25 January 2010

the shy, retiring type?

Depending on whom you ask, I am one of two types of people:
  1. A dryly funny, talkative person who's quick on her feet, fairly at ease in social situations and who enjoys other people's company

  2. A quiet observer who doesn't add to conversations, who talks a little quickly when she does talk, who sometimes has trouble expressing herself because she's stumbling over words, and who seems embarrassed and slightly lonely in crowds
I'm typing these descriptions, trying to get them right, and thinking, "That doesn't sound like two sides of one person; that sounds like one side of two different people." But it's true ... my family, friends and some acquaintances think of me as #1, while other acquaintances could never believe that I am anything but #2.

When I was at Penn State, I decided that I wanted to be part of the Penn State Thespians. (If you don't know about the Thespians, it's like a co-ed fraternity for theater geeks.) I can't really remember why I wanted to join, but I did, and I put in my time, and I became a member. Around them, I was #2 all of the time; I just never felt comfortable enough around those people to be #1. (At this point, you're forgiven for asking, "So WHY did you want to join?" And again, I can't give you an answer.)

It's not that I was intimidated - or the opposite, that I thought that they were beneath me. They just weren't really the kind of crowd that would "get" me, so I never bothered to fill them in on what they weren't getting. At one of their parties, some of us were playing a game where a person in the room would be described using a Disney character, and you'd have to guess whom they were describing. The clue for me was Belle from Beauty and the Beast ... quiet, bookish, brunette - yes, I can see that (and will certainly accept it because she's pretty!), but that doesn't capture what I'm really about.

After being around them for a little over a year, I was invited to "commune with Thespus," a secret late-night initiation process that is like hazing except that it's all silly and fun and you don't drink or get beaten up or feel degraded afterward. That year's proceedings had an Olympics theme, so during one part we were supposed to do an improv where two people were participating in a made-up Olympic event and two people would do play-by-play. I guess that the idea of doing improv (which at that time I'd been doing for two years) made me loose and confident because I launched into a veddy British (and very dry) sportscaster character.

Suddenly I was being myself, and they were laughing and looking at me like I'd taken off a mask and revealed myself to be someone else. (Guess I had.) If you will allow me a ridiculous comparison, it was like my very own Susan Boyle moment - the expectation and reality didn't match, the frumpy could could sing, or, in my case, Belle became the Genie from Aladdin. (Ugh, more Disney metaphors!)

And if this were a coming-of-age story, or a Lifetime movie, I would've accepted the accolades of my peers and been spurred on to be #1 from. then. on. But I didn't - I went back to #2, and in fact didn't hang out with them as much anymore because I didn't know the younger members as much as the older ones who had graduated.

So we come to now. I keep switching between those two sides, but as I age and spend an increasing amount of time in my own company and with the Kid, I am leaning on #2 more and more. Having worked as a receptionist for several years didn't help; being at a desk by yourself and talking to disembodied voices all day is #2's dream job.

I am having more and more trouble in social situations, and find them whirring past without really experiencing them ... Life gets stuck on the 2x>> button on my personal remote. This lack of self-confidence gets lackier as I replay conversations in my head and fret over talking too much, sounding too needy, behaving like a simpleton. It's laughable that I used to dumb myself down in certain situations for fear of sounding too smart, and now I'm having trouble smartening back up - or, at least, finding an equilibrium that's not off-putting.

Writing about it right now has helped clear my head a little. Didn't I used to write poetry, after all, to clean out the words gathered like cobwebs that cluttered the place, my mind? Perhaps I need to get back in the habit, using it to practice connecting to people where cold-calling them is failing ...


J. said...

You know, I think this sounds VERY familiar. Something I think I can relate to on a number of levels, but this isn't about me.

Who I met, many years ago (longer than I think I'd care to admit) was CLEARLY #1. And I'd like to say that I spent a great deal of time over those years with #1. (BTW, as a parent, I applaud your use of #'s 1 and 2 without making a requisite potty joke).

I'm always amazed by how time changes our priorities and, more importantly, how the more time that goes by, the less we find we have to spare. (That sounds much darker than I mean it to).

The point is, I've never known you as anything but #1. But that's just me :-)

Lauren said...

I can't believe I missed the toilet humor! If I'd written that entry in a few months, when I was mired in potty training, I'm sure it would've been clearer to me.

Yes, I can see how the same thing would happen to you - and I know that it happens to my friend Ruth. Guess we "misunderstoods" have to stick together. ;)