21 June 2012

The Introvert in Extroverted Clothing

Once upon a time there was a girl who loved to talk.

The legend said that she was never a happy child - cried all the time, in fact - until she learned to use words.  Then she was happier.

This girl found that she could use her words to get attention.  That adults found it entertaining when she used words far too big for her underdeveloped speaking skills to handle, and she liked to make people laugh.  That children less verbal than herself were easy to rule over and convince to play the games she wanted to play in the manner to which she was accustomed.  Words, she found, were a source of power.

Fortunately this young girl also learned that when you used words to control other people (such as your less than eager younger brother) you were deemed bossy, and that people did not like spending time with those who were bossy, particularly when they had no right to declare themselves in charge.  Words had betrayed her.

She also learned (through various eavesdropping episodes) that when she said big words in an attempt to earn the respect and admiration of adults, she often earned giggles as well because big words coming from small mouths is entertaining.  She liked to make others laugh.  She did not like to be laughed at.  Words had betrayed her a second time.

The girl found that she did not like being made fun of because of words or other things either.  She became rather paranoid of people talking about her behind her back.  She was afraid of being misunderstood or misrepresented.  Of being annoying or rude.  She longed for acceptance and refinement.

So the girl tried many ways in which to harness this tongue of many words into something that would not get her into trouble or make her frustrating to others.  She tried once to join with the "popular" crowd at school but found that this was a place where her practical sense of fashion and love of learning got in the way.  (She also learned that she didn't really care about having large groups of friends to keep track of, but instead preferred two or three close friends to rely on.)  She tried to be shy by not talking at all in class or in the halls but found that her reputation as an extroverted talker hung over and people around her only wondered if she was upset or sick or annoyed.  It was too late - she had earned the reputation of being confident and chatty and comfortable in groups.

This reputation came with a new set of challenges.  You see, this particular girl had all of the outward trademarks of an extrovert but she really wasn't one.  Not completely.  She loved performing on stage and was comfortable pursuing a career that placed her in front of large groups of people.  She felt no stress in being asked to present awards or speeches at the last minute in front of people and even thrived on the thrill that came from being called on to do so.  But this was very much so a part of her professional presentation.  In her personal life, this girl was very private.  She was, she discovered, an introvert in extrovert clothing.  For example, while she was very passionate about her beliefs and things she enjoyed, she hated conflict and would generally clam up when she felt attacked.  She would often promise to go to a party thinking that it sounded fun, but, when the party time had actually arrived, want nothing more than to stay home and read a book (even if she had been feeling cabin fever all day.)  And relationships. . . relationships were hard.

With friends, she often felt bad.  She was (because often first excited and then not so excited about going out) a bit of a wild card in group settings - sometimes fun, and sometimes awkward and frustrating.  She was often looked to for decision making in group settings and was fine making decisions but would internally panic that by doing so she would alienate others and find herself, once again, in a position of being the annoying one.

"Intimate" relationships were always a source of stress and never a chance for her to relax and feel comfortable.  Not that external circumstances had ever really helped this.

For example, this girl received her first kiss late one night from a near total stranger who did not ask but just did and the girl told no one about how humiliating and horrible this experience had been for nearly half a year after the experience itself.  She would listen to girls around her talk about boyfriends and fiances and kissing and how wonderful it was and smile and nod like she knew what they were talking about but really she never wanted to get close to a boy ever again if that's how things went.

Or several years after this when the girl finally managed to start overcoming some of her paranoid fears about dating she started spending time with a young man who was kind and generous and friendly and interesting and started thinking that maybe, just maybe, things would go well.  And then without warning the young man disappeared completely and (somewhat pettily) removed the girl on Facebook of all places.  This felt rather final, and not wanting to be pushy or needy, the girl quietly moved on.  A note appeared on her bed several months later with a "you're wonderful and beautiful" but "now isn't a good time" message, and the girl put the note away and. . . tried to move on.

Why was it, she thought, that her friends seemed to feel so much more deeply than she did?  This was, for all intents and purposes, the only "break up" she'd ever gone through in her many years of dating eligibility, and she felt nothing.  No desire for a pint of ice cream.  No tears.  The relationship had moved on, so she would quietly walk away and start over.  It was a familiar walk, after all.  She felt bad for not feeling bad.

The people around her weren't quite sure what to do with her.  To be fair, the girl often wasn't sure what to do with herself.  She felt frustrated.  She was gifted in public situations and usually liked them, but when it came to friends and relationships she was what many might call a failure.  She preferred small groups of friends.  When friends moved or married she hardly ever maintained contact with them, preferring not to force relationships.  Although she often felt like she ought to date more, she really just didn't like it and had a hard time balancing what she wanted with what she was supposed to want.  She often thought that she would date much more if she lived in the Arctic where the only creatures there to watch were the penguins - and they wouldn't talk.  It was a complicated kind of existence.

She was learning to balance it.  She always found that labels helped her to categorize her emotions a little better and feel less guilty over things that weren't really meant to be guilt inducing because they weren't sins so much as challenges.  She found a few close friends that she trusted, and this helped too.

But what really helped was the story of Moses.  Some people, she thought, had challenges that God would just take away.  The Jaredites, for example, needed to be able to speak the same language.  So God kept their language pure.  But Moses - Moses had trouble speaking.  Since he was a prophet, this was a problem.  But God didn't make him any better at public speaking over the years as far as we can tell, but instead gave Moses someone who was good at speaking and Moses could pass on what needed to be said through him.  It didn't take the problem away, but it did make it easier to cope.  And this. . . this was where words could cease to be a curse for the girl but instead a very great blessing.  Writing, she found, was where she could be honest and work out her complicated ideas and confusing existence in a way that was helpful to her and maybe, just maybe, also helpful to others.


Nanakat said...
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Nanakat said...

Ever heard Roberta Flack sing "Killing me softly with his song?"

In so many ways, it feels as if you are talking about me, though in other ways, I know you are not.

And I don't have anything to offer you, except to say that I hear you, and I am surprised at how well you know me.

Joni said...

Nanakat - I have heard that song! It reminds me of the movie About a Boy, which I completely adore. Glad to know I'm not the only one in the world who gets frustrated with seemingly contradictory personality traits.