Socially Awkward or Awkwardly Social

The line in front of the court-house stretched from the double doors of the lobby to the intersection on Lafayette Street. Dozens of lawyers, jurors, plaintiffs, and defendants waited for their turn to pass inspection at the metal detectors. The court officers command visitors to empty their pockets and place their bags on the sliding belt for scanning to ensure the building’s safety. John and I endure this routine as a part of our workplace. Some days, the friendly policemen wave us through without the hassle of a search. This was not one of those days.

The more weathered, female officer guarded the door. She doesn’t let us slide. Ever. She doesn’t even remember the hundreds of times we’ve strolled into the building. While the other guards smile and greet us as we stride past with our backpacks, she just lowers her eyebrows and tells us to get in line with the rest of the public. This day, that meant standing at the end of the line in the bitter cold for an hour.

No Thanks!

John and I decided to enjoy the warmth of the Cafe across the street until the line whittled down. Cafe Lafayette is my favorite place to refuel for lunch. The owners, an older Asian couple, and the workhorse Hispanic cooks serve the public a delicious menu. I’m such a regular they typically call out my order before I can. Their breakfast sandwiches and large mugs of coffee were a pleasant alternative to impatiently freezing on the sidewalk. Afterward, the day’s work – typing civil court case information into Excel spreadsheets – could begin.

In between bites and sips, John and I gradually deepened our conversation. We went from exchanging funny pictures on our smartphones, to commenting on current affairs, to discussing my possible alignment with John’s side business. Then, the conversation took a turn into darker waters when I admitted I wasn’t a “people person”.

John sat back in his chair, hands tucked in the pocket of his grey hooded sweatshirt, puzzled look on his face. His gaze squeezed itself on me.

“Really? Well, what do you mean by that?”

I had to explain myself.

In this era dominated by social networking sites, introverts get a very bad rap. People automatically assume there’s something inherently wrong with them or that they have peculiar interests like competitive mooing or collecting navel fluff. Popular opinion has it that everyone should strive to be extroverts, or rather, “social butterflies”.

“Get the fuck outta here”.

I know meeting new folks is a potential blessing. Newcomers offer an angle to a problem you haven’t considered, share a joke you haven’t heard, update you about a movie you haven’t seen, invite you somewhere you haven’t been. Hence, I am as much a fan of social activity as the next person. I too look forward to these moments. They’re life changing. But, I’m also aware that the trick of finding someone who isn’t afraid to be their genuine self is rather difficult. And these extroverts, more times than not, are just full of shit.

Some time ago, I realized counterfeit socialites overpopulate the world. Running into these folks is inevitable. They’ve probably penetrated your social circle already. There’s the “people person” who blathers on about their personal life without noticing you’ve been mouthing “help me” to the rest of the party. They’ll even feign interest in your life just to avoid that awkward silence. Before you can answer their insipid questions they’re shooting off at the mouth again. Their need to fill the air with relentless rambling is thoroughly tiresome. You’ll thank God for the chance to sneak away and warn your buddies to avoid that side of the bar all-together.

Then, there are the parasites: people looking to drain others of their resources. Gold-diggers are an infamous example. But, it happens in heterosexual relationships too. There are people who actively seek to mooch off of wealthier or more influential people. They pass it off as innocent befriending or networking but it’s really just leeching. Befriending someone requires genuine interest in someone else’s life besides what they have to offer; their concerns, hobbies, etc. And networking, even though done for business purposes and career advancement, doesn’t involve excessive ingratiation and pretending to be something you’re not. It’s an opportunity to prove yourself, to mingle with like-minded people and form partnerships. A partnership involves teamwork on joint interests. Parasites forego the contributing aspect of the equation and focus solely on what they can take off the table for themselves. It’s all about them.

Photo courtesy of dontgetmewrong.org.

I know people, some even close friends, whose extraversion goes deeper than just wanting to experience new things. They’re desperately trying to bandage the void in their life with people’s attention and affection. Depression, anxiety, and insecurity severely plague them. The constant need for new people in their life leads them to routinely abandon those that care for them. It’s a revolving door of fleeting faces, broken relationships, fractured friendships, and loneliness. And as heart-breaking as it is, it’s just not healthy for anyone involved.

My very own best friend, the quintessential “social butterfly”, has deteriorated our friendship. Ever since middle school I’ve seen him follow the in-crowd to better his social standing. He’d find the popular kid, adopt the necessary personality to tag along with him for as long as possible, and completely forget I existed. Each time, it was nearly impossible for me to get in contact with him. He would disappear for months and ignore my phone calls. I would think I did something wrong or maybe I just wasn’t cool enough for him. Then, unexpectedly, he was back around with a lengthy excuse for his absence. It took years to realize the deficiencies in his character, but once I did, I was better able to deal with his tendencies. He was unable to stop the routine even after I brought it to his attention for the hundredth time. He has serious personal issues. I decided it was best to stop relying on him for anything.

Our mutual friends have realized his flaky ways as well. He still pulls the same stunts with them. It felt cathartic to hear others complain about his inconsistency. They would call me looking for him and I would just laugh. Now, when he’s around, we tease him about it. But, it’s still a serious issue he’s trying to fix. Or so he says.

As a result, “people person” is a tarnished title in my eyes. I’d rather be the opposite, the introvert. Despite the popular myths surrounding introverts, we do enjoy the company of others. We just can’t stand senseless small talk and bullshit artists. We’re not shy either. Shyness is a characteristic born from fear. Social environments don’t frighten introverts. We’re just overstimulated by large crowds of people. It’s not our comfort zone. Our energy saps and we’d rather go somewhere with less happening. We have no problem being alone with our thoughts, a nightmare situation for the “social butterfly”. But, approach us with quality conversation and we’ll engage you wholeheartedly.

We’re not awkward outcasts. We just enjoy our privacy and prefer solitary activities that exercise our minds. We don’t deceive people for our own benefit or to cover up any deep-rooted vulnerability. We’re authentically ourselves. And if we’re going to meet someone new, we want the person to get a taste of our true personality. We demand the same from others. This dynamic ensures we’ll know whether we’ve met someone worth running into again.

“Nope”.

John removed his hands from his pockets and leaned forward. His next sentence would confirm whether I provided a well-rounded explanation to my statement or painted the portrait of a pretentious loner.

A smile stretched across his face as he replied:

“I know exactly what you mean. I have a friend who needs to have that attention. We tend to bump heads. One time, we met up with a group of people at a bar. When he realized there weren’t enough seats at the table, that we’d have to stand, he decided it was better to leave. If he couldn’t be in the center of the action, he didn’t even want to be there”.

We both laughed. Having experienced the same, he understood my perspective. In fact, he too was an introvert. I should have guessed from how well we got along.

We conversed for another hour before the line disappeared. Little time was left to meet our quota for the day. But, the hard work would be worth it. Now, we’re aware that all we have to do is be ourselves around each other. That’s more than enough.

It always was.

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