I lived decades of my life believing I’m anti-social, that I simply don’t possess the social skills others have. Some of my happiest memories are of me as a kid, in South Africa going off – all on my own – into the mountains on the edge of town. Just a barefooted boy, having an adventure.
Confusingly, later I found I could I be the life of the party, but usually only after some alcohol, to overcome the shyness I’ve suffered all my life. Also, I found I couldn’t be the life of the party for very long.
None of my friends ever understood why I’d sometimes leave a party that’s in full swing, heading off into the night on my motorcycle. Few of them understood why I’d get up extra early on a Saturday morning, fill my bike’s tank with petrol, and ride from Jo’burg down to Durban, to have a soft drink while watching the waves break, before heading back again.
With obvious incredulity, people would ask, wide-eyed, why I’d ride for over ten hours, without a reason. Later, they’d ask with the same expression why I’d choose to go back-packing in the Drakensberg on my own, for extended periods of time.
I’m a slow learner – I’ve proved this many times – and because I thought I had poor social skills, I also believed that meant I was bad at reading people. As a result, I’d ignore my instincts and trust people that I knew, deep down, couldn’t be trusted.
This, in turn, lead to making more mistakes, which simply served to erode whatever trust you have in your own judgement. It was a vicious negative feedback loop, and I was powerless to stop it, for a very long time. Needless to say, this also resulted in my displaying some extremely questionable behaviour at times.
And then one day, out of the blue, the penny dropped.
If I mentioned the word extrovert, most people would think of someone who is the life and soul of the party, while the word introvert would make them think of someone who is quiet and withdrawn. And in that, most people would be completely mistaken.
You see, it’s more a case of from where you get your energy. extroverts feed off the energy of people around them, while introverts’ batteries only ever recharge when they’re on their own.
I’m an introvert. That means, above all else, that I need time alone. That’s how I recharge. I don’t have poor social skills (though I can be rather blunt and direct) and I genuinely enjoy the company of people around me. However, it’s draining being around people, which means that I regularly need to be on my own.
Once I grasped this simple fact, so much more in life suddenly made perfect sense, and so many decisions I’d made, with hindsight, made perfect sense.
I’ve also learned that there are many introverts going through the same thought process I’d gone through, though hopefully most of them are quicker learners than what I am. Importantly, I’ve discovered that most extroverts (and to me, they seem to be the majority of people, but I might be wrong there) simply cannot grasp the fact that people like me need solitude just as much as we need food and water. This can, have, and will lead to conflicts, especially in relationships.
It’s one of the reasons I like Twitter – you can choose if, when and how to interact with people, and everyone understands that’s how Twitter works. There are no other expectations made of you.
If there’s someone in your life who puzzles, and even frustrates you, by often choosing to be on their own, the likely reason is they’re an introvert. It isn’t personal when we choose to not spend time with you. There’s nothing the matter, and you haven’t done anything wrong. Instead, we simply need a break, to have some quiet time, to let our batteries recharge.
Chasing us, when we’re at that point, will usually only make things worse. Leave us be, and we’ll return when we’re ready to face people again.
Importantly, you need to understand that to us, there is a big difference between being alone, and being on your own.
I’m not anti-social – I’m pro-solitude
That line, right there, explains so much to me, that I even designed a T-shirt with it – if you click the T-Shirts Menu link and scroll through, you’ll find it there.
Some of you will understand. If you don’t understand this, please, please just give us some space when we make it clear we need it. Let us be in blissful solitude when we need it.