I cringe when people say things like “Why don’t you get out and meet some new people?”
The prospect of voluntarily throwing myself into the throes of ‘new people’ disconcerts me way more than the average human being.
This is because I am an introvert and life is not easy for an introvert.
I grew up thinking that there was something wrong with this. Let me illustrate with a few examples.
It starts from kindergarten when you barely have the speech capacity to roll out ten sentences right. Not to mention the added limitations when you are an Indian in the Middle East. All your classmates come from different Indian states and at the age of four, almost everyone speaks a different language.
All you can do is put yourself in someone’s face and do funny things like offering a toy or go ahead and speak in whatever tongue you know. Kids get along like that.
I remember my first day at school, looking at people who were already becoming ‘friends’ and panicking. This made me even sadder than the fact that I had to sit in a classroom with thirty other human beings. This made me feel lonely.
Yes, introverts like people too. In fact, I LOVE people! Just not all people. I love people who I can call my own. And to a four-year-old introvert, that didn’t come easy.
Language on the other hand, did. So over time, communication skills ensured that I could speak to the kids who sat beside me.
And here is the part that confuses the crap out of most people, I made friends quickly (I still do, actually!).
I’ve always had top-notch friends so nobody ever understood why I wanted to head home as soon as the bell rang. And I never understood why people didn’t want to. I’d groan awaiting for the cool kids to get done speaking to their fifty thousand friends and find their way to the school bus.
It didn’t end at that. Extroverts like to be around people. People who they know in varying capacities. They recharge by speaking to more people. So even after school hours, playtime entailed calling a bunch of neighbourhood kids to their homes.
I grew up to like writing. And writing is a lonely thing which kept me to myself, deeming me as weird. From the age of ten, it was me and my leather bound journals night after night.
It’s alright to be a 40-year-old brooding introvert. But it’s quite another thing altogether when you are four or fourteen.
Needless to say, I was never popular in school. I wasn’t popular in my apartment community (until I was nine, we lived in a close-knit Indian community). And I wasn’t popular in the church.
I never wanted to be popular either. I was content with a handful of people who I knew and loved, and people who knew and loved me. Yet, I always felt that there was something wrong with me.
The trouble is that the world we live in glorifies extroverts. The social gene in my family got passed on to my sister. And as much as I love her, it was a real pain to grow up beside her.
While it is inevitable that most younger siblings get the tag of ‘Oh you are the sister/brother of..’ I assure you that it is a lot more difficult when you are pretty much polar opposites. And the world at large welcomed one side of this spectrum, no prize for guessing which one!
I still shudder when I recall the of the number of people who’ve told me things like “I thought you’d be more active in class. You are nothing like your sister,” or “I didn’t even know who you were. Your sister, on the other hand, everyone knew her!”
I didn’t mind that people knew me as ‘The sister of..’ but my problem was their disappointment when I turned out to be, well, me!
I was deemed ‘difficult’ before I even understood what that word meant.
Life got even more complicated when I began to make friends with extroverts. You see, I don’t only relate to people who are like me. I actually like all sorts of people.
In my senior year at high school, I became friends with one of the most popular girls in our grade. In college, again, I became friends with a few people who loved to be around other people. I complied, and some of it was alright. But having to constantly indulge in socialising was painful for the most part.
I even dated some extroverts. That was genuine hell.
I love being in spaces bustling with energy, as long as I am not expected to speak to these people. Like a theatre, or a cafe, or a mall. I even like walking on the roads an awful lot. I like the stillness of being on my own, or with one other human being who feels as close to me as my own, while the cadence of life surrounds us.
I’m one of those people who doesn’t have too many friends. I have best friends and acquaintances.
To me, friends are people who are in limbo, from either growing distant enough to be in your outermost circle or coming close enough to get into you innermost circle.
It stems from my want to love all-consumingly, or to not love at all.* I don’t like the flow of love that is tempered and passionless.
Okay, yes, I have found myself worn out from giving and taking from the same stagnant cesspool of energies and vibes over the course of several years. But that doesn’t for a moment mean that I will walk into a random place or reach out to an acquaintance out of compulsion and try to create a friendship.
Making a friend is never something that I force myself to do. Aside from a few exceptions, a new friend only arises when I am brought together with someone in the physical world every day (or at least, often enough) under completely natural circumstances. So a large majority of my closest friends are people who I’ve gotten to know through school, colleges, and workplaces.
Until six months ago, I had no idea the matter with me was.
I’d heard of introverts, but I didn’t hate people like the general norm seemed to be. I wasn’t a brooding, asocial loner. I actually felt lonely without any form of human contact over a prolonged period of time.
We live in a world that still doesn’t have a place for introverts. In schools, in our communities, in workplaces, we are often left charmed and in awe of the people whose omnipresence is valued more than an introvert’s genuine intentions. (In no way do I mean to say that extroverts or ambiverts are not genuine, but that a lot of times, their natural urge to speak to everyone and have a say in everything makes life considerably more easy for them on this front.)
So let me put this down for you.
We aren’t shy. We don’t hate people. We have friends. We aren’t gonna change. There is nothing wrong with us.**
So here is what I propose. You need to take a look around you and see us. We are everywhere, it won’t be hard to spot us.
Accept that there isn’t anything we need to be more of, or less of. Understand that we are wired a certain way, and it’s completely natural.
In many cases such as mine, the only reason we feel bad about this is because all our lives we’ve been subjected to people who coax us to change, to be different. And many of us don’t want to change because our lives are perfectly functional and we are content.
Listen to your introvert friend/partner/colleague before you casually brush aside their lack of interest in certain activities. And if they seem alright without it in their lives, remember that anything else will only be (how much ever you mean well) noise. Let them be them, just as you would want to be you.
Understand that they are not making an excuses to get out of things, and it isn’t your duty to make them do things or go places. If you want them with you, explain why respectfully. They might agree if you approach it right.
And to my fellow introverts, understand yourself. All you ever need to be is enough of you, and you are enough. If you want to change because you want to let more people in, that’s okay. But you don’t need to do it for someone else, because being an introvert isn’t a problem. It’s not an issue. You are not being difficult. Don’t let the world make you believe anything else, even for a micro-millisecond.
*How I love people is my personal preference. It does not apply to every introvert.
**Being an introvert essentially does not mean being shy, having a lack of friends, or disliking people at large. If an individual who is an introvert happens to be any of the above, that is a part of who they are and we need to understand that not all introverts are that way.
Originally published at quirrk.com