Confession: Just because I believe in people does not mean that I am particularly excited to be with them most of the time. I have, at times, deep anxiety about having to be with people or talk to them or be in any way socially obligated to another person.
My introversion has deepened over the years. Without Elise, my spectacularly talented-brilliant-beautiful partner, I probably would have gone all Alexander Supertramp and moved into the mountains, never to be heard from again.
The truth is, being with people has become quite difficult for me over the years and I’m not really sure why. If this is news to you, know how hard I work to hide this. If it is not, I’m sorry if you’ve ever felt jilted.
I have found situations that allow me to be social in ways that I am relatively more comfortable. One on one or in small groups over coffee or, preferably, alcohol, is the best case. I can talk to strangers at the bar more easily than just about anyone.
In large groups, I need a place or function to which I can return. Hosting is the best, because no one questions if the host just up and leaves to go refill drinks or go “check on something” in another room. I prefer to be at the grill the most, cooking and providing something for the group. I like a task. When I don’t know what to say or do, I can go back to my station at the grill and find some kind of purpose, even if it is relatively unimportant.
But generally, I often find being with people really difficult, and nearly always exhausting.
When I get an email from a friend or a comment on Facebook or a text from a family member, my stomach almost always has at least a fleeting moment of nausea. I have to remind myself that it might not be a bad message or a critical comment. I nearly always have to stave off big regrets for sharing my opinion, even though I do it often.
This has struck some of my friends as odd considering my claims of the goodness of people and my belief in humans to do brilliant and good things. How can you say you love people but not enjoy them? How can you say you believe in community but always want to be alone?
My answer is that there is a difference between loving and believing in people and finding being with them exciting.
I do believe in relationships, but I do not see them as easy. I do believe in community, but I do not see them as a panacea. If I advocate for reaching out to my other, it is not because I find it easy or desirable.
I have been persuaded that it is only in relationships that people become fully human. I believe in the basic human need for companionship.
These conclusions, however, are not due to some generalization of personal preference. I am no social butterfly who is projecting that which makes me happy onto the rest of humanity. I’d sort of rather be by myself.
But I find little hope for the world in individuals who isolate ourselves. I do find hope in our choosing to reach out to others, and our basic instinct to do so, even as introverts.
I could probably embrace being a recluse and disappear into myself, but I would become less human. Don’t think that I am happy about that. A part of me will likely always want to leave, to go to another room, to walk off into the mountains, never to be heard from again.
Still, I am hopeful. I hopeful that our reaching out to one another is a transformative act. I am hopeful that relationships can be healing for a wounded world. And I am hopeful that loving people, even if I don’t particularly like them, is enough.