Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rescued from the Draft Folder....

Have I really been absent since Christmas? Yikes. Don't worry- I haven't comepletely fallen off the face of the earth.

I was cleaning out some old drafts, and came across this one from back in September. Not sure why I didn't post it then, but here it is now.

Watch out for the quiet ones
Drafted, September 26, 2011

I don’t make friends easily.

And that’s a truth- not one of my typical self-degrading statements. I like to think I am a friendly person- approachable and somewhat likeable. People say I’m easy to talk to- so I suppose that there’s something redeeming in there. Either that or I am extremely adept at fooling people. Okay, okay… I’m done being me.

But in all seriousness… I am friendly, but not easily friend-able. I very much keep people at a distance. I have what you would consider several surface level friends, but I can probably count on one hand the number of people that I would truly consider a “friend”. And interestingly enough, one or two of those few that I consider close friends are people I only know through e-mail correspondence. But I consider those relationships just as deep and important. There’s a level of safety that’s found in pouring out your soul in anonymity.

During one of the first meetings with my therapist, she asked me some of the things I hoped to gain from these sessions. My response was to become more extroverted and adept at making friends. When she asked me why, I responded without hesitation, without even really thinking about my answer:

“Because that’s what people want me to do”.

The words I spoke hung the silence for a moment, and then the clarity of those words struck like a clanging gong.

For several months I’d been berating myself because I wasn’t living up to expectations that were set for me- someone else’s idea of who I should be. It was pointed out that I wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t doing things. I wasn’t forming enough friendships. But the more I tried to force those things, the emptier I felt. I was smothering, and making myself miserable to fit myself into expectations that I can never meet, because

That’s. Simply. Not. Me.

I think the advice was well-intended, and prompted out of a level of concern. Or more accurately, from the perspective of an extrovert who can’t comprehend how an introvert operates. For an extrovert, the thought of a weekend looming with no plans made, no places to go, no people to see is incomprehensible. For me? I’d prefer my own company to just filling up the emptiness with a warm body. Don’t get me wrong- I like being around people. I would say that I’m social, but I don’t seek out company just to save myself from being alone. And I’m not a talker. Put me in a group of people and I tend to blend into the background. I don’t have the ability to entertain a crowd, and I don’t captivate an audience with stories or conversation. More times than not, when I am in a group I get the joke that each teller thinks is so original and funny:

“Hey over there, you should really keep it down!”


“Someone shut Melissa up, she’s talking too much!”

Or my personal favorite,

“It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for!” (what does that MEAN anyway?)

The variations are many, but the message is the same:
You’re not measuring up.
(And I can’t help but think to myself, it’s the quiet ones like me that allow the boisterous ones to have an audience to perform in front of.)

I listen more than I speak, and absorb more than I expel. Maybe that’s where the innate sense of empathy I seem to have comes from… and I think that quiet nature is what makes me essentially who I am. I would much rather be in the background than in the spotlight. Believe me; I’ve tried the spotlight thing. And I’m okay with sharing the spotlight. Heck, I don’t even want to share it. For all I care, you can have the spotlight, the secondary lights, and the backlights too. I’ve tried to fit myself into the mold of what other people think I should be, and it doesn’t work.

I think about Emily and Lauren and Rachel and my friend Debbie- the four most social people I’ve known- and wonder at what it is that they have (had) that makes it seem so effortless, and why I seem to be missing it. Lauren and Rachel are the same way. And if you look up extroverted in the dictionary, you will find my friend Debbie’s picture beside the definition. Emily never knew a stranger. She had more friends than I could keep track of, and a never-ending stream of places to go and people to see. But I can’t be Emily. I realized that I’ve been trying to be. I look at my sister and all the things she was, her huge personality, the friends that she had, and the effect she brought on people, and I envy those qualities in her, because I don’t have them. Usually the younger sibling lives in the older sibling’s shadow. Subconsciously, I’ve been trying to lose myself in hers. Or maybe I’m trying to fill a gap that simply can’t be filled. The funny thing is, if Emily was here, she would be the first one to give me the well-deserved kick in the pants that I need and tell me to get over myself in the way that only a sister can.

To me an extrovert is almost like a puzzle that I can’t quite solve. It's the missing key to unlocking the world’s standard of “normal”.

But that’s them. And that’s not me. The cool thing is though, I think for the first time in 28 (and a half) years…. I’m finally starting to be okay with that. I’m happy with the friends I have. It may not be many, but they’re genuine, and they are friendships that will last a lifetime.

I do have one friend in particular who has quickly become one of the dearest and truest friends I’ve ever had. I don’t share easily. I don’t trust. And I very rarely speak my heart or give voice to my own wants or needs. I’ve heard it time and time again that I’m too easy-going. I’m one of those people that consistently defers to what someone else wants. “It doesn’t matter”, “I don’t care”, and “whatever you want to do is fine with me” are my Gospels. And most of the time, it’s because that really is what I feel. I happen to really be that easy-going. But once in a while I do have a preference, yet still hesitate to give it voice. One of my biggest fears in any/all relationships is that eventually the other person is going to get tired of me. That they will wake up and realize that I’m really not worth all the aggravation. I don’t know where that comes from. I’m sure that’s a whole year’s worth of material to keep my therapist occupied. But I think the fact that I recognize it is progress. And somehow with my friend Viviane, there’s a security in our friendship that I’ve never really found with any one else. It’s freeing. I think I realized that if someone decides they don’t want to be my friend anymore because I’d rather have pizza for dinner than Chinese…. that certainly isn’t a friend worth having. It seems ridiculous, but those are the kinds of trivial opinions that I won’t typically voice.

But while I’ve found that security with one friend, I still haven’t been able to extend that to the rest of my life. I take on too much at work, and can’t seem to ask for help. I still let people use me as a doormat, and find myself making excuses for the reasons why they do that. I still hesitate to take a stand and say…

“I want Chinese for dinner!”

I struggle with some deep-seated need to be accepted. To earn other people’s approval. Basically, my self-esteem reaches a point so low at times that it’s non-existent. I don’t know why my mind works like that, or what chemicals in my genetic make-up went haywire to make me wired that way, but that’s the way I am. My therapist likes to tell me that it’s only a matter of re-programming my thinking. That your thoughts are only a projection of your mind, and what your environment has pressed upon you- they aren’t a reflection of your soul, of your true self. Makes sense to me. And it makes me hopeful that there’s a simple cure for neurotic self-depreciating people like me: it really is all in my head.
But curiously I wonder…
If you can re-program self-esteem, can you re-program yourself into an extrovert? Is extroverted-ness or introverted-ness controlled by your thoughts or is it part of the soul? And is one really better than the other? If we were all extroverts, the world would be… a much louder place. And if we were all introverts, well…. let’s just say that the restaurants would be hurting for business because none of us would be willing to voice an opinion as to where we wanted to eat dinner.

But while there are some things about myself I admit need some “tweaking”, I don’t really want to re-program into an extrovert. I wouldn’t be me. And for all my faults, flaws, and sometimes too-easy-going- nature, there’s obviously something about me that seems genuinely likeable-enough. I wouldn’t have been able to say that before.

And that thought alone is encouragement enough to keep trying.

1 comment:

Dan McGaffin said...

I can so relate with at least 75% of what you said. I was just thinking of what I did yesterday. And my answer was not much other than a little writing, reading, and hanging out with myself. After thinking about it for a minute, I decided it wasn't such a bad day after all.

I know that I used to put myself down quite a bit. Sometimes it was to beat someone to the punch line, or maybe to keep myself humble, or maybe I just didn't think that much of myself. I like to think I've gotten better at it. I know maybe a ten years ago (when I was your age) a good friend of mine at work wouldn't put up with it. She'd give me a look or make a comment. So I'm sure that helped a little. So my point is that there is hope.