A few months ago, a friend shared with me a note written by his six-year-old daughter to her mother:
School was bad. People are annoying. They always want to talk to me.He found this hilarious, because he understood her sentiments completely, as can I. For me, being sociable is like eating mushrooms. I know other people enjoy them, but I just don’t see the attraction. Somehow I’ve gotten the message that I should like them, and I’ve tried, but I just don’t. They’re squeaky, rubbery and muddy-tasting.
Similarly, I know that people with close relationships live longer, healthier lives, but for me social interaction is a chore, right up there with going to the dentist. I always thought I could do at least a decent job of faking it, but a few years ago I went to a conference with a small group from our organization. I felt like I was chatting, interacting and small-talking my way through the week, but upon our return, the CEO, with whom I’d spent quite a bit of time, gave me a copy of a book: The Introvert Advantage. Apparently the only one I was fooling was myself.
In the book (as you may have already surmised, I love books), the author notes that while extroverts are energized by social interaction, introverts are left drained by them. This is exactly me. After a day of meetings, I want to sit in a quiet room and stare at the walls. Even activities I enjoy wear me out if they involve talking to lots of other people, and I’m a pretty high-energy person.
So it’s been easy for me to gravitate toward the internet to satisfy my quota of socializing. I find online relationships easier to maintain—I don’t always have to respond in real-time, can stop and think about what I want to say, walk away for a minute if necessary. Some of the closest friends I have are internet friends. A few I’ve met in person, others remain behind the screen. Hell, I met my significant other on a different lefty blog, and thankfully he’s a lot like me. We can spend hours in the same room, very content with our respective laptops, talking occasionally, sending links back and forth to diaries or news stories we’re reading.
But still, I know a lot of people find that weird. Find it strange that I am a woman who doesn’t have half a dozen ‘girlfriends’ on speed-dial. One of my other quirks is that I am much more comfortable with male friends than female. Of course these opposite-sex friendships come with the attendant complications (and possibilities).
As part of my drive to push my boundaries, I am trying to be more social, particularly with women. I occasionally make phone calls, ok, I never make phone calls if I can avoid it, but I do send texts and emails, and arranged for a woman I’d known when we were both very young, but who I hadn’t seen in a very long time, to come and spend the weekend with me, so we could re-connect after at least 15 years.
She arrived Saturday noon-ish. I hardly recognized her, but she kindly said I hadn’t changed. Because of some things going on in my life, we’d left the schedule pretty open, and I didn’t have a definite idea of how long she was planning to stay. The first inkling that I might be in trouble was when she unloaded her car. The two large suitcases, box of books and multiple pillows made me a little nervous, but hey, I was optimistic, and dammit I was going to be social! It’s not like she had a bird cage with a dead parrot in the backseat.
We had activities planned for Saturday afternoon, which helped the conversation flow, but by evening, I was all talked out, and anxious to retire to my bedroom with a book. The whole weekend I kept thinking “I wonder when she’s leaving?” Not that she was unpleasant (a little odd, perhaps—I don’t think I know anyone else who eats macaroni and cheese for breakfast), but just that I found the constant effort to make conversation was wearing on me.
When she announced Sunday night that she would probably be leaving in the morning, I was a little disappointed at how incredibly relieved I was to go back to my quiet, solitary life. Just me, my cyber-friends, and the cat. Statistics be damned, that’s enough to make me happy. I give myself a gold star for reaching out, and hope to hell I don’t have to go through that again for a very long time.