Conceit causes more conversation than wit.-François de La Rouchefoucauld
My idea of hell is introductory chitchat. I simply am incapable of it. My friends are all, by necessity, chatty extroverts. (They have to be; as a Quiet Person, when I get together with fellow Quiet People, we just kind of sit there.)
I like listening to these talkers, by and large, though, again by necessity, they have to say a lot of stupid things. The more you talk, the more stupid things you say. It's simple probability. I hate looking stupid. Therefore, I don't talk much. Writing suits me because I can carefully construct what I say, and re-read it before I let anyone else read it to make extra-sure it's not too stupid. Image control, you know.
Contrary to what many seem to think ("you're too quiet," "you need to speak up more,") being gregarious is not a choice; one's social tendencies have as much to do with some moral stance as does body type (i.e., nothing). Growing up, however, I always believed, because everyone told me this was the case, that shyness was a hurdle to overcome, not just an aspect of personality. School and work demand that we be social; in a society that places a premium on individualism, you mark your individuality by being loud. Quiet people melt into the crowd. Suspicious. Creepy, even. We may be lone gunmen, or, worse, stoics.
So parents suggested (or demanded) that I befriend other kids on the playground, even though being the first to say "hello" caused and still causes severe anxiety; teachers reported to my parents that I needed to interact more, as if my personality were in itself a deficit (leading me to a conclusion I still hold today: that school is much more about socializing children than it is about academic learning, and that it socializes children in exactly the wrong ways. But that's another post).
I kind of always thought that outgoing tendencies would manifest themselves as I matured. Shyness was a childhood thing that would end, like stuttering or polio. But you know what? Almost 34 years on, I am no better at chitchat or making friends than I was in nursery school. I don't play well with people. You may have guessed from reading my blog or twitter feed that I'm a bit of a misanthrope. This is not a necessary and sufficient condition of being shy. I was born, for the most part, liking people, but after three decades of being told that liking people meant I had to natter on uselessly about stupid subjects, I began to FUCKING RESENT IT.
Extroverts just don't seem to get it. They don't get why I can't just chat with people, why I can't just have a smooth job interview (and therefore why I remain in a perpetual state of professional failure), why I don't speak up, why making friends does not come easily. Some points:
- There is nothing wrong with me. I am just having more interesting conversations in my head than I might be having with you.
- Just because I don't say much doesn't mean I don't have a lot to say. I prefer to wait until you're done talking. No, really, go on.
- Being shy in itself does not make me miserable. I'm fine with being a Quiet Person (now, though I haven't been for most of my life). What does make me miserable is being expected to be a certain way, and being presumed deficient. That is, my shyness is a problem for you, not for me, but you make it my problem.
- Introversion is not inferior. It's a way of interacting with the world; I process my environment by listening and watching. Some people work with their hands. Some people are natural leaders. Some people make jokes as a means of coping. Some people have an intuitive grasp of spelling. And some don't feel the need to compulsively discuss the weather or our boring occupations. Being a Quiet Person may make me less popular than I could be. So what? My outgoing friends have many friendly acquaintances and a handful of close friends. I have no friendly acquaintances and a handful of close friends. The close friends are the important thing, and in this respect I am equal to Loud People.
- Introversion is not overcomeable. I am, of course, capable of initiating conversations, but the anxiety it causes is much more agonizing than simply remaining silent and waiting for someone else to talk first. The anxiety is something I'm done trying to get over (and again, the anxiety arose not from being a Quiet Person but from being a Quiet Person in an anti-Quiet Person world). I spent my teenage years and a good part of my 20s immersed in an unhealthy amount of drugs specifically because they made me more social, or they at least helped me to not give a fuck that I wasn't social. For awhile I even packed a thermos of vodka to sip on the school bus at 7 in the morning because I found that vodka gave me the confidence to participate in class discussions. That is where expectations of sociability lead.
- Quiet People are not necessarily nice. People sometimes tell me condescendingly, after attempting conversation with me, "You're so nice," then turn to another, more small-talk-friendly peer. Meanwhile, I make mental lists of various torture methods I'd like to use on people who assume my thoughts exclusively involve cupcakes and sprites frolicking in waterfalls.
- Being a Quiet Person does not mean I don't enjoy being around other people or that I don't require friendship. I just really really need to be alone most of the time.
- If it were not for the internet giving me an outlet, I may well still be the crumbled, substance-abusing mess of a human I was in high school. Either that, or I would have written a novel by now. There's really no way of knowing.
- I realize I'm incorrectly conflating introversion & shyness. Outgoing introverts may take offense, but in my case, they are concomitant attributes.
Oddly, although I get heart palpitations if I have to, say, ask a supermarket employee where they keep the capers, I don't have a problem being on stage. I did theater a bit in school, I was once a singer in a band, I frequently sing karaoke before a crowd, and I relish all of it. Conversely, a Loud Person friend I have refuses to humiliate herself onstage. Go figure.