Sunday, October 28, 2007

Do We Need to be with Other People?

I was out with The Brat one day and she ran into a friend of hers. She stopped to chit-chat while I stood aside, waiting. Later I found out Brat's friend remarked that I looked like a killer in my all-black ensemble.

Remarks like that deserves a one-finger salute, especially since we don't even know each other. The truth is, I am painfully shy, and social interactions with strangers can be particularly traumatic and draining. My manner of coping with uncomfortable social interaction is to put on a forbidding veneer. People tend to be more respectful of my personal space - and it helped me avoid the intense social interaction that terrifies me.

I am not against meeting new people - I just would prefer to do it on my own terms, and to be real. At work I meet vendors, publishers and other associates. I need to put on a professional front, which I try. But often it feels false.

One of my vendors, Wendy, turns out to be good friends with Ms F. One evening Ms F and I were out, and we ran into Wendy with a blind-date that was over the moment they met. We joined her table and we started chatting. I was comfortable that night, and so my defenses was down. This means I was my usual snarky self. Later that night, Wendy remarked to Ms F that she was surprised: Wendy found me incredibly funny and witty - and it was a joy to hang out with me. She had assumed, because of how I am at work, that I was humourless. I wasn't surprised, but this is partly how people see me at work. No joy. All business.

I admire people who can walk into a room and take everyone feel at home - which I heard is something Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey are good at. My social skills is something I have to keep working at - but I wonder how. I'm lousy at small-talk, and I always prefer to listen. The blog allows me to interact at my own terms. When I do not wish to communicate, I can always just lurk, or put off answering emails. A part of me realises I am avoiding the issue of my own social-awkwardness, and it is not going to improve unless I keep working at it.

As I am slowly experimenting with Facebook, I have been adding some of my ex-classmates onto my list of friends. I wonder why am I doing it, when I hate having to socialise? The truth is, a lot of them are nice people that I never really bothered to know well enough. I should be making better effort to catch up - so I tell myself.

On this issue, I am divided by two opposing but powerful impulses:

One, the part of me that demands that I try to socialise more, because it recognises the need for me to get out of my own shell, to listen to other points of view. This is the part of me that says it is my responsibility to take the initiative to meet people. This is a necessary process of growth - the ability to assimilate and empathise with other people.

Then, the other part of of me - the introvert with a rich, full inner life. Who appreciates solitude, music, good books and learning. She is also the one who avoids the gossip-mongers at work, the one with independent thoughts, and who tells me I do not need external validation to be happy. She also tells me: only when I am truly at home in my own skin, will I be comfortable with other people.

I'm not sure who is winning. Probably the introvert - but not all the time.

11 comments:

Ah Leng said...

You know, i don't even bother to work on my seriously lacking social skills. It could be because i don't know how to get started or it could simply be due to the fact i don't wish to do anything about it.

We're not the kinds who walk into a room and people notice. We just sort of skulk around in the shadows. Which in a way is fine with me, because i don't really care to know too many people.

The Boy told me his friend invited me to her birthday party. The thought of a few hours of bimbo talk (e.g. "I found this fabulous hairdresser......."; "You must go to this shop, that's where i got this gorgeous dress from.....") scares the shit out of me. And i don't think i'll be going.

Dark Orpheus said...

For all your claims on "seriously lacking social skills", you make friends more easily than I do.

I don't want to do the superficial "talk about dress and hairstyle" conversations, but then, we don't exactly do deep, intellectual conversations, do we?

Sometimes I think we need to start with the superficial chit-chat before we progress to something deeper.

I just don't want to spend my life keeping people out. If I did, maybe we wouldn't have been friends. Imagine that. :)

Ah Leng said...

But there are some people who cannot go beyond "dress & hairstyle & make-up" talk. And trust me, i have nothing of value to contribute to topics such as these. Me who don't even own any make-up (sunblock doesn't count).

:D

Dark Orpheus said...

Well, how well do you know The Boy's friend?

Okay, I don't know what to say in a conversation about make-up and clothes either. Or about property prices - although her recent foray into property purchase may help you here.

Then there are people at work who can't seem to progress beyond mean-spirited gossips and bad-mouthing people (like M). I prefer not to mix with them either, and have been called "anti-social" because I avoid socialising with them.

People tell me it's not politically-savvy to distant myself from my colleagues like that - but I really can't bear having to join them for lunch.

Ah Leng said...

Work is work and sometimes we gotta talk to people we dislike. But lunch and after-work time is our own, and we should at least be able to choose who to spend our precious meal and after-work time with.

Ah Leng said...

Oh, as to how well i know The Boy's friend.

Like i said, all she talks about is wine, clothes, beauty, hair. How to be close to her? Wah lau eh.

stefanie said...

As a fellow introvert, I know exactly what you mean. I always manage to come off friendly--most of the time. Because I am quiet many of my coworkers are intimidated by me which makes me laugh. I suck at small talk and hate to participate in it but will sometimes bite the bullet if the situation calls for it. It't not that I don't have social skills, I do, I just don't like to use them all that much :)

Dark Orpheus said...

Ah Leng Maybe The Boy's friend just don't know how to connect with you. Pretty sure she doesn't know how to talk to me - all I talk about is yoga and books - and occasionally music and films that not many people know about. Oh, and about myself, of course. ;p

We're all kind of stuck in our own worlds at time. It's whether we remember to get out of ourselves, and pay some attention to the rest of the world.

stefanie I was reading something by Hans Eysenck a while back about how Introverts are really the ones gifted with a rich inner life. They have such a strong resources within themselves to draw from that they often do not need to look to external sources for stimulations. (I remember reading something similar about Hannibal Lecter. Hmm.)

So, sometimes, it's not that Introverts "can't" socialise - it's more like they don't have to. Or they already have a lot going on within them - and further stimulation from socialising can be overly draining.

I kind of like Eysenck's theory on Introverts. It's like you said: you have social skills, but you don't really like to use them all that much. :)

Well, at least people don't think you look like an assassin when you're quiet! :)

I get that sometimes at work too. Occasionally I get in the mood to be mischievous and jovial - and colleagues who don't know me get uneasy about how it's "so not me."

Quietletters said...

I like the part "ones gifted with a rich inner life".

sometimes I think there's more to life than having stuck in conversation about beauty, clothes, jewellery, rich boyfriend/husband & other blah blah lame stuff. Maybe a little if occasions calls for it but unlikely to dwell too long on such outings.

Having been label as "the private person" or 'anti-social", used to feel ‘weird’ when I was younger but am coming to term with it because most important I feel happy when I am doing my own stuff. Personal time.

Matt said...

I say work on your social skills at your own time. Don't worry about what others think, especially when someone who doesn't even know you and vindicates you look like a killer. That's rude.

Some people can take on the room full of people and become the center of attention, other warm up quickly to conversations that are up their alley. I'm somewhere in the middle, but if I have a choice and unless I'm obligated, I rather not show up at functions.

I think we all need to put up a forbidding veneer, at least for the sake of protecting ourselves, physically and emotionally. Now that I have been through the turmoil water of relationship and these unbreakable skeins of lingering emotions, I regret I haven't insulated myself with enough of such a veneer.

Dark Orpheus said...

quietletters The "ones gifted with a rich inner life" - I like it too, because it felt just like me? I think you understand. :)

I always believe my "personal time" helps me recharge, and make me better company when I do choose to socialise. And I prefer to be genuine and honest when I deal with people - not always only talking about the superficial, like hair, clothes, how bought an expensive car etc

Matt The forbidding veneer can be comforting - but it also keeps people out. I have insulated myself for a very long time. Matt, it may not always be a good thing.

Someone once wrote, "A broken heart is an open heart." Maybe it's not so bad to still be able to feel hurt.