I’m an introvert.
Like, for realz.
An INFJ, to be exact, if you’re into that whole Myers Briggs thing.
Insightful and brilliant. Yeah, looks about right (via)
Unstructured social situations terrify me. At a recent opening night party of a play at my work, I was initially super excited to go. I was going to dress up, surprise everyone that this teenage-boy-looking creature in a hoodie and Chucks could actually look presentable. I can never decide if it’s a compliment or not when people exclaim “Wow, I barely recognized you!” So basically I look like a hot mess the rest of the time, right?
So I was all excited to be there and was convinced that, because I had finally gotten to know some of my coworkers, I was going to be able to mill around and make small-talk and everything would be fine.
I had forgotten that “standing and making casual conversation with acquaintances” pretty much incapacitates me. My confidence melted away, and I was left, standing awkwardly by myself with a plate of cheese. This cheese stood alone. I wanted to run away.
My life, ladies, gentlemen, and everyone in between (via)
I’ve always hated situations like this. I’ve always been hesitant to attend parties unless I had a dedicated buddy who wasn’t annoyed with me tailing behind them like some eager, yet shy puppy. I loved just sitting back and observing everything…but then I felt like That Creepy Girl In The Corner. Which, I guess, I was.
Or I’d drink. Alcohol loosened me up, turned me into a silly, word-vomity motormouth. But sometimes, in preparation for awkward party situations, I’d pre-game, and then have another drink or two too fast at the party. And then I’d turn into That Girl Puking Cranberry Vodka All Over The Table For Hours Because She Couldn’t Even Lift Up Her Head (#summertheatre #Istillhaventsteppedfootinthathouseagainduetosupremeembarrassment)
Thankfully there was only this “before” photo of that dreadful Cranberry Vodka night. It was a Toga/Superhero/Mafia party and I was Super Paillette Girl with a salt shaker full of sequins. June 2013.
At least I don’t need anyone to hold back my hair.
But seriously, though. (via)
Back to the opening night party. So there I was, cheese plate in hand, standing awkwardly, doing my best Creepy Girl In The Corner impression. I spied my boss and I made a brief interaction with her and her friend, but quickly ran out of anything to say and ducked out. I returned to my post, attempting to look busy, examining my food. A coworker I kinda knew stopped by. We had attended a couple events together, and I knew he was A Genuinely Nice Guy, so I was grateful that he saw my uncomfortable-ness and made an attempt to chat with me.
“Ugh, I’m so bad at these things. I just never know what to say, so I stand in a corner and eat and think about running away,” I confessed. And I basically just kept stammering about how awkward I was, stunted and immobilized once again.
Thankfully, soon a few spots at a table opened up, and we sat there. I was next to a couple coworkers I had never formally met, but they seemed like cool people. I began to relax. This was better. I had a set place to be. I could observe without looking like a gargoyle. I could choose to jump in if I wanted to.
I ended up having a pretty good time, but I went home exhausted.
It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. Social situations exhaust me. I need time to “recharge” afterwords. A couple weekends ago, I attended a group lunch, an opening night party, and a brunch all in one weekend, and I could barely believe I made it through in one piece.
See all of Roman Jones’ “Guide to Understanding the Introverted” here. The Hamster Ball of Personal Space is for real, yo.
I made it through my first party with my new coworkers by strategically making a “Human Santa-pede” Ugly Christmas Sweater and using it as The World’s Best Litmus Test For Finding Cool People. It worked out pretty well. It tells you a lot about me.
Sometimes you just need a disgusting horror film reference to get you through parties
But believe it or not, this was progress.
My ex-wife was a huge extrovert. She was a larger-than-life personality who had personal “hug goals” each day. When she introduced me to her friends, she always warned them beforehand that I wasn’t a hugger, so don’t try it. Probably my stoic West Michigan upbringing or something. People have to earn my hugs. You know you’ve made it when you get an Amanda Hug. Or you’ve basically forced yourself upon me and I’m too awkward to decline it.
She thrived around people. She put on a show, lit up the room. I was grateful to be with her, because that meant I didn’t have to do anything. It got me off the hook. If she got up to go to the bathroom and left me with her friends, I would sit there, hoping someone would pick up where she left off so I wouldn’t have to make up some stuff.
My awkwardness was actually one of the things she loved most about me. She would always share how, the first time she met me in person, I tripped down the stairs. She loved my whimsical, Introverted Manic Pixie Dream Girl nature and how she could be my social savior.
Cuz I just do stuff like this sometimes
Or there was this time I was celebrating my 24th birthday at a brand new summer theatre and I got drunk because: social situations and birthday, and proceeded to lay on the ground while forcing people to eat popsicles and would get offended if they refused
I always knew that I would be okay in social situations for the rest of my life, being married to her. Sure, it was the easy way out, but it worked well for me.
Until it didn’t of course.
So here I am, turning 30 years old this month, and I feel like I still have the social skills of a turtle with opposable thumbs.
And this leads me to my next point of discussion: finding my openness.
I’ve always been told that I’m intimidating. I still don’t know why or what the hell that even means, but I’ve gotten that all my life.
But I’ve begun to realize it’s because I’ve lived a lot of my life being incredibly closed off, especially to strangers. I get into a zone while in public situations and almost feel like I have tunnel vision, and I can feel my body becoming more compact and blocked. The world exists but I am barely aware of it. I don’t notice it, I just focus on my task. My goal was always to make it through with as few social interactions as possible. No, lady, I don’t want to discuss this brand of linguine in the pasta aisle. I relished the arrival of self-checkout lanes in my local grocery store. Don’t talk with me about my hair (or lack thereof) and keep your kid away from me.
I would keep my face in a neutral expression, and, paired with my shaved head and generally some form of studded clothing worn somewhere upon my person, yeah…I wouldn’t want to talk with me either. I get it. And it worked quite well.
But…what would happen if I carried myself differently? What if I walked with my head held high, a smile on my face radiating from a newfound inner happiness? Even if I was wearing my usual hoodie and Chucks uniform, would things change? Would the world begin interacting with me differently?
A few months ago, I once again got pissed off at my attempt to grow my hair out, and buzzed it all off. I was back to my most authentic self. I had just begun to come out of my shell at work, and brush off the cobwebs of depression. Ah. This was what it was like to feel comfortable and confident in my own skin.
I hadn’t felt this sensation in years.
And it felt good.
I tried this new look out on a visit to the mall recently. I received three genuine compliments about my shaved head, two from men, one from a woman. I joked with another customer in the line about something silly and mundane. I smiled at the kid who ran out in front of me. I looked people in the eye.
Wow, this was weird. But empowering.
I’ve gotten three inquiries this week about my hair, and asked if it “was intentional” (meaning: did I have cancer?) But then was told that I wore it well.
And, just today, I was at PetSmart, using some really awesome coupons on Chet the DumpsterCat’s favorite food. Of course, I had to visit the adoptable kitties, just to rip my heart into pieces a tiny bit. Another woman was also admiring them. She had studied up on their stories and was commenting on their personalities. She, too, asked about my hair and told me about her friend who had gone through chemo but also totally rocked the bald look.
We talked about our cats, about how she had four at one point, but now only had two, and one of them was old and needed pills twice a day. I told her how much it meant to me when I saw Chet waiting for me in the window after work, and how patient he was when I accidentally dropped things like measuring cups still sticky with honey upon his head.
Also, Chet wants you to know that you should follow him on Facebook
Yes. I’m that kind of Cat Mom. I know.
The conversation flowed naturally, and I felt excited to discuss our shared love of cats. This was what connecting with a stranger felt like. And it wasn’t terrible. Normally, I would be running away from this situation, awkwardly fidgeting, looking for the first available “out.” But, after what must have been ten minutes, she was actually the one to break it off first.
I felt triumphant. I, The Awkward Introvert Corner Lurker, had a meaningful and successful interaction with a stranger and I made it through and actually enjoyed it.
I used to use my shaved head as a defense mechanism, a deterrent to others, part of my spiky armor. But now, it has turned into a conversation starter. A lot of weird questions and comments come from my newfound openness, but it now amuses me.
Maybe this whole “being more open” thing will be okay.