Being an introvert is hard. You see, when you’re talking to people inside your head, conversations generally go the way you want them to. But when you talk to people in the real world, they say all the wrong things, and that can get really annoying. After a while, it seems easeir not to have those out-loud conversations at all, just to maintain peace and sanity. You’re better off reading a book.
Another challenge to being an introvert – at least for me – is when people don’t act the way they’re supposed to. See, just like the conversations I have inside my head, there are composites I build in my head. I have a very clear picture of how Cousin X, Auntie Y, and Ex-boyfriend Z behave in certain situations, and I base all my decisions on these … shall we call them … hypotheses.
Thing is … my composites aren’t theories at all. They’re detailed constructions based on keen observation, so they should be accurate dammit. But human beings rarely co-operate. Nooooo. They have to go growing and changing and evolving, throwing massive spanners into the beautifully constructed boxes that I’ve built for them. And that’s not even counting the parts of themselves they keep so well hidden.
When a person acts ‘out of character’, it shakes my world view. It makes me wonder what else I could be wrong about. For example, is the sky still blue? Unfortunately, this business of people breaking out of their boxes has been happening a lot lately. It started with Josephine, the neighbourhood sweetheart. She’s an old lady that lives in our building. She spends most of the day sitting on her balcony staring at people walking by. Sometimes she smiles and waves, and the kids love playing with her.
I’ve always assumed Josephine was harmless. She’s not crabby or senile like some of the old people I know. She seems perfectly content with her cozy little life. At least that’s what I thought before last week. I happened to leave the office at lunch time and got home much earlier than usual. As I walked into the building, I heard a high pitched voice yelling the type of obscenities that would make a sailor blush.
I assumed it was some lunch-time drunk and approached with mild amusement. Except it wasn’t a drunk. It was Old Josephine. She was yelling at some neighbourhood kid for the unforgivable crime of refusing to run an errand for her. She was going on and on about a generation lacking respect, and the poor boy was petrified.
Then there’s Tom, the family flirt. I always assumed he was an airhead with the horizontal skills of a ruler, because he’s charming, hot, and constantly surrounded by wealthy older women. Which is fine, if you’re into that kind of thing, it’s not my place to judge. But then I recently had a conversation with him in the smoking room. No, I don’t smoke, but some people like to talk when they smoke, and sometimes, I like to listen.
Anyway, the reason we were talking was that he had just been dumped by a woman that he liked. Why? He had refused to sleep with her. Yep. Apparently, he’s saving himself for marriage, and all his lady friends just like to spend money on him for conversation, and attention, because they don’t get that from their husbands.
Of course I was skeptical, but he’s pretty convincing, and he doesn’t generally lie – at least not to me. Plus, there’s a firm, solid reason for his abstinence, pun intended. Apparently on his first day of college, they were shown a series of quite disturbing videos about abortions and STDs. Graphic stuff. He then swore he’d marry a virgin and only after a battery of tests performed in classy Swedish hospitals. Okay then. But … what level of mad skills does that boy have to get them dishing out the dough without him dishing out the di …
Moving on swiftly. There’s the person in my phone book who constantly sends me txtx dt luk lke dis, cjui 208. I’ve never taken him seriously, and he only survives on my list because he’s allegedly my brother’s boss. Le sigh. Well, two days ago, I finally met the man. Turns out he has three degrees and speaks four foreign languages. So why on earth can’t he spell? His response? “It’s called Short message Service. Duh!” Sigh.
Sometimes, my judgement goes beyond outward characteristics. Sometimes I judge people’s opinions, personalities, lifestyles. It’s odd to me that they can think, act, or be certain ways. A key issue here is homosexuality. For a long time, I thought it was a sin. But then I wondered what kind of a God would create you with an attraction to the same sex, and then declare his own creation a sin.
I’m still conflicted about it, because two of my favourite people in this world are gay. It’s easy to be with them and see them as … well … themselves. Maybe because they were already such an important part of my life, so I don’t see them as gay people, I see them as the same people they always were, the same people that I love.
When they came out to me, it wasn’t awkward or disturbing because our relationships were already established and secure, so it was like, ‘Oh, okay. So what’s for lunch?’ Well actually, it was more like, ‘I’m so glad you didn’t tell me five years ago, because I might have smashed your head with a Bible. But I’m older, wiser, and more open-minded now. So what’s for lunch?’
I do notice that I skirt certain things with them, because I don’t want to be hurtful or offensive, and I don’t know where the lines are, if any lines actually exist. I didn’t give any of it much thought until Binyavanga came out and I found myself wondering how I should ‘feel’ about it, because I didn’t feel anything at all.
But then I realise that his essay wasn’t about any of the readers. It was about him. It was an expression of himself, a form of personal release. What me or anyone else thought about it was incidental. And I think gayness, like personality, or fashion, or religion, is really about the person in question, period.
I suppose we can argue – I can argue – that my opinions (whether they’re happy or angry) are part of who I am, and that forming them cements my personality. But that’s just it. My opinions cement my personality. They have nothing to do with how anyone else chooses to live their life. The rest of the world can and do form opinions, but in the end, the only thing that matters is you.
Speaking of boxes, I have a pretty tight one for myself. I don’t know if this has anything with being an introvert, but I love being psycho-analysed and doing personality tests. I know very few people brave enough to humour me with the former (bless you both), but as for the latter, I have so far tested as INFJ, Type 4, and mel-choleric. All three results focus on me thinking I’m unusual, individual, one-of-a-kind, there-is-only-one-me and all that kind of thing. But the more I think about it, the more I reluctantly admit I’m just like anybody else.
Maybe we only feel we’re unique because nobody expresses these universal joys, triumph, or fears in the exact same way you do. Maybe everyone secretly thinks that billboard top 40 song is dumb, or that famous girl is plain, or that award-winning movie has no plot. And maybe everyone hides these feelings to fit in, or maybe when they do display opinions, they deliberately do so in ways in that no one else can recognise.
The thing about the internet is people type a lot of things they wouldn’t say out loud. So if you hang around long enough, you’ll find out that lots of people share your unique quirks. They just don’t like to talk about. For example, defensive pre-emptive rejection is a thing. It isn’t just in my head. Yay!
Logically speaking, discovering that we’re more alike than we think is a good thing. But it can be depressing when you enjoy feeling like one-of-a kind. We all think we’re special. We all want to be noticed, even if we want to be noticed for being the person who doesn’t want to be noticed. I was thinking about it the other day, and the only reason I wear jeans while all my peers dress up is because I want to be different.
It’s a stubborn form of rebellion. Some girls want to stand out for being the most stylish. I subconsciously want to stand out for the opposite. But clearly, I still want to stand out. If I genuinely didn’t want the attention, I’d dress like everyone else to fully blend in. So in effect, I go against the grain not to refute the grain itself, but as a sneaky way of being seen inside the grain.
By being an introvert, I don’t fit into the typical social fabric because I’m happy in my corner with my book. But at a party, the most visible person – ironically – is the one sitting in a corner with a book. You want everyone to ignore you, but at the end of the party, everyone has noticed you. So by shunning attention, you’re inadvertently seeking it just as much as the loudest person at the party.
By sitting there, you’re saying, “I don’t care about this party. I want you to see that I don’t care about this party. And I want you to know how much I hate being here. I’m different from all of you, because you all want to be here, and I don’t.”
Ironically, lots of the people at that party don’t want to be there either. They just hide in different ways, like drinking so much they forget themselves, standing awkwardly in dark corners, forcing conversations and laughing far too loud. And no, it’s not any more effective to skip the party, especially the kind of party where everyone there notices your absence. *cheeky grin*
I think there’s a reason it took me six months to write this post. I kept adding a paragraph here and a line there, and now I feel I finally get the point. Making snap judgements is easy. Especially when said judgements were reached after several hours of keen observation. But maybe it’s time I learned to change my judgements, or better yet, to not make them at all.
It’s only human to care what other people think, and to mould our lives around that, even if we mould them by ‘rebelling.’ Dressing like a tomboy doesn’t make me any less of a girl. If anything, my tomboy-hood re-inforces what it is to be ‘feminine’, and deep down, I accept that idea, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be fighting it so hard. If you didn’t care about ‘girly things’ you wouldn’t take the time or effort to contradict them. By being a tomboy, you’re effectively saying, “That’s what a girl is, and I don’t want to be … that.” Doesn’t stop you being a girl though.
There will always be specific people you need to please (or displease); significant others, parents, children, yadda yadda yadda. But accepting that their opinion doesn’t change or define you is important. You are not what people think you are, whether you mould yourself into that image or invent yourself against it. No matter what anyone says, thinks, implies, suggests, or puts on TV, you will always be you, that soul that is sharpest and clearest at 3.00 a.m. on an idle Tuesday.
If we could all make our peace with that, life would be a whole lot easier, and maybe we wouldn’t all be angry all the time. I’m not there yet, but I hope I will be soon, because it’s a beautiful place to be. And maybe once I’m there, I’ll learn to keep pointless judgements and opinions to myself. Or better yet, I’ll learn not to have them at all.
♫ I knew you were trouble ♫ Taylor Swift ♫