“Well, I’ve officially messed things up,” she says, “I saw the boy I was telling you about, he was at the gym, I was awkward. I didn’t even say one thing to him. I’m socially inept. What is wrong with me?” My good friend Ellie is relaying a run-in typical of introvert behaviour. It’s text book.
The reason she feels comfortable enough to confide in me is because she knows I am exactly the same. This incident is the latest in a long string of social faux pas by Ellie, me and the greater introvert community. Whilst we know our actions are the result of some deep-seeded social and mental incapacities, to the rest of the world, we’re just a$$holes.
Your average, garden-variety introvert needs days, if not weeks, to mentally prepare for any kind of social situation. There are few moments which compare to the sheer terror of running into someone unexpectedly and entering into an impromptu catch up with them. You start blabbing out incoherent sentences and avoiding eye contact. The longer you talk, the more awkward it gets. Just say you’ve got strep throat and get the hell out of there bro.
It can take me days, if not weeks, to work up to calling someone. I would much rather deal with things electronically than on the phone or in person. Any time I hear the words, “Let’s get together to discuss,” I die a little inside. Are you mad? I don’t want to get together to discuss anything! I especially don’t want my phone to ring unexpectedly with someone who ‘just wants to chat’ or ‘is returning my call’ on the other end. What I want is to sit alone in a room and work autonomously.
As an introvert, should you have the luxury of planning in advance for a social situation, you are faced with the gambit of emotions that comes with it. This definitely includes the horrible mental image of the moment you walk into a room full of people and need to mingle and make small talk. Like a cat with a plastic cone around its neck, you try to back out of it, but you can’t. You’re trapped.
Your diary taunts you, highlighting your upcoming social outing and sending you reminders about it. Great, thanks Outlook, you smug bastard, like I’d forgotten! The closer it gets, the more anxious you become. You start to pray for a small natural disaster to wipe out the venue, or for your house to flood. You even start calling your Grandma, just to check she’s still vertical with a pulse. But you can’t get out of it, Grandma’s never been better and you, my friend, are definitely going to this event.
Inevitably you will spend the whole time trying to hide from everyone or cling desperately to the one person you’re comfortable with. Either that or you’re going to get absolutely drunk and make a fool of yourself. One way or another, everyone who was there thinks you’re an asshole.
But wait, hold on! It’s more complex than that. Some days I arrive at work and don’t realise, until halfway through the day, I haven’t said a single word to anybody. Everyone thinks I’m furious at them, but I’m not. I just have so much running through my head and my inner monologue is going crazy. In my mind, it’s been a hive of conversation and chitter chatter all day. I’m having a grand old time! The people around me, think I’m miserable.
I can be walking down the street and people ask me if I’m okay. The amount of information and lists pumping through my brain are causing me to pull my ‘I’m focusing’ face, which looks a lot like my ‘I’m having a mental breakdown, please help me before I start to cry’ face. Add to this my terrible eyesight and subsequent squinting and you’ve got a face that looks like Gilbert Gottfried. Fail.
Matt tells me he doesn’t speak to anybody he works with. Not a single person. He too is an introvert and will quite happily sit in silence for his entire working day. I saw him have an awkward and unexpected encounter with an old school friend once. He bumbled his way through the most painful 5 minutes of his life, sputtering incomprehensible information at this poor woman and growing redder by the second. It didn’t go well.
To anybody who isn’t an introvert, we come across like massive jerks! Most of the time it’s not intentional and it is almost always unavoidable, sometimes we’re not even aware of it!
If you are an introvert, get together with some fellow introverts and start swapping stories. It’s great to have a conversation like the one I did with Ellie. There’s no logical reason she didn’t talk to the boy at the gym, it’s raw introvert nature and it’s inescapable, like it or not.
If you’re not an introvert, take a second to think next time you have an encounter with someone who may be. You may come away from it thinking they’re a rude jerk, but maybe, deep-down, they’re really sweet and very awkward! Remember, they’re more afraid of you than you are of them. Love the introverts among you! Celebrate them! But for goodness sakes, don’t invite them to your family BBQ, you’ll just scare the poor things.
Head over to Mummy, Wife, Me to read a blog post with the same theme. My good friend Renee shares the story of two introvert parents raising a beautiful little girl who also happens to be an introvert and the negative impact being perceived as shy can have on little ones.
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