One of my worst nightmares is being in a large group of people I don’t know. This happens regularly in work situations. It happens in family situations. It happens when I go on trips. Basically, being out in the world is kind of tough for me sometimes. I hate surface conversations and suck so bad at small talk it isn’t even funny. Tell me about your life. What challenges have you been dealing with lately? How is that relationship going? What kind of personal growth have you experienced recently? What made you cry in the last month? Talk to me. Wrestle through the deep longings of life and let’s bare our souls together.
I love being alone. I love being with my husband. My cats get me. The garden is where I plow and weed the fields of my inner self. Hiking alone used to be scary and now I can’t think of a more peaceful, invigorating experience. I really love having dinner, coffee, or lunch with a friend and catching up on all the good stuff. Reading alone at night with the TV off is one of life’s delights. Sitting down and pouring out the present day’s angst in a journal revives my energy, enabling me to face another day. Walking near the sea with the salty breeze breathing life into my being helps me contemplate all the dreams still birthing themselves into existence within my spirit. These are the things that characterize my introverted nature. I used to consider this a weakness, a failure on my part to succeed socially, but the more I learn who I am and find freedom in that, the more I understand that this is how I was made and aspects of this perceived weakness are actually my greatest strengths.
I recently met someone who I thought I had a connection with. She is a woman who has done incredible things with her life. We talked about where we are in our careers, the “tug” people sometimes feel in their hearts toward new things, and how being brave and stepping into those things can reap great reward and fulfillment. The conversation came at a time when I needed to hear that message and I felt that perhaps something divine had caused our paths to cross on that particular day. We exchanged contact information and now I’m getting calls from this person, trying to sell me products from this company she works for, products I don’t need or want to spend money on. She has used up two hours of my time over the phone that I will never get back and it’s my own fault because I don’t know how to say, “I don’t care what you’re selling, I just want to be your friend.” The disappointment I feel at this interaction stems from my desire for connection from someone who may have just used me to make a sale.
There have been situations in my job where I’ve worked the room at an event, met someone who really seemed awesome, talked to them for a while, got the whole, “We should do lunch” line only to never hear from them again. I hate these interactions so much because they are a waste of emotional currency. I don’t enjoy making the exhausting effort that comes so easily to the extroverted only to have it end in a useless business card that takes up space in a drawer. I’m not saying that networking isn’t important in professional situations, but the people who’ve actually followed through and made the lunch plans are the ones I still keep in touch with and would stick my neck out for if they ever needed a favor.
My husband’s family is huge. They are nice people who I couldn’t possibly disagree with more when it comes to politics and religion, which often leaves us with little to say. They enjoy gathering in boisterous groups and staying in one place together because they all love each other so much. It’s a beautiful thing to see, and it’s also one of the hardest circumstances for me to handle emotionally and mentally because I crave peace, quiet, and one-on-one connection above all else. I don’t function well in these spaces and am aware that I come off as the rude in-law from New York. I’ve made my peace with this because I’m ok with who I am and because I feel lucky to have married into a loving family that brings my husband so much joy. But seriously, all I want to do is go have a drink with them one at a time so I can actually get to know them and maybe they’d get to know a little more of me too.
When I was in high school, I was painfully shy, awkward, very worried about what people thought, and piously evangelical. I cringe at the things I said and how black and white the world was for me at that time of life. But to this day, I still have a few close friends from high school who I adore so much. We write letters to each other, travel together sometimes, and connect instantly like no time has passed whenever we are lucky enough to be in person together. Our group was small. We weren’t popular. We were nerds. But that small group of girls was my saving grace in years when I struggled with depression, loneliness, heartbreak, and so many AP tests.
In college, I was still awkward, but a change began to take place. There was a deepening of my faith in a way that provided more seats at the table, a will and strength that defied professors who said I wasn’t good enough to make it, and friendships so strong that no time or distance has been able to break them. These relationships were forged in lonely practice room hallways in the music building, lengthy road trips to Fort Myers for Easter, a small artist colony on Martha’s Vineyard where we had nothing but ourselves and a recording studio. College was where dreams started to become reality before we were all spit out into the world, landing in cities where we gasped for air until we found the spaces where we could breathe.
As an adult, I’ve learned that forming friendships is not as easy as it once was. People have their families, careers, and priorities that don’t always leave room for new emotional investments. Sometimes you make the effort to meet someone new for coffee, tentatively testing the waters of compatibility. Do we like the same things? But more importantly, does this person’s heart recognize something familiar in my own? It’s rare when true relationship is found, which perhaps makes us more grateful for it. I’d be lying if I said I don’t envy the extroverts of the world. They make it look so easy with their effortless banter to strangers, the way they flit around a room like fireflies, striking up conversation with the dullest of individuals and making it seem interesting. I want that! But I also want to be true to who I am. Being genuine sometimes requires revealing that a day is shitty instead of saying everything is fine. Life is too short to waste precious effort on people who don’t see you. Be you, do you, live you to the very fullest, even if it means spending Saturday night with the cats. After all, they get you…