Dose #19: Would You Like To Chat?
"Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love."
As I write, I'm tense. Trapped. Is it a hard challenge ahead, a problem I can't resolve, a drive on icy roads? No. It's meeting someone for coffee later this morning. That's all. Coffee.
The person I've agreed to meet with is bright, accomplished, interesting...I believe far more interesting than I. We're not exactly friends, we're acquaintances. Not knowing each other well, making the most of what should be a pleasant hour, we'll do what people do under the circumstance - chat. Make small talk.
Thoughts run wild..."I don't want to go!". "I'll never say yes again". "I want to stay home". "I have to be polite. I must go.". "What's wrong with me?". Ugh!
A meeting with a friend means catching up - politics, family, health, fears, money - whatever time allows. No need for self-conscious caution, acceptance and trust the framework for a relaxed, honest give and take. Familiar, meaningful, never dull. After a few quick, "How are yous?", a shared knowing lets us jump in with ease.
A meeting with an acquaintance means small talk - something I don't do well. I squirm - outside myself - I see my every move. The questions come..."What are you up to? What's going on? Tell me about your work. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? How have you managed the winter? How long were you married?" Can information gathered in a lifetime be made concise enough to fit the limited amount of time one should never exceed when talking about themselves? Will the person asking the questions have the stamina to listen to my less than thrilling story? What to include, what to leave out. It's exhausting.
But, isn't this the way we make friends? The way every friendship begins - with small talk? This brings up another question. How many friends do we want? I have three really good ones. That feels like enough.
To give you an idea of how bad this is...when we linger too long on a website without taking action, a pop-up appears, inviting us to "Chat". I flinch. What's expected of me? Am I supposed to politely decline the offer? Will I be rude if I ignore it? Who's waiting there on the other side? For the split second before I remind myself this is an automated inquiry, the invitation feels like a real obligation.
In Susan Cain's thoroughly researched, beautifully written book,"Quiet, The Power of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking", we learn how the introvert navigates a world shaped by the outgoing...from the strain of social settings to what it means to be put on the spot in a conference room filled with hard-driving, extroverted colleagues. Ms. Cain normalizes introversion, giving those of us who need it permission to be ourselves. It isn't learned, it's not a choice. We're born this way.
Ms. Cain, lawyer turned consultant, reminds us introversion is not to be confused with the 'antisocial' personality. Introverts like people. We can be empathic and caring, but manage best with fewer people. We're relaxed in the company of those who allow and understand reserve, those less likely to ask, "Are you alright?", when little is being said.
For the extrovert, the more the merrier. They thrive on other people's energy. When nothing much is going on, they create opportunities for social connections with anyone and everyone. The life of the party, the entertainers, comfortable with attention, most alive in the middle of a crowd - the extrovert at his best.
Sitting quietly in a corner doesn't mean the introvert is lonely or unhappy. They're observers - every laugh, word, the art on the wall, colours in the carpet, the title of the book on the coffee table, the name of the tune playing in the background - all taken in. But, such sensitive physiology can be costly.
When a gathering drags on past an hour or so, the need to recover shows up, flooding the mind with images of home, pajamas, a good book, and quiet. Overcome by all the moving parts of a get-together, the introvert plots her escape, and the less personal an event, the more it will exhaust, the more it feels like work instead of pleasure.
To avoid feeling overwhelmed, we avoid answering the phone unless we know who's calling. In preparation for the out-of-the-blue invitation, we rehearse the words, "No, I can't", "May I get back to you?", and "Please, may I think about it".
We practice being assertive, finally brave enough to say, "No, thank you", without mile-long explanations about why we wish to wiggle out of something. We avoid making promises we can't keep.
By the time I was 15 my mother had covered for me so many times, telling schoolmates, "She isn't home", when they called to talk - as teenage girls do. Exasperated, an evening after one such cover-up, with a firm tone I knew meant business, my mother said, "I will never lie for you again!", adding, If I didn't want to talk, I would have to be the one to say it. Yes, we're not always truthful, fearing we'll upset people if we say what we really think: "I'd rather not talk". Who will possibly understand?
Thankfully, with maturity comes strength. We learn the world doesn't end if we say 'no', we fear rejection less, value time more, know ourselves better. Fortunately, or not, we're rarely moved by the idea of missing out. After years of seeing ourselves as socially ill-adjusted, odd, strange, not belonging, not fitting in, age softens the blow of misguided, self-critical perceptions.
Imagine a world in which all of the (close to) 8 billion people around the globe were extroverts, talking all the time, vying for attention, barely listening, always on. As clearly as we need male and female, night and day, up and down, work and play, we need introverts and extroverts for a beautifully balanced humanity.
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