Not everybody is a social butterfly.
So why do I feel shame when I am at a social event and I find myself wanting to avoid connecting with other people? Even people I like.
We’re taught at a young age to engage with others verbally, not to be wallflowers, not to be boring. But what if that doesn’t come naturally? What if our instinct is to sit back and watch for awhile? To take in the room before deciding where to go, who to interact with?
Who was it that proclaimed that it is better to jump in the pool without testing the water first than to sit on the side, feet dangling in the water, getting comfortable?
I love being with people. I especially love seeing people whom I haven’t seen in a long time, but I’m rarely the first one to lean in and greet them. Unless I recognize that they are as resistant as I am to diving in. Then I’ll step forward.
Many of the people in my life are extroverted. They rush into social encounters with enthusiasm. In some cases, they pull me in with them, and I have a good time. It’s probably why I’m drawn to them. I know they’ll get the ball rolling. When I’m ready, I’ll join in, but I know that they’ll fill up the space while I’m still getting my bearings. I can depend on them to fill the space while I’m still getting my bearings.
My slow entrance into a situation has nothing to do with shyness. Nor having nothing of interest to say. Nor coldness. My slow entrance in is the result of the way I process information. I take in the whole picture first then slowly break it down into the smaller parts. I’m off balance if I try to enter the picture before I’ve gotten a sense of the environment: the people, the food, the music, the set-up.
Right now, I’m sitting in the bar of a restaurant while my husband has a business meeting on the other side of the place. We’re on our way to see our daughter, who is racing in a regatta. We’re coming from a funeral and reception for my husband’s aunt.
I realized as soon as I arrived at the funeral that I knew a lot of the people. I’ve been in this family for almost 25 years. I’ve gotten to know who is who, where they live, who their spouses and kids are, if they have them, what they are like, at least in a general way. And, I couldn’t have entered into a better family. There isn’t a single person whom I wished I didn’t know. There are some whom I wished I knew better.
Still, I had to steel myself when I first walked into the church and saw the mass of them standing about in small groups. The first thing I saw was this intricate, huge church filled with pews and people. Then I noticed the stained glass windows and the high ceilings. Then I saw conversational circles. Then the people. Then the ones I know.
The people in my immediate path were the ones I spoke with as we walked down the aisle to our seats. It’s a lot of hi, how are you, it’s been so long. Then move on to the next one. That isn’t to say I wasn’t happy to see who I’d seen, but I still couldn’t process them individually. Does that make sense? It was more people who are related to my husband whom I’ve gotten to know at weddings and funerals over 25 years than Joe or Jane or Uncle Billy.
I was glad that it was time to sit. I could take in the other people, who goes with who, whose kids have changed from babies to adolescents or young adults. Sitting and watching, I get to see the interactions between others, which sisters sit together, which ones sit with their spouses or their kids. I’m not making judgments but I’m taking it in.
Then the quiet of the ceremony. The reason we are all there, to talk about Barbie. To remember her. To acknowledge what made her her. To be together in sending her off to the next place.
At the reception, the social engaging became easier for me. I could hone in on the individuals. There were awkward moments, like the ten minutes my sister-in-law and I stood off to the side talking about morbid things while it seemed as though everybody else (especially our spouses who are both far more extroverted than either of us) was having a good ole time reminiscing.
But that only lasted for a short while and then, we were off to separate groups to hug and talk and spend some time with people we don’t get to see that often.
I think it’s important to recognize that while we are all people, we are not exactly alike. And what sometimes seems like the right way to be–whether it is how we were trained or what we learn through conversation or the media–is only right for some people.
Whenever I try to be like my husband and dive into social situations quickly and fully, I end up feeling overwhelmed. I need to learn to take advantage of his comfort in social situations and let him carry the moment for us until I am ready, which I will be, eventually.
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