TV guy versus a reader. I crawled into bed. He laid next to me and asked if I was tired. I said, Yes, felt a twinge of guilt for not being amorous and passed out.

Day 4: What do you want to do? I don’t know. Get away from you.

Day four. We didn’t have a real plan for the day although I had mentioned walking around the French Quarter and exploring. I wanted to do another walking tour but most of them were about ghosts, vampires and cemeteries and I sensed my man would not dig those. Too supernatural. So we merged with the crowds visiting little boutiques and praline shops. My man vigilantly kept guard as I

maneuvered the treacherous sidewalks (horrible upkeep) and crowded streets, often leading me by the elbow and telling me when to cross the street.

I have a problem with being told what to do.

It was obvious he was not relaxed, which made it difficult for me to relax. The street stimulation seemed to intensify his personality and behavior. I’m sure his poor sleep added to the situation too. His verbal and body language got more terse. He made more negative comments about people in our vicinity. He seemed pissed at the world. My reactions got more apprehensive and guarded. Neither of us were at ease.

One pleasant stop we made on our wanderings was St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. We entered the cathedral. The quiet, reverent atmosphere was in sharp contrast to the Sugar Bowl festivities going on outside. I walked up to the front and viewed the sacred altar. I sat down on an old wooden pew and said a silent prayer.

We walked back to our hotel for lack of a better idea. We discussed what we wanted to do that night for New Year’s Eve. The city has fireworks over the Mississippi River; a fleur-de-lis drops rather than a sparkly ball. I knew it would be swamped with people. I suggested going out to dinner and returning to our hotel for our own fireworks. He seemed disappointed and frustrated. He made a comment to the effect of, Whatever you want Brenda. It sounded laced with derision.

That’s when I’d had it.

A little overwhelmed in New Orleans

The tears flowed and I blurted out how I couldn’t take his negativity and intensity anymore. I just wanted him to be nice, relaxed and smile. I don’t remember exactly what he said. I think he asked for

examples of his negative behavior. It’s sooo hard to have examples when you’re someone who makes decisions based on what feels right and the big picture, often missing the details. I did my best to give him instances when he made me uncomfortable.

I knew I had to get some space. I walked away from him and headed out the hotel front doors. That’s when I found myself at Walgreens.

After a half an hour or so of perusing cheap souvenirs, clearance holiday items and vitamin supplements, I decided to wander back to the hotel. Not really having a plan for when I got there, but knowing I had to return sometime.

My man was sitting in the desk chair when I entered our room. He told me he went and got some coffee. I told him I went to Walgreens. We dug into what happened.

He re-iterated how crowds put him on edge. I stated I needed him to be more positive because his negativity makes me uneasy.

As a judger, thinker and logical decision maker (Myers Briggs INTJ), I think it was uncomfortable for him to have a day without a plan. He asked me several times what I wanted to do. That got old on my end. I did not know what I wanted to do (except the ghost tour which he didn’t bite on when I mentioned it). I wanted him to help me whittle down the possibilities for the day, but he wanted me to decide and when I couldn’t, he was annoyed.

What I didn’t say, but came to me as I typed this post, is I felt a certain amount of shame for not being the wound-up party girl. I wanted to have a lively and fun time in New Orleans with my guy. I DID have a fun time. I am not sure he did. As always, I wanted to go-go-go with endless energy but what I really needed was a balance of activity and quiet time. I didn’t want to let him down. When I tried to suggest a more calm New Year’s Eve plan, he seemed disappointed. He wanted to do more. I was the boring, too sensitive introvert.

The release of tension by crying, going for a walk, removing myself from his energy and finally talking it out, made the rest of the day more relaxed. We spontaneously decided to eat dinner at an Italian restaurant called, Mona Lisa’s. It was wonderful, garlicky, tomato-y and not Cajun or Creole. We talked and touched freely. We had a quiet New Year’s Eve celebration in our room.

How many days can you spend with someone before you need a break? Do you often feel obligated to push yourself socially for others? Have you been to New Orleans or somewhere like it? Were you able to make it an introvert-friendly vacation?

Originally published at brendaknowles.com on January 8, 2016.

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