No, I'm Not a Recluse, a Snob, or an Alcoholic; I'm an Introvert. Niceto Meet You!

Last week, one of my across-the-street neighbors ("C") came by to let us know that her husband and two other guys on our street had decided to have a crawfish boil on Saturday. She wanted to invite us and also make sure we had moved any cars away for the bouncy house [I assumed the visit was more for the latter than the former]. The day of the block party, Pop Culture Dad was going to be gone for a few hours, which meant I would likely have to go with the girls to the party on my own. {gulp, panic}

Though the party was going on directly in the front of my house and the Pop Culture Girls had been on "bouncy house watch" since noon, I kept delaying going outside. Eventually, they stopped accepting my lame excuses, and we walked out the front door and into the lion's den. My kids playing in the bouncy house made a good excuse for me to avoid talking to people for a good hour. Of course, I made polite (I think) conversation with the other parents near the bouncy house, and I talked to C and her husband. But other than that, I focused my attention on my children, probably appearing way more Helicopter Parent than I actually am [for the record, I'm not… at all].

After noticing that many of the other adult partygoers were on their second (or more) beer or glass of wine, I decided it was socially acceptable for me to go into my house and retrieve a Cherry Limeade. For those of you who don't know, the "grownup" version of a Cherry Limemade involves cherry-flavored vodka. Half a red Solo cup later, I was feeling a little less freaked out by the whole idea of being at a party with no one I (really) knew.

Eventually I got comfortable enough to allow myself to get some crawfish and attempt to find a place to sit. And that's when I was all of the sudden transported to middle or high school all over again. "Um... Excuse me.... {squeak} Is anyone sitting here?" I found myself at a table with C and my next-door neighbor ("V"), in a seat in between a neighbor I've seen many times but to whom I've never spoken a word and V's Zumba buddy. The ladies all chatted for a bit, while I was totally silent, smiling, nodding, and laughing, until someone asked me about the Pop Culture Girls. Now there's a subject on which I can speak without feeling like an idiot or that I was butting in on someone else's private conversation. That opened the door for me to chat freely with the ladies about many topics, as though I hadn't been sitting there nearly paralyzed for the past 15 minutes. At some point, C said she was ready for another drink, but wasn't sure what she wanted. I mentioned I was thinking about making a refresher of my own and asked if anyone else wanted a drink. Once they all found out what I was drinking, I ended up taking four drink orders.

I bounded back into my house and came out less than five minutes later with a fresh, cold pitcher of Cherry Limeade and a stack of cups. After one sip, V turned to me and said, "Now I know why you never come out of your house! If I made drinks like this, I would never go outside either. I'd just be sitting on my couch all day having a private party!"

OMG... How embarrassing!!

(Not my typical Friday night, I swear)

There was no malice to the statement at all. It was a lighthearted, good-natured joke. But it was also a very real, kind of ugly truth that I live in a community of very social people, all approximately the same age as me, with kids very close in age to mine, and minus the five-minute conversation here and there, I talk to no one. I'm not new to the neighborhood; I've lived here almost 11 years. Heck, my house was the first one built in our cul-de-sac, and I was the first neighbor here. The neighbors all know Pop Culture Dad's name (though he has only lived here 7 years), but I would be surprised if anyone other than C, her husband, and their next-door neighbors (who weren't at the block party) knew mine, and not just because my name is hard to pronounce (for some people).

It isn't that my neighbors are awful or boring people or that I wouldn't have any common threads on which to have conversations. The few conversations I've had with them all have been really enjoyable. After the "no wonder you never leave the house" joke, we all continued to chat for a long time. And when Pop Culture Dad arrived, he couldn't even tell from my demeanor and the fun we were all having by that point that I had had, just hours before, extreme discomfort at the idea of being in a social situation with strangers and near-strangers. And it's not that I sit in my house drinking all day—no matter how good those Cherry Limemades are.

I'm an introvert—an extreme introvert. I can stand on a stage and sing, dance, or act to a crowd or stand in a courtroom and present my case to the judge or a jury; but go to a business function where there is networking involved or have to go to a party without my close friends or family? Oh gawd no!

People who've seen me in the former situations but don't know me well often have no idea I'm in introvert. That's because in those situations, I'm well-prepared and damn-near on fire [seriously, when I was a volunteer prosecutor in the municipal courts, one of the defense attorneys told me the reason my courtroom always had extra people is because word had gotten out about how good my voir dire and opening statements were, and the defense attorneys enjoyed watching me interact with the jury]. People who know me well would probably use "talkative" as one the first words to describe me. Once you have breached my protective layer, you are in my chatty circle forever. (Sorry)

But I would rather have a barium enema [for the record, worse than unmediated childbirth] than have to make small talk in a room of strangers for an hour.

Where can you find me at a party where I know zero people? Hanging out by the food table, stuffing my face and clutching my wine glass so tightly that it could shatter at any minute. My standard M.O. is to find another introvert (often easy to find, because s/he will be at the other end of the food table or standing near the bar or pretending to closely examine the artwork), come up with some dumb opener, and then cling to that person for dear life until s/he finds someone s/he actually knows and abandons me. At that point, I either scope out another introvert or, if I feel like I've "done my time" grab my purse and go (swiftly).

There are plenty of "how to regard an introvert" articles out there, but one thing I've never seen is how to explain to someone that you're an introvert without looking even odder than you have already. I wish when V made her joke about sitting around the house drinking all day, I would've felt comfortable enough to explain, "No. I'm not a recluse… or a snob… or an alcoholic. I'm just a gal who is very withdrawn around people I don't know, who has no idea how to start a conversation, and who is always terrified of sounding like an idiot and a complete weirdo when talking to people I don't know very well." But having the gumption to explain all that really wouldn't have been in my introverted nature, would it?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
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