We operate on different gears, he and I. He happily stacks plans upon activities, is calm with a full table, and has the energy of a five year old. I come via a solo train, introverted by default, preferring groups to dot the day rather than be the norm. Still, I laugh at the jokes and join the debates, surprising myself at times with my enjoyment of the crowd. But after an hour or two, I’m done; finding the extra bodies more draining than energizing, I long to retreat to recharge in the stillness. It’s a balancing game – avoiding the gentle slope into isolation, integrating friendship with mindfulness and connections with calm. It’s a learning process as I examine my comfort zone and learn where I need to step away in favor of shared laughter and fun.
I will never be the party girl with an overflowing date book and more friends that I can count. I can happily spent a Sunday writing, reading, going to the park, calling friends, and never getting out of my pajamas. And yet, I still fight against the extroverted judgments, the labels: not normal, nerd, loser, boring, pathetic. I practice allowing myself to have my own rules for living and standards of joy, struggling against the childish biases that no longer apply.
So when I find a kindred spirit whose smile also turns stale upon the bell of midnight, I link arms with relief that there are others just like me. However, even as I learn who I am and create my own grown up life, I watch my dad in his splendor, a table full of friends, and I take notes. I watch, simply grateful to have been taught the tools of connection by a master. I slip in and out of his overflowing calendar, but am always welcomed with a genuine smile and an outstretched hand as he pulls me by his side. And just as I stretch myself to dance in his world, his shining compliment is when he shrinks to intimacy, carving shared moments of just the two of us sitting on the dock, trading thoughts upon the wind. He glows in a bustle, but gives a gift to my introverted soul, as he makes clear that our family of four is all the party he needs.
I continue to learn. I learn what I need, want, and wish for. I learn how to slip into family without unleashing old shadows but rather filling my shoes with a love that cushions until the next time. I learn how to appreciate the din of the crowd along with the stillness, loud laughter along with deep talks over coffee. I learn when to stretch and when to swing in quiet peace. I learn to appreciate the differences, to cherish family, and to keep close friends who also understand interaction limits and grown up time outs.
And so I made a new friend on the dock this summer, and for a few days, we swapped book lists and laughter, pages of history shared under the sun. Despite the distance between us, I look forward to seeing her next summer, and I remember the ease of her company as a fellow introvert lost in a community of extroverts.