Sunday, July 14, 2013

Social Animals/ Solitary Creatures

So recently, I have been coming to the slow realization that I am an introvert by nature. I've certainly never thought of myself as an exceptionally gregarious person, but I had previously thought that on the social spectrum, I fell squarely on the extroverted side. But I really, really don't.
There are two things that confused me and had led me to my former erroneous conclusion. One is that I had thought that introverts were necessarily shy, which I would not characterize myself as. (Although, this could just be a negative connotation with shyness, as I will generally cross the street and look studiously at the ground in order to avoid encounters with acquaintances and all but the closest of friends.) The other misleading trait is that I care deeply about the social. If a teacher asks question in class, I feel an obligation to try to provide an answer. If the band tells me to clap, I clap. If the person at the front of the room asks for volunteers, I volunteer. I have picked a "helping" profession for my career path. This is not to say, I'm a lemming, as anyone I know will attest to, nor does it mean that I am a selfless person. I am just constantly amazed at how society works, and also constantly scared about how close it feels we are to our own utter destruction. Destruction that will come if we all decide to turn away from each other and stop lending a hand when someone asks for one.
So this recognition of the importance of the social naturally has led me to the realization that C and I need friends here. But then I realized that my want of friends really runs toward the completely practical. I need a deeper bench on the boys' emergency contact lists for school or rec classes. We need a few people who could watch one of the boys if a last minute conflict comes up. I need someone to ask for recommendations for handymen or roof repair or babysitters or a manicurist. On the personal side, I need someone to be able to bitch to when C or the boys are driving me crazy that isn't related to either of us. Someone to trade bits of the latest zeitgeist with. I need friends, and I'm willing to do my part to fulfill these social roles. But the truth of the matter is, I don't really want friends. I don't feel any natural impetus to introduce myself to someone I've seen a dozen times at the park or the pool. When someone approaches me to talk and makes overtures of friendship, my first reaction is generally "Why is he/she talking to me?" My confusion does not stem from low self-esteem, but instead from my complete lack of a reciprocal feeling.
I like to be around people, but more to observe than interact. Even when C and I are out together, I find it extremely hard to maintain a conversation with him because I am drawn into all of the social interactions going on around us. When the kids are playing at the park, I love to listen to the dynamics of the moms around me, or even better, of the kids. The conversations of groups of pre-teens and their strange mix of astounding maturity and utter childishness could keep me entertained for days. But as far as getting into the mix myself, I would generally rather not.
Of course, I have had my share of close friends whose company I seek out and take comfort in, and whose lives I genuinely care about and take an interest in, but even those have had a strong component of convenience to them. Once our lives diverged in any substantial way either through changes in location or schedule, the friendships tend to wane considerably and generally cause very few feelings of loss or distress over the change. Eventually in a particularly low social phase, I wonder to myself what happened to those bonds that once seemed so strong, but then I shrug my shoulders and move on for the most part. New situations emerge and the present and its current tangle of new connections and new people move to the front of the consciousness line. Out of sight, out of mind, after all.
So I've decided to forget about forging new personal, "meaningful" relationships, or at least not spend substantial time trying to cultivate these friendships. Instead, I will seek out opportunities to be "next to" other people. Involved with an activity, without the pressure of forming individual connections. If the connections form naturally over time and proximity, great. If they don't, and my emergency contact list stays lean for another year or two, so be it.
My newly realized introverted status has helped me to realize that I do need more time working on a relationship though - my relationship with myself. So instead of Girls' Night Out, I'm going to start having My Night Out. I'm looking forward to having coffee with myself, taking myself out to a movie, or just doing some good old-fashioned people watching. And maybe if I'm able to recharge my own battery enough by being alone, I will have a little more in the tank to put toward being social. But even if I don't, I will at least have spent some quality time with a person whose company I always appreciate - me.