Sunday, April 5, 2009

An Interior Life

Growing up I would have to say that I was considered to be a bit of an introvert. At least by my family. There was a major disconnect between how I was at home and how I was when I was with my friends. At home I tended to prefer staying in my room reading rather then being out with everyone else. It didn’t help that I always felt like I was somewhere in the middle, not really fitting in to any group. I was the oldest cousin by 5 years so I wasn’t really into hanging with “the kids” yet I wasn’t a part of the adult group either. I was just sort of in a familial limbo. It was even hard to punish me because no TV and sending me to my room were just fine with me. I always had my books to read. And read read read I did.

At school it was totally different… I was talkative and sarcastic and would get in trouble for chatting away too much. It helped that I went to a private parochial school and spent 9 years with the same people. Basically we grew up together. We knew each other pretty well and I had my comfort zone of friends around me.

But in my sophomore year I changed to an enormous public high school. Not only did I not know a single soul but I didn’t know the politics, how to deal with so many different cliques, how to navigate this maze of rooms or even find my locker. In situations like this the introverted side of my nature came out and created a pattern than exists to this day. I read. A lot.

So now, when coming into a new “group”, be it a job or a conference or whatever, I tend to sit back and observe. I’m not shy, I can and will talk to pretty much everyone, but like to first see what everyone says and does. I prefer to keep my comments to myself and don’t just put out what I am thinking or feeling. This can go on for ages. One of my biggest issues is that I worry that I’m going to bore people, so I keep my trap shut. I think this comes off as either bitchy or aloof.

Sadly for me this is really not who I am… at least I don’t think so.

Safe to say I’ve spent a fair amount of time alone, either by choice or by necessity. I used to travel a lot by myself for work in my younger days and lived alone too. It’s actually very comfortable for me. On the negative side it tends to reinforce this kind of bad habit I have of acting introverted. On the positive side I don’t mind and can easily do stuff by myself.

I go shopping alone. I’ve gone to movies many times alone. I’ve taken solo trips and sometimes just head out for the day to do errands alone just for some “down-time.” It actually surprises and amazes me that there are people out there who have never done any of these things or even eaten in a restaurant by themselves.

Where the hell am I going with this?

Oh, yeah. Needing armor.

There are so many things we have nowadays to protect us from feeling alone, even when we are alone. In my purse I have: an iPod so I could watch a show or movie or listen to music, a Kindle to read books, magazines or newspapers, an iPhone to call someone, Twitter, text, email or play a game, a journal to write down any emo-ish angst or make lists, my blackberry to answer work emails and even a real paper book too.

We use these things to distract and entertain us but from what? From the world around us? From feeling vulnerable? Do we use them validate ourselves, to prove that we are sitting there alone for a reason. That we are intentionally alone and that we have a purpose. Why do we feel we have to prove anything and to who do we feel the need to prove it? To the waiter? To the people walking by us?

It’s pretty easy to lose the armor in a public yet blissfully anonymous situation. It’s easy to be a little more open with someone who isn’t going to judge you and that you are unlikely to see again. I’ve actually found my best meals and best service came when I didn’t have the distraction open or plugged in. I smiled with my server. I shared a glance with the neighboring table. I’d got complimentary glass of wine and a great dessert recommendation.

For me it’s harder to be open in the group situations. It’s something I struggle with and continue to struggle with. It takes a while for me to get comfortable saying my thoughts. And then I have set-backs where I don’t think I should have opened up at all.

Part of that is self-consciousness and self-doubt, yes, and I’m sure part of it is my own personality… by which I mean I know can be a pain in the ass. I have a tendency to say things for, ideally, humorous exaggeration or effect. Sometimes the effect is not what I intended. I’m not comfortably a “joiner.” I can be kind of snarky and sarcastic (I sound like a real joy, right???). And that pattern can be a form of armor too.

In the past I’ve pushed myself to move outside of my comfort zone and beyond my ingrained patterns. Great and magical things have happened and I’ve seen new directions come to my life. But right now I feel like crap emotionally and as if I’m at a cross-road yet again. They say we are alive to learn and overcome our fears. If that is true, I’m still very much a work in progress. A big part of me just wants to sit in the corner and read a book. It’s certainly safer. But I don’t think I can allow that. I shouldn’t, right? I’m not trying to change myself but maybe I need a revise? Add a few chinks in the armor? I’m working on it.

What challenges do you face and how have you worked through them? I’d love to hear about your journeys too.


lisa said...

Thank you for this wonderful post. The entire time I was reading it, I thought, this describes me to a tee (particularly the part about doing things alone and being amazed that other people don't do the same). I also worry about being perceived as cold and aloof in group situations when I simply feel awkward and/or don't have much to say.

Robo said...

Oh girl, you and I are kindred souls because I was pretty much the same way growing up. Always in that limbo with family parties because I was the only kid in my parents' circle of friends for a long time, and then I was stuck between the babies and adults.

Also the same now with groups, and that leads some people to think I'm either a snob or intimidating (so not!). The thing is that my job requires a lot of networking, but because I'm an observer, like you, I don't know how to break into groups holding a convo and get involved.

I almost cried when I read your post because it didn't seem like anyone else was like me. It's been a weirdly weepy weekend :)

Dream Sequins said...

I love this. Thanks for putting your vulnerable side forward. I've felt this in so many ways in my life. There's some anxiety about my social life, especially going out because I'm much better in one on one situations versus group settings. The man I married is the very opposite of that-- he's an extrovert. I think our relationship has pushed me in different ways, just as I have challenged him to slow down and enjoy quiet alone times. It's still difficult for me to attend parties without a plus one, or someone to lean on, but I'm slowly working up the courage to stand alone and be okay with that.

M-L-E said...

great post Poochie! ;-)
one word: COMPASSION ;-)
it makes being with yourself and others so much better. give yourself permission to be how you wanna be, 'snarky' and all. ;-)