“It’s not that I don’t like other people.”
“It’s just… I’m exhausted even thinking about parties.”
“I need to rest myself, rejuvenate. Re-energize. I can’t do that in a…”
silence from the keyboard
“You’re just making excuses. If you’re not invigorated by a group of friends, then they’re not really your friends, you’re just pretending”
“Eventually you’ll find people you don’t have to pretend around. We all do. It’s part of growing up.”
“Unless you’re just a freak like me.”
I’ve heard the experience that someone’s been born “outside of their time” or out of place. I don’t think I can really claim either, in the grander scheme of things. If I were out of this time or out of this place I would be so irrevocably different I don’t think that the me then and there would be remotely similar to the me now and here. No, I believe I was born to both this place and time and that the reason for that (if there even is one) is unknowable.
I don’t think I could have survived without the internet.
“Why do you stay home so much, now? You used to always go out, every night.”
“Not every night.”
She begins typing on the keyboard, clearly annoyed at my blatant attempt to sidestep her question.
“Not every night” she confirms, “but most of them. Do you still have friends? Did you do something terrible?”
“No. I didn’t do anything. If anything, I get more requests for time or pointed “we should see each other more often” from people.”
“Money.” That’s a lie. “Time.” That’s a lie. “I just don’t really like parties and stuff much.” That’s the truth.
The keyboard typed away, rhythmic and almost regal as she gave me the silent treatment, forcing me to continue.
“It’s not that I don’t like other people…”
My mother is an extreme extrovert. If not surrounded by others, if not constantly on the move from one social engagement (regardless of its function) to another she is unfulfilled. She doesn’t understand my introversion. She thinks it’s something to “get over.” She thinks it’s something that’s recent.
Truth told, it seems recent because it’s only recently I’ve given in willingly, completely, to this part of me. It’s only recently that I’ve allowed myself to be and appear drained by social situations. I was adept at masking myself, appearing the perfect extrovert and I still am. Most people, unless they have cause to know me well personally, have no clue that the extroversion is a facade.
I think it bothers her that I’m an introvert. I don’t think she understands the implications of what it means.
That’s not to say she doesn’t accept it and doesn’t accept me as what I am. There’s quite a defined line between acceptance and understanding. Hell, how could I expect her to understand when it’s new territory for me?
“Are you really not coming?” It was a friend, asking about their party. I’d made some excuse about a scheduling conflict in order to save feelings. For some reason, “I’m an introvert and your party would drain me” is seen as a lousy reason, a selfish one, even, to skip a social engagement.
“Yeah, I’m sorry.” I was. I was sorry because it was less hurtful for them to think I was slighting them in favor of a different friend than it would be for me to be honest. I was sorry that the only reason it was mildly acceptable I wasn’t going to be there was because of a different social obligation.
I’ve heard the argument that it’s selfish to not attend a party without “good reason.” Think about how that feels, though, dear readers. My comfort and ability to function are not good reasons? Am I not allowed to be selfish when it comes to my own well-being? Even taking out that level of it, I’m obligated to go to an event for someone that I’ll be interacting with directly for all of ten minutes, most likely? But if I go for those ten minutes then leave I’ve somehow slighted my host and if I demand direct interaction, the reason I’m even going, I’m an ungracious guest?
If you read episode one of this series you’ll remember that to me, as an introvert, a group conversation isn’t just a group conversation. Are you ready for a paradox?
A dyadic conversation within a group conversation isn’t a normal dyadic conversation, either. Whereas I can communicate and interact with one person without feeling drained or used up, having even that same interaction as part of a larger group changes the nature of it.
I’m no longer “having a conversation with my friend.” I’m “having a group conversation with my friend and this group and each individual of the group.” It can be exactly the same but simply the presence and participation of others changes the impact of the interaction.
Each addition to the dynamic is exponential.
“We understand completely if you don’t come, but we would love your presence too.” One of my better friends knew that I was exploring more in depth my identity and experience as an introvert. They knew that I was coming to terms with what it meant, that I still fought indoctrination of rudeness by declining invitations. I thanked them profusely for understanding; I went to their party and had a blast, leaving tired but sated.
What I’ve found is that I can really “let loose” when I can drop the pretense that I’m enjoying every second of a social gathering. I can comfortably “retreat” into my own territory, creating a buffer around me and everyone else that lets me recharge, albeit like the hit of a ten minute drive car-charge to a cell phone. Enjoying social gatherings has never been a problem for me; I’d make a guess that most introverts enjoy social gatherings on some level.
Surviving them is the question.
I said I wouldn’t have survived without the internet. Indeed, my implication was also that I won’t survive without the internet. The internet makes possible for me the means necessary to interact, to learn, to grow and connect myself to others. Hell, even this entry, this entire series and this blog are all method of connecting myself to others.
I’ve heard it said, repeatedly, by an acquaintance that they can’t stand how disconnected the internet has made society, how incapable of “authentic connection” its made youth and how thoroughly it reinforces a culture of entitlement.
They identify as an introvert (and I have no reason to disbelieve them).
But this introvert has such a wildly different experience with the internet. Without the internet I wouldn’t be able to connect with other people. Without the internet I wouldn’t know what an authentic connection felt like (and I honestly think that I’ve had more of those online than off in my life). Without the internet I would have never learned patience and the art of working for what I desire (and not achieving it anyway).
I know I’m not alone in this. I have heard other millennials say much the same of their experiences. What frightens me is my acquaintance’s prescriptivist narrative when it comes to this idea, and that they really, truthfully believe that this is the downfall of modern human experience.
What if the internet seems inauthentic, disconnected and entitled because it’s allowing a type of person the ability to thrive who otherwise couldn’t? That’s what’s happening with me, at least. Just allowing another group to thrive does not, of a necessity, suppress the groups that were there before.
“It’s not that I don’t like other people…” it’s that I truly feel closer when I’m not in a group of them.