Friday, June 17, 2011

The Introvert

It's 3:00 a.m. and I'm awake. The Dude is asleep like a normal person, and Bea has sensibly gone to bed. Sprinkles, generally being devoid of good sense, is also up and circling my laptop and getting in my business, probably because she feels she's due a late-night snack.

I read a little blip on introversion today. Every now and then it's nice to read about others' experiences with being introverted. We're in the minority in a society that values extroversion. I particularly liked reading the comments and felt a sense of camaraderie with people who reported doing things I do:

Staring off into space
Not smiling much
Being quiet unless there's a topic of interest being discussed
Not bothering with small talk
Being given to honest and open discussions to the exclusion of social niceties
Getting drained from companionship quickly
Needing to be left alone for large blocks of time

These things tend to strike people as strange or worse: anti-social. Past friends have come down hard on me for being this way, as though I were rude or unpleasant to be around. I thoroughly enjoy people's company, I just don't initiate conversations with people I don't know because I find it taxing. It usually requires me to do small talk and I hate that. I actually can't do it, not really.

I watch people interact all the time, usually talking about the little things or items of low interest to me. I don't know how to start these conversations, I don't really want to join them most of the time, but I do get a sense of loneliness when I appear to be the only party not conversing. I wonder if I'm avoiding the small talk or if people are avoiding me. Perhaps I appear aloof.

This must seem like a discrepancy, to hate small talk and to also feel left out of it. I suppose I just dislike the realization that my proclivity to be private and quiet means people think I'm unfriendly, or shy. I'm not shy at all. I really enjoy public speaking. It gives me a rush. I like to burst out of my shell at parties. I'll dance solo at weddings. I just also like to dine alone in restaurants, go shopping by myself and spend so much time in my head that I often don't notice what's around me.

I guess I kind of close the door on the world when I really get reflective, and people don't like the feeling of a door slamming in their face. I'm 28 years old and it's only the past few years I've really sort of accepted this about myself and started actively revealing myself as an introvert to people I care about. I spent my childhood and adolescence around friends, classmates and teachers who all thought I was either a jerk for not listening, stupid for not paying attention or a ditz for being unresponsive, when I was only overloaded from social stimuli at school and took many involuntary mental breaks.

I wonder what life would be like if we understood ourselves faster. Children don't know anything about themselves except what colours they like and their favourite foods. They know who their friends are, if they want to do something or don't want to go someplace. But they know jack about their personalities and don't really give it much thought. A self-aware kid would be an anomaly.

Teenagers dive into self-discovery, but often screw it up by doing a sort of self-moulding instead, where they copy other kids, hide their preferences, go with the group and try to be who they want to be instead of who they are. Conformity at all costs. Weirdos like me don't make the cut into acceptance and cool land.

One of the things I imagine sometimes is what sorts of ways I'd have reacted to people if I knew then what I know now, and was less apologetic about who I was. Because I did apologize, a lot.

I kind of hope I have an introverted kid, just so I can show him or her some understanding. I have an uncle who once called me a loner. My mom was unhappy about that, but I really appreciated it, just the acknowledgment that I am the way I am and don't need to always be socializing. It's nice when people really see you.

I suppose if I were a man, I could be considered the strong silent type. Too bad for me, I guess. Introverted women are more likely to be considered snobs.

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