In elementary school, I ran to the library every lunchtime for two years straight so that I could read my favorite Babysitter’s Club books. I was on volume #126 and forging ahead fast, until one day the librarian came over and gasped.
“Don’t you have any friends?” she asked. I was shocked that someone would think I was reading because I couldn’t make friends, instead of reading because what else would you want to do?
After that, I was too ashamed to return. I spent the rest of 6th grade playing 4-square and pretending some random girls were my friends, both actions of which I sucked at.
As horrible as it was, I learned the basics of small talk the next year. How to discuss Leonardo DiCaprio, high heels, and “crushes” I knew meant nothing to me.
Today, it’s my job to present information to groups of kids and adults. I rehearse my presentations for hours, then make people laugh, think, and cry. When I’m done, the same audience members spot me later, recharging my life-energy, alone by the snack table. They exclaim: “I can’t believe you’re over here alone! I thought you’d be a loud person!”
The tough part is that I’m getting selfish now. When I was younger (like “20 years old” I mean, since I’m so old), I was vital and flirtatious and willing to trade in my life energy for other benefits: Energy for knowledge. Energy for attention. Energy for community.
Lately, though, I feel myself blooming inwards like a reverse flower. Others feel it too, because word keeps coming that there’s another gathering I was not invited to. And while I didn’t want to go anyway since I’d rather be making pumpkin chili at home, I still feel sad because I do want a community.
The trouble with being an introvert is that people inevitably see me as “stuck up” when I just need my space. If people saw me as “passive” or “shy,” I might have a better chance at making a good impression.
Many falsely assume “introverted” means “shy.” On the contrary, my introverted friends are quite socially skilled, and exceptionally good at connecting 1-on-1, mostly because we have lots of time to reflect on how humans tick while we stare at the ceiling/ hike alone/surf Buzzfeed listicles.
I suppose I’m coming to terms with my inability to buddy-up to a large group of people. Instead, I’ve collected my friends along the way, very carefully, just a few at first. The way little kids choose the most beautiful autumn leaves from the sidewalk. After all, my pockets are only so big.
And I can’t jump into the middle of any old house party anymore, but most recently, I learned the hardiness of the introspective friendship. An old friend, heartbroken and horrified over the end of a relationship that had swallowed her, called me recently.
“I’m so embarrassed because I’ve isolated myself from all my friends and I have nobody to turn to anymore,” she said in tears. “I’m so alone at the end of this relationship.”
“Fly to San Francisco,” I said. “You have a place here.” I meant it. And she knew it.
Maybe someday I will be a popular girl, effortlessly working the spotlight of party upon party.
For now, my friendships bloom few, with deep roots, rather than spreading through acres of fields. I know that is more than most people are ever blessed with: to make meaningful talk, not “small talk,” with friends I care about.
Friends who are still there to love me, even when I just want to go home and read a book.
Photo Credit: DreamGirl on ImgFave.