Dirty Word

A while back, I set a Gchat status as a link to a comic about helping extroverts understand introverts.  Assuming mine to be an opening shot in some Meyers-Briggs warfare in which I truly have no side or concern [Note: INFP. Shocker.], among the unsurprising retorts I got back were a number of comments about shut-ins, social rejects, and general use of the term “introvert” to mean “I’m a selfish prat who feels entitled to my dickishness because I don’t deal well with people.” If nothing else, it started a lot of interesting conversations with people about general concepts of the term and its popular parlance as a bastardized version of a psychological term still considered valid by the field. I honestly advise everyone to take a few minutes to read up on its more scientific meaning at some point, as I don’t believe the word means what you think it means.

Without attributing it to introversion necessarily, I will say that one of my stronger personality traits is an almost constant inner dialogue: an over-critical neurotic obsessive tinkering with trying to understand the human interactive situations I find myself in. In getting through the last two years, I’ve actually spent a lot of time “turtling” alone at home rather than go through the process of being introverted in public. Recently, I’ve found myself comfortable enough with my friends and family that I will allow myself these moments while in full scrutiny of the throng. This is such a good thing. This is such a sign of healing and growth and of my emotional/psychological world finally settling.

I believe it is also somewhat disconcerting to people.

The thing about me is that I come in two phases. The one that many of my friends know well is the Talker: verbal sparring, constant jokes, laughing and smiling and telling stories and trying hard to be truly expressive about how wonderful a moment is, or the people are who are sharing it with me. Matt once told me that when he first experienced this version of me, he thought I was being unbelievably sarcastic and assholey. I think it grows on people.

The other phase is one that I think people who’ve known me for years recognize, but one that some new people in my life are only now experiencing for the first time: The Silence. I know that some of the people closest to me in my life have never gotten used to it (much to the detriment of some relationships, in fact). Its in those moments, described above, where I am deeply entrenched in uncontrollable thought, and experiencing things that I simply cannot or do not wish to share. As I come out the other end of the Forest, I recognize the changes in myself. One of the most profound is that the list of things I keep to myself, the things I cannot or will not say has grown exponentially longer. They aren’t bad things; not at all. They are simply the things that I save for me and only me.

I was walking with friends. The conversation was such that I was not a contributor for the moment. Some stimulus hits, and I remember something old, and I begin to think on it. Or I see my friends smiling and the sun shining and the weather is so crisp and I wonder if I could put my collar up, like a character in a book, but no one really ever puts their collar up except in ads in Esquire, and I wonder when my next issue will arrive, and I’m glad I read that article about plaid shirts with ties being work-appropriate, and this shirt really goes well with this sweater and … “What was that?”

“I asked ‘Are you okay?'”

And I am okay. And maybe I was thinking about fashion. Or maybe I was thinking about some comment I made, many many years ago, and I’m still mortified. Or maybe I’m thinking about all of the things I could have done differently. Or maybe I’m thinking about whether its better to be alone than to be unsure. Or maybe I’m thinking about checking to see if apple juice is on sale at the Safeway. Or maybe I’m thinking about taking Kir to the vet. Or buying a house. Or my parents’ divorce. Or my own divorce. Or what I’m going to buy for my brother for Christmas. Or my fantasy football team. And maybe I was just incredibly happy in the moment. Or maybe I was incredibly sad.

“Yeah,” I smiled back, trying very hard to show-not-say the intent. “Yeah, I’m good.”

I was having dinner with a couple a few weeks back. While Husband cooked dinner, Wife said a very surprising thing.

“Did you know that Husband is a chubby-chaser?!” She smiled as she said it; I believe she and I have bonded over the years over our mutual affection for, admiration of, and shit-giving to Husband.

“I’m not a chubby chaser.” Husband sighed.

“Well I don’t know what else to think when you were flirting with that heavier woman!” Wife smirked at me when she said this.

“I wasn’t flirting with her.” Husband sighed again.

“Whatever!” she laughed. “You were Mr. Charm when you were talking to her!”

“That’s because, to put it nicely, she’s not my type,” he explained. “I’m only shy and awkward around people I might be attracted to. If their not attractive to me, I’m not intimidated at all, and I can be as charming as I want to be!”

I loved this moment. I loved it for Husband and Wife being so very Them. I loved it for how much I related to it, and why I continue to look at a life of being single as absolutely terrifying. I loved it because I often tell the same sort of truth, using the example of how at work I am confident and charming, while in real life I can be awkward and shy and intimidated easily. I love it because it sheds light on the fact that there is Real Life Truth in the Tommy Boy Chicken Wings Scene.

… go ahead and watch it. Its a good scene. Tommy likey! Tommy want wingy!

Today, as I said goodbye to someone I may not see again for a long time, I gave a hug (as I am wont to do, like a shot ringing out in the dark) and felt the tangible goodness of the moment. My brain ran through a million thoughts all at once; a million happinesses and sadnesses, a million questions and unresolved issues and simple thoughts of making a statement of intent or a statement of kindness or a statement of affection or a statement of any kind.

Instead, I just closed my eyes, and I repeated in my head, “A thousand words. A thousand things. All of them belong to me.”

If you find me in a Silence, it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong. It means that I feel comfortable around you; comfortable enough to be vulnerable and introverted and experiencing the other half of my life exposed to you. If you find me in Silence, it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong at all: it means that everything is alright.

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15 thoughts on “Dirty Word

    • I like to think it comes in layers. The outer layer comes across as sarcastic and assholey. But underneath that layer is a kind and friendly and affectionate person.

      … but sometimes there’s a third layer, that’s actually the same as the first.

      On the whole, I’m alright with misplaced belief in my sarcastic dickishness. It simply prepares people for later realizing I’m a sarcastic dick.

  1. “…one of my stronger personality traits is an almost constant inner dialogue: an over-critical neurotic obsessive tinkering with trying to understand [the] human interactive situations…”

    You may or may not be be surprised to find others notoriously tagged as ‘extroverts’ who share this sentiment.

    • But you edited out the more important part: “Without attributing it to introversion necessarily …”

      I recognize that is not an inherently introverted trait. Its more defining the behavior in the context of my possible introversion. I think that kind of obsessiveness is often a sign of an over-active mind.

      Or intellect.

      Or mental illness.

      • I should have been a bit more clear – while quoting that point I was also thinking of the other mentions in your post about being silent when others recognize you as either a) your confident work persona or b) your necessarily extroverted self/actions while out with [new] friends.

        Drawing purely from anecdotal evidence, I’d both like to and am saddened to say that I think the kind of obsessiveness you detailed is D: All of the above.

  2. I like reading your blog in the same way that I like to read James Herriot or listen to Garrison Keillor’s voice. It’s very cosy under a blanket by the fireside on a cold winter night.

  3. I can especially relate to being mortified about a comment I made many years ago. I always wonder if other people analyze themselves and their affect on the world as much as I do. There are so many rooms and hallways in the introverted brain; we so often visit old damp places others closed off ages ago. When I am deep within my own mind, people often tell me that I look bored which couldn’t be farther from the reality. This is a very poetic post, and I look forward to reading others.

    • Thank you 🙂

      I sometimes get flushed in the face when I remember a particularly mortifying moment. It passes quickly, but I’ve had it happen in all walks of my life, and it reminds me of the importance of trying to control my introspective moments.

  4. I can relate to so my parts of this: seeming most flirty to the least attractive people, constantly mulling over everything I’ve ever thought and being quietest around those I’m most comfortable with! Upon discovering the Myers-Briggs test I made some of my friends take it and was surprised at the extroverted ones who laughed at some of the introvert options or thought ‘introverts’ are always shy and awkward.

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