He meant well. As I sat on the bar patio with nothing to defend me save my laptop, he brought more and more people my way. He saw it as social networking. Introductions, to his mind, were good. I should meet everyone. Knowing names and faces did something, though I couldn’t quite peg what. His intention was to make me feel welcome, and it would wound him to know that in fact he actually triggered my flight reflex.
I’m good at mastering these reflexes. Most people have no idea how uncomfortable strangers make me. Since most of these people were drunk – my least favorite kind of people – they never sensed even a remote glimmer of my discomfort.
I smiled and quipped and made eye contact. I also felt the inevitable shaky buzz that comes when I lose center. I was surrounded, and the only escape was the equally crowded, buzzing, un-centering bar. More alcohol would only make my already strained sense of self and safety worse.
I found myself inadvertently chain smoking – typically a pack lasts me six months, but this one made it about four hours. I did end up compulsively drinking more than I planned. I crunched ice, a surefire sign to myself that I felt anxious.
I have tried, repeatedly, to explain to people that I am in fact an introvert. I suspect the reason people don’t believe/don’t hear me is a combination of my appearance and misconceptions about what introversion is and how it works.
I am not shy. I can talk to strangers, and I’ve had many a surreal and enjoyable interchange at bus stops, in the YWCA locker room and even riding elevators. While shy people are all introverts, not all introverts are shy.
Yes, I can get up and talk to a group, march up to a manager and call that stranger about business x. That is not a sign of extroversion. All that tells you about me is that I’m not shy – i.e., I’m not constrained from interaction by fear. I love a good conversation that explores morality and the problems of the universe.
But if you listen to that conversation – I mean REALLY listen – you’ll notice something: I don’t talk about myself much. I ask questions of my interaction partner. I repeat back what the partner says, and then I add on that. When someone asks me how it’s going, I say “fine,” and often reveal little else, inquiring about the other person instead. There are people who have known me for five years who probably don’t even know my relationship status, where I’m from or what my favorite color is. Sometimes this is their fault, but usually it’s not – quite simply, I am an introvert. I don’t feel a need to broadcast facts, and in truth, I often communicate this way because sharing too much about myself leaves me physically tired.
Crowds drain my energy. People who enjoy conventions and big parties find me bewildering, especially when they try to drag me into their interests. I’ll make eye contact, charm, soothe, seem fine…but I’ll get the hell away as fast as I can, because I’m not fine. Every second I’m surrounded by excess chatter I can feel an energetic drain because the activity is too much for my consciousness to keep up with and I just don’t enjoy it.
I don’t move like a shy person. I’m a fat woman, and I take up space, and I don’t apologize for it. Where many women who identify as introverts give physical indicators of shyness from demeanor to clothing, I dress with confidence because I like clothing and because I am confident. I just don’t enjoy being part of the mob. That’s not a criticism of the mob at all: it’s just not my gig. I’m not the person you want to drag to some social media marketing thing; while I might be able to strike up a conversation with someone, I get bored pretty easily and I’m disappointed when a communication fails to reveal any depth. Because I’m an introvert, I prefer real relationships, not social/party acquaintances. Because I’m an introvert, I need time to actually talk to a person that approaches me, and while I can do small talk I don’t like it much. Because I’m an introvert, I write, for fuck’s sake. The amount of time I spent writing should spell it out, really.