Introvert or Misanthrope?

My son came home from the neighbor’s house about two hours ago for dinner and a Mommy. My daughter and my husband are still over there. It’s going on eight hours now.

They went over to watch the Ohio State vs Michigan game because some significant hill between us and Boston keeps us from getting television stations over the air. We’ve not had pay television since 2001, and I have no intention of starting now, especially for maybe three “essential” football games a year and PBS, which we really should be able to access for free. I mean, in what way is it “public” television if we’ve got to fork over a huge sum of money to a non-local business to get it on our tv?

But this post isn’t about the bizarre state of broadcast television these days; it’s about my antisocial tendencies.

When the rest of my family went over to watch football, I went grocery shopping. Then I dropped off a bottle of lemon juice at the neighbor’s house and checked on the kids. They were both fine (to the point that they barely registered my presence; my husband didn’t seem to notice me, either), so I went home and made some cookies, read some of Duane Elgin’s Voluntary Simplicity, boxed up some stuff to mail to friends and family, and played some Christmas songs on my flute. Every now and then my husband would call with updates and to invite me over to join everyone for dinner. It turns out the neighbors had a dinner party planned and were inviting our family to join them.

I’m in a bit of an insular mood right now. I feel a desire for quiet contemplation. I have a sense that there’s something I’m on the verge of understanding, a sound just on the edge of my attention that I could hear if I could just tune my ear to it. So I didn’t mind missing football and didn’t even feel weird about it, except that it seemed like my husband was watching the game alone on their projection television while the neighbors played with our kids.

The dinner is what got me feeling emotional discomfort.

I felt like I ought to go to the dinner. Apparently I was invited, too, several times, but a number of things kept me home:

1) I didn’t really feel like chatting with people.

2)  I don’t like to burden people with my food things. Because they’re so friendly, I’m sure that if I tried to explain to them that I don’t eat gluten or dairy, they’d want to make me something else, and if I didn’t eat they’d try to make me eat something and I’d feel uncomfortable because here they made all of this food and invited me over and I was refusing to eat.

3) These neighbors are really, really friendly. I mean, like, really, really friendly. They give us things every time we go over there. They tried multiple times to pay for the lemon juice I brought them. And I’m a little ashamed to admit that I just don’t quite trust people who are too friendly. It seems absolutely impossible for someone to want us to just hang out at their house for 8+ hours without getting tired of us. I worried that they were just asking us for dinner to be polite, but they really wanted us to go home, already. My husband takes these things at face value and accepts invitations left and right. Sometimes, like with the football watching, he creates the invitation if it hasn’t been spontaneously extended. But I think I’d rather live in a culture where I’m supposed to refuse three times and if they still offer the fourth time, then I know for sure they really want me to be there. But for now, I’d rather refuse a legitimate invitation than risk accepting a “just being polite” invitation.

Reason #1 I can chalk up to normal introvert behavior. I really was happy to be alone today. But I fear that #2 and #3 are inching into the realm of something else. If I watched tv, I’m sure I’d see an ad for a drug to help me be more social, but since I don’t, I guess I’m stuck trying to figure out these things myself.

Where’s the line between introversion and antisocial behavior, between wanting to be alone and wanting to avoid social situations? And how on earth can a person tell if someone who’s unfailingly friendly is really, honestly friendly or is just being polite?

15 comments

  1. Lori · April 2, 2012

    I often feel, reading your blog, that you’re writing about me. I feel the same way as you about an insane number of things. I am very suspicious of people’s intentions most times and I feel very uncomfortable in front of too much niceness. I guess that is why I am unpleasant most times — so I don’t make people uncomfortable 🙂 I wished I had a more trusting nature. I also hate speaking on the phone and I don’t know what I’d do if not for the e-mail. e-mail is good, as I can sit two hours on three lines of text making sure that they express the exact thing I want to say and there is no possible interpretation that I am not foreseeing. It’s a blessing to have a life partner who is different in this respect, isn’t it? Because I do feel, at times, the need for companionship and friendship, for intimate conversations with someone who can understand and empathize with me. My friends (few and far away right now) are awesome individuals though, because they put up very often with my disappearing acts and don’t take it personally (which I would in no time).

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  2. hsofia · November 30, 2011

    For me the marker is in the motivation … If I want to be alone because I’m grumpy, anxious, or fearful, then the best thing for me to do is get out of my own head. Sometimes that means socializing, but if that’s not an option, going into a new environment where I have to focus on navigating the space or learning something new can substitute (museum, a class, etc.). The key is to get off of thinking about myself and identifying so greatly with confused or murky feelings. I have a long history of depression, so that is my primary strategy for avoiding the sinkholes.

    Now, if I want to be by myself because I’m enjoying my own company and/or need time to focus on something deeply, I take that as a good thing. No problem. I return home (or my family returns home) and I am rejuvenated, inspired, happy.

    So to answer your first question, I would say look at yourself clearly and be honest; you know when you are doing something that feeds you versus doing something that starves you. And to your second question, I think maybe the best way is to spend time with the person, and listen to them.

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    • CJ · November 30, 2011

      I think this is the key for me. I have trouble knowing if going into a social situation would be helpful or harmful to my emotional well-being. Even when it’s the better option, socializing still exhausts me, and it’s difficult to face that exhaustion when I’m already feeling blah. I’m not sure I actually do know when I’m doing something that feeds me versus something that starves me. The only way to know for sure is to try it out, risk being wrong, but bring awareness to the situation so I can recognize the signs in the future.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

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  3. Zoie @ TouchstoneZ · November 30, 2011

    I think you’ve got to trust people that they’re honest. You’ll never really know, so why not take the risk: Pascal’s Wager and all that, right?

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    • CJ · November 30, 2011

      It’s a pleasant thought that trust might be the default, but it seems kind of passive-aggressive, though, doesn’t it? Someone’s being really nice and I suspect they’re just trying to be polite, so I call their bluff and actually stay to dinner/go to the party/join them on vacation and all the while they’re regretting they invited me? Or at least that’s the scenario in my head. Seems like a good learning opportunity for them, but I don’t do well as the fifth wheel. And that, I think is the risk: looking like a dope for not reading the nonverbal cues properly (or trusting their words rather than trusting my interpretation of their nonverbal cues).

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  4. Anonymous Me · November 27, 2011

    From a New Age-y perspective, it sounds like you are heeding the call of the transition to Autumn and Winter…This is considered a time to go within, both by spending more time at home and by going within yourself to contemplate and process all that’s happened in the last year. Given all that’s happened for you this year, I am sure have more to process than usual. 🙂 I am an extrovert (with some introverted tendencies, but still), I find the older I get, the more strongly I feel the call to be more physically and mentally in tune with the characteristics of each season. Just a thought, anyway… 🙂

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    • CJ · November 27, 2011

      That’s an interesting thought. I’d wondered in passing what significance my current inward-turning might have in relation to the seasons, but I’d not given it a whole lot of thought. I do like the notion that I might be in tune with nature in some way, though. 🙂

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  5. Abigail vR · November 26, 2011

    I wonder if part of it is that when you are married with children and require alone time, it is a rare commodity. I feel like I don’t want to give up my quiet alone time for just anyone, you know? My impression is that you get even less of it than I do, since both of my kids are off to school for a big chunk of most days.

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    • CJ · November 26, 2011

      Goodness, I so know what you mean! (“I feel like I don’t want to give up my quiet alone time for just anyone.”) Once that alone time is gone, it’s gone. I think for people who are energized by being around other people, it’s not a big risk. But I need that alone time to recharge and if I spend it with someone who’s not really in it for an authentic friendship (as I define it, of course), I’m even more depleted and I’ve missed my precious recharge time.

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      • Abigail vR · November 27, 2011

        Like Melissa, I enjoy interaction, with certain people, but like you, I really do need the alone time to recharge as well. I think that is why I couldn’t do anything but go home and nap after working in Stefan’s preschool classroom last year. The company of 25 4-year-olds is intense!

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      • CJ · November 27, 2011

        I remember you writing about that! I’d considered sending my daughter to the cooperative charter school back where we lived in Utah, but I had visions of being similarly worn out. I like being around kids, and I like being around grown-ups, but a couple dozen people for a couple of hours wipes me out entirely. I know how intense a couple of 4-year-olds can be. I’ll take your word for it on the 25 4-year-olds.

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  6. Melanie Meadors · November 26, 2011

    See, I have a hard time with this too. I like to be alone and quiet, yet I enjoy being included in SOME things and I like to have a small number of close friends. If I am too social I feel like a fake and I get really anxious. Plus, with my ADHD tendencies, I can come out with some REALLY dumb things. So I just like to limit social exposure to people I know and can trust (who know that I don’t mean to say stupid things, they just pop out…).

    Antisocial=actually being AGAINST society. I’m not against society, I don’t wish ill upon it. I just often wish to be away from it ;). A-social.

    As far as the friendly thing goes… it’s hard because I sometimes wonder about people like that, should I let myself feel close to them? Do they really like me that much? or is it just what they do as their shield. I’ve known people who are kind as kind can be, but they were not really friends. I could never have gone to them with a problem. I could never say to them, “I am having a really rotten day, I can’t go on like this, etc” and feel like they really understood. They were happy and nice, and I could not relate to them at all, even if I was happy and nice too (hm… well, I TRY to be happy and nice, but what I mean is they seemed more on another level of existence than me). And I always wonder if secretly I am annoying people. Lack of social confidence, I guess.

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    • CJ · November 26, 2011

      “And I always wonder if secretly I am annoying people.”

      I feel the exact same way. That’s why I rarely call people. That and I don’t like talking on the phone much. It’s hard enough picking up social cues in person. Over the phone, it’s practically impossible for me.

      Antisocial/asocial: As Moe says to Homer as a way to define their relationship, “I’m a well-wisher, in that I don’t wish you any specific harm.” (If I let myself talk too much in social situations, I tend to come out with Simpsons references that only vaguely relate to the conversation.)

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  7. Abigail vR · November 26, 2011

    I haven’t said it out loud before, but I don’t trust people who are too friendly either. I wonder what that says about us. I have been feeling recently like I am a bad friend because I often just want to be left alone and start to feel resentful fairly quickly if I start to feel obligated to people. Hm.

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    • CJ · November 26, 2011

      Well, I feel reassured that you do the same thing. Maybe that’s why I keep blogging…it’s interaction without the, you know, interaction. And no one offers me food. (Actually, I even sometimes feel an obligation to my blog readership (the few, the proud…). But that’s another blog post.)

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