Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

A personal mini-manifesto on introversion.  §

There are many posts over the years that I have wanted to make but haven’t made. Some of them I’ve created as drafts again and again, but never published. Some of them I’ve published and then pulled back. I’ll be honest and say that most of this hiding out despite wanting to say something publicly was because I was afraid of upsetting significant others, family, friends, and so on.

But ’tis the season for me to lay it all on the line and let people know who they’re dealing with. If I end up alone and have to start life over, so be it.

So let’s see how many of these “I’ve protected other peoples’ feelings for long enough and now its time for me to reveal myself” posts I can knock out in one day, shall we?

— § —

I am an introvert.

I am not shy. (Ask my wife, or any of my friends, or any of my former students for that matter.)

And it is not a disease. Or a weakness. Or something that needs to be remedied.

In fact, I get terribly offended when people imply that there’s something wrong with the way that I am. There f**king isn’t. If you can’t be comfortable with the idea of introverts, it’s more likely that there’s something wrong with the way you are. I’ve long suspected that extroverts who spend their time trying arduously to get introverts to make a dozen new friends are actually projecting their own deep fears and unfulfillable need for validation onto said introverts. They are vaguely terrified to see that someone is often alone, or doesn’t have too many friends, and that is okay with it. It triggers something for them. Just my guess.

— § —

It’s not hard for me to make friends. I just don’t make a lot of them. And here’s why. There have been times in my life—times when I was feeling lonely, or when things were trending downward, or when I was just bored—when I took someone’s advice to “put myself out there” and “make friends” and so on, and I did. It’s not impossible. The steps are pretty easy. I speak English. And I’m a nice guy.

So what did I end up with? A lot of people that I genuinely cared about that wanted to see me all the time. And then I’d have to say no. Because it was exhausting and annoying. And then I felt terrible. Because I really did care about them and I really did feel as though they were my friends. I just plain didn’t want to see them most of the time. I wanted to do my stuff. Read my books. Work on my projects. Hell, just sit and reflect. Go for a hike. I preferred to do my plain old introverty stuff, and not in a group. And as a result, I hurt people. And I had to suffer through the awkward conversations and the pain that comes along with making people feel as though you’re rejecting them all the time.

And after each of the periods in my life during which I’ve gone on such a friend-making binge, usually for conscious put-it-all-out-there reasons, naively thinking I was “doing the healthy thing” (largely on advice of extroverts) and feeling tremendously exhausted by the process, I’ve ended up letting all of those friendships taper off and away. And that’s painful, too. But not as painful as having to deal with all of them all the time and try to explain that I just don’t need to see my friends all that much, and in fact I prefer not to. Lots of times, I just like to know that they exist and that’s enough for me. In fact, it is often preferable.

But here’s the thing. People seem to think that this is some sort of disease. That the fact that I made a whole bunch of friends and then let those friendships slowly wither means that I need some kind of therapy for it. That the natural state of life is to have a massive social circle and to go out and talk every night and to prefer to work in groups and to ask for advice from a crop of heads and so on. That I need to be fixed.

I do not f**king need to be fixed. There is nothing wrong with being an introvert. It is a way to be. Just like being a lumberjack, or a Buddhist, or gendered male (or female). It is a way to be. A perfectly legitimate, functional, fine way to be. Many, many very successful and historically important people have been introverts. Introversion confers many distinct advantages, not least amongst them the ability to get things done—largely because introverts can just sit down and put in hours when they feel inspired, rather than using a significant portion of those hours to socialize instead. And when this happens, it feels good. For introverts, flow is nirvana.

Indeed, many, many very happy people are introverts. Only they are not happy all the time because nobody is f**king happy all the time, and the fact that they are not happy at any particular moment is not “due to their introversion” any more than the fact that extroverts are unhappy and liberally sharing their hurt with a hundred different people on any given day is “due to their extroversion.”

— § —

It is work for me to socialize. With my children. With my wife. With my self, even.

It is good work. Joyful work. The most valuable work in life. I could never live without it. I would be devastated without it, particularly in the case of my wife and kids.

But it is work. Even socializing on Facebook is work that I do because it is needed. That is what it means to be an introvert, nothing less, nothing more. It does not leave me feeling energized to have a conversation, even with my closest, closest friend or with a circle of family, and even if the conversation is fabulous and fulfilling. It leaves me more tired than when the conversation started. That does not mean that it catastrophically expends me to have interactions. A lot of people have over-read into the things they’ve consumed online about introversion and come to imagine that an introvert is somehow deeply damaged by social interaction of any kind. No. It’s just work. Fulfilling work, important work, work that at times I long to do (say, with my wife, whom I in fact want very much to see and interact with every day). But it is work. Again, nothing less, nothing more.

And so, as a result, I consciously limit the number of close friends and close relationships I have in my life. Because I can’t sustain too many of them and I don’t want to hurt people by just plain not having the energy for them. You can’t sustain relationships that you don’t nurture anyway, and I simply can’t nurture too many. That’s just the way it is.

This does mean that I rely on the friendships that I do keep more than an extrovert might rely on their friendships. When the chips are down, I don’t have fifty different people that I can call. I have a handful. Yes, I could go out and get fifty different people once again, just to have more people to talk to when the chips are down, but the thing is that I wouldn’t talk to them anyway. Instead, they’d be “checking in” on me and asking me how I’m doing and showing up at my door with snacks and all of that really, really nice stuff that would make me want to pull my hair out for the extra work if, in fact, the chips were down. When the chips are down, more than at other times, I need the space to just do my stuff. And contrary to what extroverts tend to say, you can’t just do your stuff as an introvert if you’re not alone. Because non-introverts that try to accompany you in stuff-doing sessions, well… They talk to you. They can’t help themselves. And that means you’re not getting to do your stuff. It’s like an itch that needs to be scratched. You get impatient. You stop being a good listener. You long to extract yourself from the situation and just be alone again so that you can… do your stuff.

So I’ve learned my lesson over the years. A handful of people. Keep them close when you do talk to them. Bare your soul. Let them bare theirs. Be economical and encourage everyone to lay it all on the line without beating around the bush. And the rest of the time, let them be them over there, and I’ll be me over here and we don’t have to spend half of every living day chatting about nothing in particular. Because introverts can’t do nothing in particular very well. Everything in an introvert’s life is, in fact, something in particular. The nothings-in-particular, they got discarded a long time ago—and it is extra work to have to recover them, much less to then have to talk about them as a matter of mere politeness.

— § —

I don’t think all of this is an issue for anyone in my life right now. But it has been in the past, with some people. And I’ve never blogged about it in just this way, head on. And I’ve just seen a meme that made me want to scratch this itch.

So I’ll just say, on behalf of all the introverts out there: if you can’t handle friendship with an introvert—being not one of a hundred, but one of six, or one of three—if it makes you feel worried or pressured that someone doesn’t have too, too many friends other than yourself or that they seem to want to immediately open their heart to you and expect you to expeditiously open your heart to them—then politely excuse yourself from being friends with the introvert in question and say that it all just plain weirds you out. They’ll be okay. They’ll be grateful. I promise.

Whatever you do, don’t make it your project to come at them from a “place of caring” and try to fill their lives with people and smalltalk all while maintaining your distance, just to make yourself feel better.

They will not thank you for it in the long run. And you also won’t feel better in the long run being friends with them, if that’s the way you feel.

— § —

Mini-manifesto over.

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