I keep forgetting this blog is here! A lot of topics I think about I never get around to publishing over on LC.com because as my main blog for my main hobby, there are certain subjects which just don’t jive with the whole video game subject matter. I also don’t want to inject certain opinions over there because I’m trying to build traffic and a certain voice for that site that I fear would get muddied under “certain circumstances”.
That’s why I’m here, talking to you about introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between. This is a subject that would seem to be right at home on a blog about geek culture, right? Geeks are stereotypically socially awkward, and if you peer into the geek community via some of the more extroverted means (Twitter, Facebook, etc), you’ll find that a lot of geeks appear to be rather proud of their introverted status.
Why? I acknowledge that the written word rejects nuance, so there’s certainly a difference between someone admitting their self-reflective introversion, and someone who’s reveling in the fact that they don’t like to/find it difficult to interact much/often/at all with people they don’t know. So before I go any further, I want to say I am in no sense indicting anyone’s personality, inherent or adopted, as being inferior, wrong, or broken. I know that anxiety is a very real issue for people — myself included, to a degree — and that dealing with strangers is often hard if not physically impossible for a great many people. I wanted to say that because I know if I didn’t write it into a long paragraph, in bold, someone will read the rest of this and get angry. So, let’s move on.
When I was younger, I was learned to not trust a good many of my peers. You know how kids can be: bullying isn’t always about punching or pushing or even yelling. Often times it’s about getting people to believe that everything is allright until the point where it’s suddenly and dishearteningly not. Exploiting people’s innate desire to want friendship is a particularly cruel kind of bullying, because it’s so easy to pull off, so easy to want to believe, that when it’s proven to have been false at someone’s expense, it teaches people that maybe interacting with others isn’t worth the pain it could potentially cause. At some point, it’s just better to hold on to the friends you have that you know you can trust, and to immediately suspect anyone else as having ulterior motives.
This lead to a whole lot of fear of other people for me, and then to a whole lot of anger as my peer group moved into the age where our social personalities were being solidified. With that distrust of people still in effect, I was angry at others for having put me into this situation, and also myself for stubbornly refusing to try and break away from the thoughts and feelings that I had been harboring. Everyone I didn’t know was still a potential enemy before they were a potential friend, and looking back on it now I realize that yes, there were actual, honest, potential friends there that I let slip through my fingers.
Today, as an adult, I’ve had to confront introverted tendencies as a matter of course. I have to get my car fixed at the dealer. I need to talk to my daughter’s teachers. I need to ask someone where to find an item at the supermarket. But I’ve also started to learn the art of small-talk; it’s not something I enjoy, and it’s not something I’m good at. I’m still very comfortable just not acknowledging the presence of another person, even though others may find this behavior circumspect and unnerving. But I have an interest in moving away from introversion towards increasing levels of extroversion.
Once high school was done, I was a free agent. I had been accepted to a college, and was packing up and getting ready to go. As you might suspect, this was terrifying. For a person who had an inherent distrust of strangers, I was effectively leaving everyone I know behind to willingly place myself in an environment that was nothing but strangers. What could possibly go wrong?
In short: nothing. Just as I was among strangers, so was everyone else. We had all left our old lives behind, which is not insignificant. We spend 12 years of our lives (in the U.S.) traveling with the same cohort of people, having similar experiences, growing, and adapting alongside one another as we change physically, mentally, and chemically. We know each other, even if we don’t know each other, and eventually we start to categorize each other as yes or no, friendly or unfriendly, cool or uncool. Once we are defined in social shorthand, it’s difficult to re-write that label when all that history is known to our peers.
My college dorm was co-ed by room — two males next to two females next to two males, and so on. For someone who had particularly strong social issues with women, this was important. My roommate was someone that I did know from my brief time at a Catholic high school, although I didn’t know him all that well at the time. Being in the same situation, most everyone on the floor came together at the start of our college careers to start over in some way. The only requirement to fit in (or rather, to not be rejected) was to not be a dick. Everyone was OK with this, but it did require some mental juggling on my part.
I wasn’t happy with the person I was in high school because I was generally angry about the way people had treated me up to that point (although I was treated pretty well in high school). I disliked the guys because they were generally the most overt jerks, but I also disliked the girls because their bullying was particularly pointed at a time when kids were becoming more interested in members of the opposite sex than anything else. I was OK with not making any new male friends, but that fact that I didn’t have any female friends made me sad and angry.
Going away to college allowed me to reinvent myself. None of these people knew my history. All they knew was that I still had my long hair, I played the bass, and that initially I was kind of quiet. But that didn’t stop others from trying to get to know me. I then had a decision: shut them out as I had been learned to do for so long, or make the effort to open up and accept that these people could only want to get to know me, because they knew absolutely nothing about me; what else could they possibly want from me?. And I chose the later, and it was hands down the best decision I have ever made for myself.
In retrospect, I didn’t go anywhere as far as I could have. My old habits died hard, and for a while I was still extremely wary of people, and held certain preconceived notions that I really should have ditched earlier than I eventually did, but my psychological alterations paid off. Previously, all my friends were male; now, most of my friends were female. I got my first girlfriend. I many many friends and did many things that would have been both anathema and impossible back in high school partly because of my refusal to make an effort to get beyond myself and reach out to those who might have been honest in their desire to get to know me.
Of course, I’m now married and have a child. I have had jobs where I’ve had to interact with a whole lot of strangers. I’m not going to lie and say that I’m the life of the party; far from it. The introvert trope of having to find a quiet space to “recharge” is true. Being overly social quickly wears on me. What has changed, though, is my need to fit into society in ways that allow me to get to know people, and to be known by people. It’s become something very important to me: embracing the social animal side of human nature. Hell, I’m writing this personal post, talking about a difficult part of my life, which I would never have done 25 years ago. It’s never easy, though, and I still struggle sometimes. I have trouble calling businesses on the phone, or of talking to people when I suspect I might end up making myself look foolish or by revealing knowledge that might allow someone take advantage of me. But I’m far better than I was, and I feel I am far better for it than I thought I would be.
I feel that I have to say once again that this is not an indictment against those who consider themselves introverts, or who suffer from anxiety. It’s also not a blueprint or an exhortation for people to “get over it”. This is only one man’s journey from a state which made him unhappy to a place where his mood has improved significantly, and that’s shown him a way of living that pleases him more. I recognize that many people are very comfortable with who they are, even when they admit that they have difficulty with certain situations. None of that makes anyone a bad person; there is no right and no wrong in who we are.