I’m an introvert, not a freak of nature.
Things don’t really change much from the days of recess and school lunches, not really.
Sure, we may work in offices or have kids or fall generally under that “Grown-up” umbrella, but when it comes down to it, those old schoolyard social dynamics never really disappear.
The kids who had an easy time making friends will probably always have an easy time making friends. Those kids who sat by themselves or disappeared into the library during lunch hours are probably still shirking the company holiday parties and avoiding water cooler chit-chat (inasmuch as “water coolers” are still a THING around which anyone gathers…..)
I’m a proud introvert of the highest order. My energy surges from solitude. Groups of more than 4 suck that energy right back out. I’m easily over-stimulated (short dopamine pathways), and I don’t work all that well in groups.
I’m also fairly socially anxious. We won’t call me straight-up antisocial, but I have a high degree of Small Talk Phobia that means I opt to isolate myself rather than reach out in those awkward first “getting-to-know-you” conversations that allow people to warm to one another. Larry David calls it the “Stop-and-chat.” He’d turn on his heel and run in the opposite direction to avoid stopping to have the “hey, how are ya?” gossip with an acquaintance he passes in the hall or on the sidewalk. I am that way to a staggering degree.
My natural sense of social curiosity about most people is, I must admit, fairly low. I probably don’t automatically FEEL like asking you about your kids, or your sprained ankle, or your recent promotion, or your new haircut. Actually, I won’t notice your haircut. I’m terrible like that. But I can force it. It just takes an enourmous amount of effort for me to strike up a normal, casual conversation. I don’t initiate.
I have a long “warm-up period” before I’m comfortable having casual chit-chats with people, even with people I see daily. I need to skip the idle stuff and jet straight to the “Important Stuff,” the heartfelt bits, the stuff that forges a sense of understanding, a bond between people. I don’t really care that it’s going to rain this weekend. But I’d like to hear about your strange dream from last night, or what makes you angry, or how fulfilled you’re feeling with your career, or what your big, huge dreams are. I WANT to know those things. I’m comfortable getting STRAIGHT to those things. I struggle to navigate the “hey, how’s it going?” lightweight stuff, but I’m not squeamish around the REAL things.
And if you were to ask me, rather off-the-cuff, what my deepest fear in the whole world is: you’ll get a completely honest, comfortable answer out of me.
Because that’s the “real” stuff, not the “fluff” stuff.
Because trying to engage me about “whew! it’s chilly out there today!” will, on most days, probably net you a polite smile, and a: “Yep…….”
Because I might have skipped that lesson in grade school where we all learn how to become comfortably socialized.
Put me on a stage or behind a microphone and I transform into someone with no self-consciousness or self-doubt — but place me in a conference room with half a dozen coworkers, and I become an odd, socially prickly person around whom plenty of others are at a loss.
“How do I extricate natural, lightweight conversation from this oddball who prefers to come in without greeting and leave without warning and has no idea how to sustain this conversation with me?” is probably a pretty good assessment of what people are thinking when they cross paths with me.
It’s tough when you’re mildly socially anxious to reach out, bridge the gap, make the first move, extend yourself to someone else in a natural, friendly way. I tend to depend on others reaching out to me. From time to time, in different seasons of confidence (or desperation, or indifference), I’ll grab my inner social bootstraps and reach out, extend the invite, manage to be a warm, friendly person. It just doesn’t come naturally.
And I know I’m not the only person on the planet who feels this way.
But, sometimes, I feel like an alien in my own skin, wading through un-breathable air, watching myself from an out-of-body perspective wondering how it is that I manage to seem SO awkward while other folks make it look so easy.
Sometimes, I feel like the introverted personality is more curse, less blessing.
Today is one of those days.
Today is one of those days where everyone else has a lunch buddy, and I’m standing between tables with my little sack lunch, panicked, looking for the nearest exit.
Today, everyone else is speaking a different language while I listen, dumbstruck, wondering why they’re giggling and why I’m hunkered down, avoiding joining the fun, feeling my blood pressure spike because I WANT to be able to exude that effortless sort of social grace that makes people want to “play with me at recess.”
Today is one of those days when I’m allowing myself to feel self-conscious about Being the Way That I Am, hoping that it will make the appreciation of those less-self-conscious days that much sweeter.
So to other socially-stilted introverts who flee parties and prefer to sneak into the office kitchen at odd hours when there’s no one else waiting for the microwave:
Here’s looking at us.