Not introverted. If anything you’re more of an ambivert: traits of both, and where you fall on the spectrum at any given time depends on the day, the sunlight, if you’re facing north or south, and how many zombies are chasing you.
But seriously, think about it. In junior high and in 9th grade? You were fearless. Even while you picked on me you defended me to everyone else and you stood up to jocks who towered over you. You never hesitated to be the first to give oral reports in class; you pushed unabashed editorial pieces through in journalism, even when you knew they were written with the absurd in mind (remember Cheezus from Planet Cheeto?); you didn’t blink at standing up in front of the music class with your guitar while you sang. You stood up to the she-devil teacher of junior high and you wanted the hardest history teacher in 8th grade—and then proceeded to challenge him in front of everyone. You were by no definition shy back then; it wasn’t until I knew you as an adult that I saw some of those traits, and honestly, I am curious what the triggers might have been, if there even were any.
Shyness, social anxiety, introversion; anxiety in general.
I don’t even know how we got on the topic, but the discussion went on a long time and left me awake most of the rest of the night as I tried to reach back into the very dusty corners of my brain and pick through cobweb-coated memories.
I wanted to say I’d had some level of social anxiety my entire life; going places the first time alone has always been hard. Meeting new people has always been terrifying. The idea of carrying on a conversation has been puzzling for…forever.
Yet, when I look back with a modicum of honesty…no. As a kid I jumped into life with reckless abandon. There was so much to do and not enough time to do it all before curfew called me inside. As a teenager, I was perhaps less reckless, but I didn’t cower from things.
Jump on the bus and head downtown alone? Not a problem.
Run to McD’s to meet up with a friend who was bringing along someone new? That was fun.
Jump into a school project with kids I didn’t know? Fine.
The aunt and uncle I don’t remember at all are coming for a visit? Sweet!
Those things today might just about paralyze me. I was a fairly extroverted kid who somewhere along the way became not only introverted to a degree, but also fearful. Meeting new people, the idea of having to carry on a conversation with them is actually painful. I can do it if I’m with someone I know and trust, but by myself?
I tend toward the quiet; what the hell can I talk about? How will the empty spaces be filled? I don’t like awkward, and abrupt conversation is awkward. What if I don’t have anything to contribute? Everything will be wrong and it will be my fault. I’m a writer; I like being able to go back and edit; I need to be able to go back and edit. You just can’t do that when you’re speaking with someone.
I am going to say something stupid.
Getting involved in something with people I only know online, no matter how much I like them?
You’ll do things the truly introverted will not; once you decided to join the 3 Day walk, it was something you truly looked forward to. You walk around with neon pink hair; you SHAVED YOUR HEAD in front of hundreds of people and were less concerned over the purple hair as one might have hoped (sorry.) Yet when you flip the coin over and examine the other side: you went to a conference in a very playful place, but you couldn’t have gone without Mike because of new people. You engage in business strictly by email and texting, and if you examine it closely, it’s because the very idea of having to do it in person scares the hell out of you.
This is marginally the truth.
That first 3 Day…The Spouse Thingy went with me to the hotel; he stayed with me as I met people I knew online. I didn’t jump into that alone. I’m as surprised as anyone else that I agreed to do it in the first place because—aside from my other issues—I knew it meant meeting several people.
It doesn’t even matter that I knew I would like them and they wouldn’t hate me. I still would have gone—I know that, not just think that—but it would have been roughly 500 times more difficult if the Spouse Thingy had not tagged along.
Have I met you? Than chances are I’ll be able to head off to hang with you all by myself. But you’ll also have to be someone I’m sure won’t take it personally if I stammer, stutter, or just don’t have a lot to say.
I’m not anti-social. I’m just awkwardly social.
Stereotype is to blame the mother; it’s always the mother’s fault.
The stereotype is bullshit.
This is not my mother’s doing; hell, the example I had growing up was of social interaction. My mom was a social butterfly; she had friends everywhere, she was active and involved, and her endeavors were wonderfully creative. By the time she stopped being social I was no longer living with them; I was married and the Air Force was bouncing us around.
And that may be the trigger right there. All that moving; the older you get, it seems like you forget to understand how one makes friends, and it’s more difficult to meet anyone as it is.
But I don’t really know. That might be it; that might be way off the mark.
Here’s the odd thing: people can come up to me while I sit in Starbucks and start a conversation; I’m fine with that. I don’t panic. I don’t think anything other than whatever they want to discuss.
However…I will never be the one initiating that conversation.
You pick on a kid in public and start shouting or hitting, I probably will say something/threaten something/get in over my head. I don’t stop to worry about what you think, feel, that you might not want me to bother you at that moment…I just react. If you pick on me I won’t hesitate (most of the time) to tell you to shove it, how hard, and how far.
I’m not anxious when I perhaps need to be.
But damn…even before my hearing got the better of me, I didn’t like the phone. Calling someone? It might take an hour to work up the nerve…and not just to strangers. To anyone. While it was inconsistent, I had a few times where I had to talk myself into calling my own mother. Why? Who the hell knows? I only know it was a lot of work to dial the damn thing.
To be fair, I do know the trigger for that…it doesn’t change anything, but I know where it stems from and it’s a fairly innocent thing, going back to when I was just a kid and we lived in Germany. There was no flat rate phone service; my parents had to pay for every call we made, so permission had to be granted before I could use the phone, and 99% of the time the answer was no. I was 6,7,8 years old; why the hell did I need to call anyone when my friends were in the same damned building? (That’s my “damned” not something I heard from either parent.) Go knock on their doors and see if they can come out and play.
Over the years that just warped from only being allowed necessary calls to being afraid to make them at all.
By the time I wanted to pick up the phone and call, I couldn’t hear on it. Karma or Kismet or whatever…it’s a bitch. It breeds its own concerns: what the hell will I do if a call needs to be made—an emergency—and there’s no one else here to do it? How many people think it’s and excuse and not a reason, and they take it personally?
There’s nothing wrong with being a quiet person; there is, perhaps, something wrong with not being able to participate in the normal back and forth of simple small talk, not asking of someone else what they have asked of you. But I understand this and take the blame; you’ve been conditioned to not ask questions because over the years I wouldn’t and couldn’t answer them. Not asking becomes habit. That’s still less than being introverted; you want to engage, you simply had a barrier placed in front of you and haven’t set it on fire and burned it down.
Fine, I’ll blame him for it.
Seriously, though, I do grasp that I fail in normal back and forth conversation sometimes. Those moments when you’re just getting to know someone and they ask you what you do for a living, how many kids you have, dogs or cats, where’d you go to school…I answer those questions but often don’t follow it up with a question in kind.
That’s either because I really have been conditioned to not ask, or I’m just a bit backwards. Or both. I accept that it might be both.
The curious element for me is the anxiety experienced when confronted with the known; you can hang out with someone you met while having your security blanket with you, yet you backpedal furiously if you have to meet them again knowing they will have someone new with them. The idea of meeting someone new seems to be like flying is for you: you can do it if you have no other choice, but you’d rather not and it might be best if you’re drunk. And the truly puzzling piece is that particular anxiety extends to family.
That’s only partially true. I wouldn’t feel anxious over the idea of meeting up with my sisters at all. Extended family, aunts and uncles, sure. I don’t know them, really. I don’t remember them other than their names and with only a couple exceptions haven’t seen them since I was a very young kid. I got reamed out on the phone by one when I had to cancel plans to go over to their house for dinner; they’d moved into the same area I lived in, but the Boy was a baby and had gotten sick. I don’t think she believed me, because the lasagna she made was apparently more important than why we had to cancel at the last minute.
I couldn’t change that. A baby with a 104o temp trumps someone else’s hurt feelings. But really, that’s neither here nor there and doesn’t have much to do with any of my quirks.
Still…these days I can only take in so much at once; if we’re going off to do something fun and I don’t invite you, it’s not because I don’t want you there, it’s because I know I’ll already be at my limit.
Or maybe it’s because we have a need to be alone.
It wasn’t too long ago we went somewhere and there were a lot of hurt feelings because we didn’t ask people to come hang with us. Seriously hurt feelings. But the truth was that—aside from the point that we did want to be alone, we were celebrating something personal (and we should have come right out with that but we didn’t)—in that one geographical area there were no fewer than 16 people who wanted to see us. We had 3 days, 16 people; some were friends who understood. Some were family, and I did hear but we’re family.
Yeah, well, they weren’t the only family in the area. If we’d visited everyone…well, it wouldn’t have been the private celebration we were shooting for.
And really…at some point, things like that stop being a vacation and become a trip to visit family.
People were going to be hurt no matter what. So we specifically went alone, and made it pretty clear that we weren’t looking anyone up while we were in the area.
And it really is more than wanting privacy. All those people…I would have been overwhelmed.
And that, to be honest, has nothing to do with all my weird little quirks and everything to do with the brain tumor of 2002 and the issues it left me with. That’s half the reason flying is a bad idea for me, and a lot of the reason I don’t cope well in certain situations. Cortisol goes up, blood sugar goes down, and bad things happen. If they don’t happen emergently, they just feel horrible.
I don’t do things to intentionally feel horrible.
And I’ve gone way off track.
You are who you are, and who you are is fundamentally a good person, ambiversion and all. It may do no good at all to pick apart the issues you know you have and the issues others see in you. Just accept that for the same reasons you overlook your friends’ issues, others overlook yours. And the friends who have caused you issues…are very sorry.
I totally paid him to say that.
I know you’ll write about it. It’s what you do. I’m fine with it.
That’s good, because I wasn’t going to ask permission…