I spent the first 27 years of my life thinking I was an extrovert. I think my parents told me I was one. This is probably because I used to give impromptu performances of interpretive dance in the living rooms of my relatives and talk until my teachers, parents and what few friends I did have got tired of listening and lovingly (or not so lovingly) let me know I was talking too much. In retrospect, I was probably trying desperately to fill what I perceived as awkward silence and somehow relieve the social tension inside of me by bouncing off the walls like a crazy person.
In high school I think I had the opportunity to be popular. Looking back, I remember getting invited to a lot of things early on. But the idea of the social interactions was mind numbing. What if I said the wrong thing? What if I said something super awkward and then everyone just stared at me? What if I froze up? I was so inside my head that I decided it was easier to label myself an “outsider” and forfeit an authentic high school experience. I even left high school a year early to attend an accelerated “college-connection” program at a local Jr. College.
At my university, things got a little better. You see, in college you can hold a red cup in your hand and you’re instantly a member of the club (super lame but true). Then people automatically bounce in and out of your bubble, playing an hours-long game of friendship-speed-dating without any one-on-one, sober awkwardness. I made friends in my classes through forced group activities. This usually led to hanging out at a bar or gathering to celebrate completion or to blow off steam. The ritual social structure of college life suited me pretty dang well. But most of the relationships were shallow and destined to end with graduation. And so most of them did.
I brought one or two friends with me after college but the rest staid behind, maybe because I had never felt comfortable enough to go deeper with them, or maybe because drinking-buddy situations rarely become deep, emotional friendships. Either way, I set out into adulthood with only a few friends. At this point, I still thought of myself as an extrovert. I like people and I always have. I enjoy social gatherings and sincerely want to have a good time. I want to look forward to them and host them like everyone else. I just … don’t.
A typical social event for me is preceded by a tremendous amount of dread. I see the social event advertised or get invited, agree to go because I sincerely want to be included, then immediately begin thinking about how likely it is that I’m going to get weird and alienate myself. I over think it for a long period of time before finally losing my nerve and cancelling. This makes me feel like a flake (probably because I’m being flaky), which makes me feel guilty. For years and years I have been stuck in this cycle … until I read something life changing.
“The main difference between introverts and extroverts is not that one group likes people and the other does not. The main difference is that an extrovert charges her “batteries” by engaging in social situations and an introvert charges her “batteries” by being alone or around a comfortable group of inner-circle friends or family.”
This was my “Ah ha” moment. That was it, entirely. Being around people drains my batteries. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, but I reach a point where I begin to feel exhausted and need to take a break. Other people feel drained by being alone too long and need to interact with others in order to “recharge.” Neither way is bad or good … they are just two different ways of receiving interaction.
I now know that I can engage with other people, go to barbecues, have girls’ nights and meet my husband’s friends. I don’t have to hide out or avoid eye contact. I can have an active social life. I just have to be aware that I may not be able to do marathons of social activities without taking breaks to be alone or with the people I feel most comfortable with. I know all of these things. But, as they say, knowing is only HALF the battle.
I have decided that 2017 is a great year to break my life-long social isolation. I would like to make friends, engage with other women and branch out. I would like to drink coffee with other humans. That sounds great! Unfortunately, I am still getting the hang of the whole thing.
My best friend likened my feelings of social awkwardness to being an alien dressed up in a “Liz suit” trying to “act natural.” She sent this GIF to express what she was saying …
After laughing out loud for a few minutes I affirmed her suspicion. That’s exactly it. I have to overcome the feeling that I’m some kind of an imposter in every social situation I face. But, in order to do that, I have face SOME social situations. I almost feel bad for the people I hang out with this year. I hope all of them have a great sense of humor because things are libel to get REALLY awkward before they get any less so. But, as my friend wisely suggested, no one is as cool as they seem.
So before you, the readers of this post, I pledge that this year I WILL do my best to break out of this shell, or at least dip my toes into the realm of social interaction outside my family and close circle of friends … ok friend (as in one close friend). I will do this because 29 years is too long to make excuses for being an island. I want to make these changes for me (and for my poor, extroverted husband who just wants to get out of the house). I want to make these changes because it’s high time to make them. So, if you see me in the grocery store, I may actually say hello to you this year without chickening out and heading for the deserted dog food/pesticide isle. For me, that may actually be a huge victory.