Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Seeking society

A card-carrying introvert, I cherish my time alone. I need it. I crave time to let the many potential responses to colleagues, friends, neighbors and family—especially family—settle to the point that I am measured and calm in what I actually say. I conjure up a stunning variety of scenarios as I try to figure out what is “really” going on. There is no question that I am over-sensitive—my life experiences have led me to where I am, as yours, gentle reader, have led you, although we would all like to think that we can rise above such simplistic conditioning.

All that therapy, all that writing, and I am left with the irony that if I want to respond simply and authentically to another person, I have to spend a lot of time processing, thinking, mostly just musing about not only how I want to respond, but more basically, how I want to perceive the situation and my range of possible responses.

I do have friends and family, some more distant than I would prefer, but that is not in my control. And I understand that my social safety net of human connection is frayed as a result of moving three times in the last decade. Big moves, like divorces, take about three years to re-establish equilibrium. I do have a life, which has many, many satisfactions and much happiness, and I am blessed that I enjoy my own company.

But all that thinking, all that time alone—there is a sense in which it is unhealthy. There is nobody to pull me out of abstraction, nobody to say to me, “Just a cotton-pickin’ minute….you are way off base,” preferably in a loving and respectful tone. Oversensitive, doncha know.

So, I’m thinking I need to meet more people. Can you sense how my teeth are gritted when I say this? It is so much work for me! And yet, I know there is a payoff. Two decades ago, when I was first living in New York, a painfully shy bumpkin, I undertook to conquer my basic shyness by committing to talk to three new people a day. Anyone. The counter man in the coffee shop, people on the subway platform, the person sliding by on the opposite escalator (very safe, that one!) It worked. Very soon, I was talking up a storm to anyone and everyone. I ended up dating someone from the subway--one of my healthiest relationships with a very nice man.

Meeting more people in rural Vermont is tougher, but I refuse to believe it is impossible. Now past the magic three-year mark, I get invited to parties from time to time and I make a point of going. It is time to take up contradance again, and maybe some group hikes. The first step is getting out in the world more, since nobody is likely to come uninvited to my front door to bring me a fuller, brighter life.

The next step will be to pay attention. Again and again in my life, prospective friends and would-be lovers have stopped me, lectured me, whacked me silly to say, “Hey! You! I am trying to be friendly. Could you please notice my efforts?” Who knows how many interesting new people are circling even now, while I make my oblivious march through a good but solitary life?


Visual-Voice said...

I know how it is to be introverted and realize I must go through the excruciating pain of breaking out of one's shell. It seems like terrible work, it does... getting out there and meeting new people. Last week I ventured out to a new group, and was surprised to find myself feeling lighter and happier afterwards. It's funny how what seemed like such a big deal ended up not being such hard work after all.

Introversion... it's so good and so annoying at the same time.

Leslie Shelor said...

I was born an introvert and still am, but find it easier after practice to deal with people. You've got some great ideas on how to get yourself out there, go for it! My favorite way to connect is to ask people about themselves; they talk away, I don't have to do a thing, and at the end of the evening they think I'm a brilliant conversationalist and very intelligent person!

Julia said...

I'm also a 'loner'. People are ok but, I don't know, they do tend to be dumb sometimes and, well, after almost 50 years I feel I have earned the right to my space and my way of living

But I, too, have to try to connect with people a little more, just to keep me grounded and sensible

I agree with Leslie, let people talk, they love it and it is so much safer to sit and listen than to risk opening up, at least until you know who the good guys are... safety in numbers and anonymity in crowds....

but, isn't it so much easier in cyberspace?

Mary said...

Yes, we introverts are generally very comfortable with our own company, a trait extroverts seem to have a big problem understanding. After spending most of my life being forced to behave in what to me, was an unatural outgoing way, I am finally at the stage of my life where I am determined to be myself, introverted though it may be.
While I agree that we do need communication with the outside world in order to stay grounded, that does not mean we have to become bosom buddies with everyone that we meet. We are simply more selective about the company we wish to keep. I also feel that we can and should feel proud that we find a great satisfaction in our own company. Those who have to constantly be in the company of someone else appears to me to be lacking in some basic feeling of self worth.
Now that I am retired, I read, quilt, watch tv, do a little gardening, browse the net, converse with a few "net" pals, and keep a daily journal. The journal helps me to reflect on my life thus far, and contemplate the rest of it. Since there probably is not a lot of it left, I want to make the best use of it that I can. I don't feel the need of talking to a lot of people every day about topics I have no real interest in, and I refuse to apologize for that, or feel that I am in some way inferior to those who do.
I have many interests and the day seems to fly by before I have accomplished half of the things I would like to do. So what is to apologize for?? If I appear "unfriendly" to some, I feel that is their problem, not mine. I am polite. I smile when talking to them. But usually, "a little goes a long way" with me. As you say, this is how God made me so who am I to find fault? I have spent my life trying to please other people, and as those of you who have tried this have probably learned, you never really are able to do it anyway. So now I only worry about pleasing myself and find I am very content and peaceful for the fist time in my life.
I enjoy your blog, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Elizabeth said...

I feel very much the same. And it`s amazing how many psople do as well.

In the course of my dog hobby I do get out and about with lots of people - but although the company of others is useful for keeping a sense of proportion, my own company is mostly just fine for me.