Tag Archives: extroverts

On Living With Other People.

Photobucket
As someone who has only lived alone once, for a mere six-month period, I can say with surety that living with other people is weird. For the first eighteen years of my life I lived with my nuclear family, which is its own distinct brand of weird, but I’ve had a lot of different roommates in the past six years who weren’t blood-relatives, and while most of them were fairly normal as far as humans go, each living situation registered high on the spectrum of weird. Let’s take a walk down my roommate memory lane, shall we?

When I entered college and lived in the dorms, my university, in their infinite wisdom, assigned me a roommate based on a bogus questionnaire that they made us fill out about ourselves and our personal preferences. Everyone else on my floor seemed to get paired with someone that was very similar to them and they all ended up being besties, whereas I could not have been matched with a person who was more unlike me in every way than my freshman-year roommate. She was a physically imposing girl who wore baggy pants and wife-beaters, and kept her hair in tight cornrows. She was really shy and every time I tried to hang out with her she politely gave me the brush-off in favor of sitting in our dorm room and playing Halo alone for six hours straight. I think we probably exchanged 100 words or fewer during the nine months that we lived together, and most of them pertained to whose turn it was to clean the bathroom.

At the beginning of my second year of college, my summer housing plans fell through and I ended up in a two-bedroom apartment with four other girls, sleeping on an air mattress and being woken up at 2am by the sound of glass breaking as drunks flooded out of the bar behind our unit. They were all super laid-back hippie girls who didn’t shave their legs and who didn’t think twice about leaving the front door unlocked at all times, and I was too high-strung to abide such things. After two weeks, I moved into one of the university’s off-campus apartments with two girls. One was a bisexual redhead who took me out for Thai food on the night I moved in and asked me if I would ever kiss a girl, and who routinely woke me up in the middle of the night with her elephantine snoring. She dressed like a punk rock anime character and was really into Japanese culture, and one night she tried to get my boyfriend and I drunk on sake after conning us into watching Battle Royale with her. The other girl was one of the most socially awkward humans I’ve ever met, and I’m positive that we exchanged significantly fewer than 100 words over the course of our living together. She followed her boyfriend around like a shadow so she wasn’t around often, but when she was, you would instantly know by the heaviness of her steps shaking the walls as she stomped around the apartment. She also liked to walk around in her underwear while fiercely avoiding eye contact with me. Another girl moved in halfway through the school year, and she quickly became my ally against the other two and is among only two other roommates I’ve ever had that I  remain good friends with.

For the first quarter of my junior year of college, I lived in a giant house with five other girls. They were all nice girls, but they all drove really nice cars and wore stilettos all the time and watched Sex and the City and shopped exclusively at Nordstrom’s, and not just during the Half-Yearly Sale, and it became apparent very quickly that I was the one-of-these-things-are-not-like-the-others girl in the house. In spite of their collective lack of quirkiness, one of the girls did have a pet boa constrictor named Noodle that she kept in an aquarium tank in the living room. I’m terrified of snakes, but Noodle was really docile and good with people and we ended up getting along all right. From there, I moved into a really dumpy apartment with three other girls, and because there were no hallways in the apartment and you had to just walk through rooms to get to other rooms, I ended up residing in the room you had to walk through to get to the bathroom. As you can probably imagine, I had slightly more than zero privacy. I erected a makeshift partition out of tall bookshelves and a curtain, but it couldn’t deafen the sound of my roommates wandering half-conscious through my sleeping space, bumping into things like zombies while I begrudgingly kissed a night of REM sleep goodbye. During the summer, one girl moved out and two more moved in, so I let the two girls have my hallway bedroom and I moved into a bedroom that was both a) connected to the sun room and b) had a stairway in it that led to nowhere (it went up to the upstairs neighbors’ apartment but was boarded off). Sometimes I would climb to the top of the stairs and just sit there while I talked to my mom on the phone. All of my roommates had bikes that they kept in the sunroom, so they would arrive home and store their bikes and then walk through my room as I slept in order to get to the living room, where they would blast the Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix album loud enough to travel easily through the paper-thin walls and into my still-trying-to-sleep eardrums.

For my final year of college, I lived with two girls I had become good friends with through my then-boyfriend. Unfortunately, the spring before we started living together, there was a big falling-out between myself and another guy in our circle of friends, and the two girls were definitely on his side. I knew it was going to be super uncomfortable and I tried to get out of living with them, but my then-boyfriend asked me to just suck it up and live with them so as not to cause any more problems with his friends. Yeah, he was a real gem. So I lived with them, and it was as uncomfortable as I had expected. I wanted to at least attempt to retain a friendship with them but I always ended up feeling left out, and eventually we got to the point where the only interactions we had were the occasional exchange of pleasantries, and when I knew they were home I would either just hide in my room or leave the house and hide out somewhere else. Once I was done with school, I was still unemployed and they were working nine-to-five jobs, so they would have friends over for elaborate meals in the evening and then leave a sink full of dirty dishes the next day. Seriously, every single day.

I got out of there and lived in a handful of places over the proceeding six months while oscillating between employment and unemployment: in my dad’s boss’s ritzy vacation house in middle-of-nowhere southwest Washington with my brother; in a house in Yakima with my then-boyfriend’s mom, stepdad and seven-year-old sister, wherein I slept in a spare bedroom that was stacked high with hoarder mom’s “treasures” and allowed only a narrow footpath from door to bed; with my then-boyfriend and his roommate in their teeny Seattle apartment, a two-week period that marked the beginning of the end of our relationship; and with my aunt, uncle, and two elementary-aged female cousins in North Seattle, where I lived in their basement, was serenaded with humorous Catholic-school songs by my cousins over breakfast every morning, and felt constantly indebted to them for patiently enduring my presence in their home while I transitioned into a new job and tried to find an apartment and a roommate. I ended up living with one of my best friends’ girlfriend, who I didn’t know very well, and since we had almost completely opposite schedules it was basically like I lived alone, and when we did come into contact with each other it was as two ships passing in the night. It was a pretty okay situation until she and my good friend broke up. Then it was kind of weird because I was trying to be there for her even though I was better friends with her ex, and then she started bringing some unsavory friends into the apartment, the most skeezy of which was a guy named Nic Nic, who knowingly infected my beautiful chaise lounge with scabies when he crashed on it shirtless one night. Ewwwwwww.

So when I moved into a three-bedroom apartment in Amsterdam and my employers asked me if I wanted them to try to find me some roommates, you can imagine why I said THANKS, BUT NO THANKS emphatically. As the cost of living in a one-bedroom apartment, or even a studio apartment for that matter, in Seattle in astronomical, I figured that this was going to be my one chance to live by myself without sacrificing arms, legs and other appendages financially. And honestly, if I separate that living situation from the working situation that was attached to it, it was pretty awesome. There were, of course, times where I missed having another person around, but then I started having conversations with myself in different accents and poof — problem solved. I loved that I didn’t have to worry about closing the bathroom door, that I could belt out power ballads whenever I felt like it, that I could camp out on the couch under a blanket and watch hours of trashy television and eat an entire restaurant-size bag of Ruffles in one sitting, all without the judgment of a roommate falling harshly upon me. I loved that my space extended through an entire apartment instead of being relegated to a single room. I loved being able to make the apartment look the way I wanted it to look without having to try to incorporate someone else’s weird taste in home decor. I loved that it was always my choice to be around people or to not be around people.

Maybe that sounds harsh, but I’m an introvert, okay? I enjoy being around people, but instead of energizing me the way it does for extroverts, it makes me tired to be around a lot of people all the time, which necessitates alone time for me to “recharge my batteries,” so to speak. I wouldn’t call myself a loner, but it doesn’t make me at all uncomfortable to spend time by myself. In fact, I really enjoy spending time alone. I’ve been ruminating on that fact a lot recently, which is ironic because I find myself currently residing in a house with my boyfriend, his five male roommates and their dog. Being the only girl in a house full of dudes is a new experience in itself, but three of the roommates have girlfriends who are often around, so it’s kind of like living in a commune. At any given moment there could be ten people and a dog in the house at the same time, and that gets a little overwhelming sometimes. It’s fun for all of us to cook and eat breakfast together on Saturday mornings or to play board games on a weeknight occasionally, but sometimes I just want to do my own thing and do it in solitude, and that’s difficult when you’re always among friends and don’t want them to think that you’re mad at them or an anti-social alien for leaving the room where everyone else is hanging out to go hang out in the basement by myself. All if which is to say: maybe it’s not everyone else, but me, that makes living with other people so weird. It’s not that I can’t get along with the people I live with, because I’ve generally liked the majority of the people I’ve resided with (or at least found a way to tolerate them if I didn’t), but I think the weirdness level of a living situation, and by extension, my ability to be a good roommate, directly correlates to whether or not I feel that my personal space or my necessary alone time is being threatened. Maybe I feel like my roommate history has been largely weird because I feel I’ve never been able to be as alone as I need to be inside my own dwelling. Or maybe I’m just high maintenance and everyone should try to avoid being roommates with me if they can help it. YOU BE THE JUDGE.

On Being An Introvert.

Photobucket via

In the course of the past week, I’ve been seeing a lot of things around the interwebs about introversion: Moorea wrote a great post about being an introvert and broke down some commonly-held myths about introverts, The New York Times ran an article about negative cultural perceptions of shyness in the U.S. and how introversion is actually an evolutionary benefit, and Thought Catalog featured a characteristically clever blurb about the pros and cons of being an introvert. I spend a great deal of time pondering my own introversion in general, but seeing all of these mentions of introversion has kept it on my mind more so than usual.

I’m a major introvert. I have difficulty hanging out with more than a few people at once, and I get very quiet in large groups. I silently observe situations until I feel comfortable enough to speak. I get overstimulated easily and often have to excuse myself from situations that overwhelm me. It makes me flustered and nervous when someone puts me on the spot or tries to shift the focus of a conversation onto me when I’m in a group of people. I treasure my alone time, and sometimes I would rather be by myself than be around other people. And occasionally, my introversion is absolutely paralyzing, to the point where I can’t speak or interact like I suspect a normal person should be able to. Call it introversion or call it social anxiety: whatever it is, it sucks. I’ve mostly come to terms with the fact that this is just the way I am, but sometimes I seriously lament my inability to step outside of my introversion and I feel like I may be diseased, or at the very least, that there’s something seriously wrong with me. I think the NY times article says it well:

Though the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistics Manual) did not set out to pathologize shyness, it risks doing so, and has twice come close to identifying introversion as a disorder, too… But shyness and introversion share an undervalued status in a world that prizes extroversion. Children’s classroom desks are now often arranged in pods, because group participation supposedly leads to better learning; in one school I visited, a sign announcing “Rules for Group Work” included, “You can’t ask a teacher for help unless everyone in your group has the same question.” Many adults work for organizations that now assign work in teams, in offices without walls, for supervisors who value “people skills” above all. As a society, we prefer action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. Studies show that we rank fast and frequent talkers as more competent, likable and even smarter than slow ones.

One of my brothers is extremely tall (6’7″, to be exact), and he constantly hits his head on low hanging doors or light fixtures, can barely fit into an airplane seat or a seat on an amusement park ride, and has had difficulty finding clothes that fit him for years. When circumstances like that arise for him, I always think to myself “The world was not made to accomodate people as big as him.” I sometimes think the same thing about being an introvert: it’s difficult to feel like there’s a place for me in a world full of extroverts and in a world that loves and admires extroverts.

I truly wish I could be the kind of person that is confident and at ease in most social situations, who can fearlessly start a conversation with a stranger at a party or who can be bubbly and effervescent no matter the circumstances. Apocalypstick wrote a very funny blog post about how to survive a party alone, and I found her commentary very relevant:

“I’ve gone to parties alone and only one — ONE — was awkward and not fun. So what did I do? I left. It’s that simple! You say your polite goodbyes and then get in your mini cooper and get the hell out of there. Was it an icky experience to just talk to people and have them wander off so I pretended like I had a really urgent text message? Yes. Even Apocalypstick lets her self doubt take over sometimes. That’s the worst, when you feel doubt inside and so it seeps outside and it’s like, seep the fuck back in, but it’s too late.”

I feel like this is characteristic of nearly every party I’ve ever been to. I feel like I’ve tried every trick in the book to deceive my brain and body into thinking it can be an extrovert, but it never works. In situations like that, I usually just try to find an exit that isn’t completely graceless, and then kick myself and internally scold myself for being a thorn in my own side.

But what I find the most fascinating thing about the fact that I’m an introvert is that I used to be an extrovert. When I was in Georgia for my brother’s graduation, my mom and brothers and I watched some old home videos from when I was between the ages of approximately 4 and 6. And I was so outgoing! My mom often tells stories about me at that age in which she worries that I’ll get abducted because I had no qualms about going up to any stranger in a shoe store (or some other public place) and volunteering information about myself and my mom, and then returning to my mom with said stranger and proceeding to rattle off a litany of information I’d learned about them. I used to sing in every Christmas program at my church in Michigan and not give a thought to stage fright or discomfort at having people’s attention focused on me. What happened?! All signs point to me being a born extrovert, but somewhere in my early tweens I did a flip and became an introvert. Which makes me wonder: if I flipped once, is it possible that I can do it again?