“Tell me this, Heather. Do you not like being around people?” my friend asked recently. And I had to tell her, yes, it’s true. At my core, I mostly don’t like being around people. This is entirely unrelated to my opinions of or feelings for people. It’s not you, it’s me.
The conversation started when my friend noted that I share intimate information with my online friends but moan and groan when talking about offline relationships. What is it that draws me into the world of online friendships? Oh, the beauty of it! Always on my timeline, at my convenience, at my whim, only when I’m in the mood. When I have the energy. That’s for starters.
No small talk. There’s no need for the lingering entry and lingering exits that are so important to most people in offline life. In the last few months I tried an experiment and stopped pretending. I pretty much stopped participating in what I consider a pointless exercise: the small talk and the lengthy greetings and farewells. In my opinion these are social conventions based on “because that’s what we do,” rather than activities that serve legitimate functions. It’s a bit like how I described to my daughter why she ought to wear something over her tights. “It’s not that tights are underwear, it’s just that people see them and think of them as something you wear under things so they’d feel like they were seeing your underwear. It’s silly, it doesn’t make sense, they’re just like leggings, but still, it’s how it is.”
Trouble is, my opinion isn’t typical. In this experiment I know I’ve been alienating people. Whether I’m puzzling them or offending them, I’m not sure. Though with one friend in particular I haven’t just tried to avoid the usual pleasantries, I’ve been downright crabby and rude because I want to be left alone. That’s a different matter.
For those people where I’ve just either launched right into “what we’re here to talk about,” or dropped off my child to the class and not hung around chatting about the…what do we chat about? the weather? yes… groaaaaan. Again, I’m not sure what they are thinking about my atypical experience. I do know I get vibes from some who clearly think I’m being rude or weird. Anti-social, perhaps. And, that’s me! I am against social!
But why, you may wonder? What is so wrong about enjoying some light banter about the weather, or about how great our children are, or what project you’ve been working on lately? There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. And, when I’m willing to play that game, I’m good at it. Sometimes a bit awkward, though those around me seem to think I’m no where near as awkward as I perceive myself. I’ve got decent social skills when I choose to use them.
Here’s the problem. It is exhausting. Talking to anyone, especially on any surface level, wipes me out. Some people go running for miles and think they feel tired. Put me in a group of people all talking about even interesting topics and it’s like I’m running a marathon but I’m already at the point where my nipples are bleeding from the friction against my shirt.
I described it as “playing that game.” I realize it’s not a game. I do understand that for what seems like most people, it’s part of the pleasure of communication. Most people, it appears, enjoy ramping up for a while before getting to the deep down and direct content. Or, they never really want to get there anyway. Being pleasant together pleases them. I like those people. I like nice people, and that behavior is nice. I get that. I see how my “I don’t like being with people” can come across as rude, insulting, perhaps even mentally unhealthy. But it’s not any of those things.
My brain works in concert with my gut/soul/spirit/heart/whateveryouwanttocallit. Everything is loosey goosey and flowing. My internal experience is like oil paints or acrylic paints or oil pastels. Mushy and smushy and blending all around. For me, the polite conversations considered normal and healthy are like a manual typewriter. Don’t get me wrong, I love those things, but I can’t use them effectively, ever. Each. Key. Must. Be. Hit. At. The. Right. Time. Or. The. Details. Will. Not. Come. Together. To. Make. The. Larger. Picture.
It’s as if there are shooting stars all around that I’m supposed to try and catch like a dog leaping for a treat, but the stars are shooting too fast and all at once like fireworks sparkles. I need something to contain them.
This quality of mine has its upsides. In a group, I’ll be the first typically to say, “Sounds like we all agree on xyz, shall we do that?” Or, “Sounds like no one’s really sure what to do, why don’t we get in touch with each other later?” Anything. Anything to end the PECK. STAB. JAB. of the group wanderings and ponderings. Problem is, lately, I don’t wait long enough for the assumed correct level of polite conversation to happen. That is, I jump into the decision before the people who process things differently have had a chance to do their thing. This comes across, I know, as abrupt, and definitely sometimes rude.
Honestly, even writing about being with people makes me tired. The juggling. The consideration of my body language, their body language, their facial expressions in relation to their words, all of it. Everything is like a bad acid trip (I’ve never had a bad one, but the good ones were seriously freaky and I’m sure a bad one would be quite a bit like my experience of being sociable.) With too much stimulation and too many senses working at once and the whole sensorial experience causes me to wish the earth would open in a great chasm and just suck us all down and put us out of our misery. But, really, it’s only my misery. Most people, it seems, are either unaffected or positively affected by communicating with others.
Unfortunately, this exhaustion-from-people even holds true for having one-on-one conversations with good and close friends. I love one-on-one conversations. Those times I get myself to actually keep a coffee date with a friend, I’m always glad I did. Talking with my offline friends is an enriching experience. Connecting with these people enhances my life. Knowing what’s going on with them, how they are, how what we are going through is interconnected. All those things are good. I need those things.
But, please, not very often. Because, you see, even spending time with my friends who I love, I get wiped out. Tired. Overstimulated. I want to hole up in a quiet room, alone, with my computer to write or with a book if I’ve got time to fall asleep.
Getting along in this world I realized just this week will require my reaching out to people a bit more than I have been. I’m going to have to suck it up and put on my game face for pickups and drop offs as our children have their school and other activities. Making myself available for pleasant conversations is a requirement if I want to help my daughters learn to have healthy and happy social lives. So be it. As I mentioned, it’s not that I don’t like these folks. It’s just that I’ve got the unpopular quality of simply not liking to be around other people. I’ll go back to hiding that fact a bit better than I have been for the sake of the family. But as soon as the social hours are over, as soon as I’ll hurt no one’s feelings and can get away, you’ll find me alone. Writing, futzing around online, making art, cooking, reading, and resting. Breathing freely again. Alone.