This is my contribution to Medicinal Marzipan’s Teen Week.
Last year, I wrote about my first university heartbreak: a secret.
I thought I was abnormal in high school.
I thought I was abnormal because I hated hanging out in “groups”; never liked parties (except as twisted opportunities to binge on donuts and seven layer dip, and drink silently until I felt hot and sick); loved doing a whole lot of things alone.
But everyone else hung out in groups, everyone else liked to go to parties, and everyone else was hanging out with each other (otherwise it meant, simply, that they had no friends to hang out with)– or so it seemed.
The summer after I graduated high school was one of the most isolated I’d ever spent. I’d almost always spent my summers mostly alone, perfectly content to avoid the uncomfortable feelings I experienced while hanging out in the group of friends I begrudgingly found myself a part of– we had nothing in common except for our ethnic background and perhaps an affinity for certain cultures– a group that I had attempted to avoid for the first half of high school, and, after the other half of my perfectly content friend duo decided she wanted to immerse herself back in, I half-heartedly tagged along to join.
But I wasn’t antisocial– even though I thought I was. I simply loved doing nothing but sit in a car in the middle of a grocery store parking lot, up all hours of the night, talking with a single friend. I liked to walk around the neighborhood with my neighbor. These were the social moments I enjoyed: with one other, doing something quiet yet somehow adventurous. Watching movies with a friend until she fell asleep and I laughed an exasperated sigh.
But those things weren’t what was considered “social” and so I thought I was antisocial, meant to be an outcast. I didn’t like standing around in circles during lunch feeling awkward and having certain members of the group single me out, “call me out,” and call me a prude because she thought I was sexually repressed (and my [grey] asexuality was a sign of my abnormality, too, apparently). I didn’t like traveling in packs with a herd mentality that made me feel constantly constricted and suppressed.
I never liked it.
I liked, instead, the years I spent eating lunch in front of the library– with just one or two friends, quietly connecting.
So the summer I was eighteen, I spent wandering around my favorite place in Northern California alone, and working at a smoothie stand in the mall with co-workers that I did like. That summer, I decided that I must just be meant to be alone. Solitary.
So when I moved to San Diego for college, I ignored requests from possible new friends to hang out. I’m a loner, I told myself. I don’t need anyone, because I’m meant to be alone. Ostracized. Outcast. Hermit.
And I was very, very lonely. And I had no friends or family. And I felt sadder than I’d ever felt in my life.
Only recently did I realize that I was never antisocial or a loner– I was (and am) an introvert.
I love people. But the society I grew up in favors the extroverted, and so I thought I was abnormal and antisocial because I wanted to hang out with people one at a time, because I was okay with (and indeed, enjoyed) being alone. To the teenaged me, it seemed that there were two choices: hang out in a group, or be alone. I hated the former, so I accepted the latter as my fate.
But now I know.
It’s okay to ignore the herd and do your own thing. (It’s also okay to be a part of a group if you want.)
It’s okay to enjoy spending time alone. (It’s also okay to want to spend most of your time with other people.)
It’s okay not to enjoy parties. (It’s also okay to love them!)
For almost all my life, I didn’t see my introversion for what it is: something to be accepted, loved, and respected (as Holly wisely wrote in her contribution to Kindness Sprouts). I didn’t even recognize that it was introversion: I thought it was a sign that I was abnormal, meant to be ostracized and outcasted. I thought it meant that I didn’t need people, that I would never fit in, that I was just too weird to find, make, and keep friends. Destined to be alone.
Now, I realize that I was never too “weird” to make friends– I was simply looking for friends in the wrong places, trying to force myself to fit into molds I secretly despised.
But now I know.
I’m an introvert, not an alien.
Are you introverted or extroverted? (Many people are both!)
How do you practice/respect your introversion or extroversion?
Did you ever have difficulty accepting your intro/extroversion as a young’n (or even now)?