I believe that friendships are a natural phenomenon.
I cringe when people say things like “Why don’t you get out and meet some new people?”
This is because I am an introvert and as introverted as we come. And let me tell you, life is not easy for an introvert.
The prospect of voluntarily throwing myself into the throes of ‘new people’ disconcerts me way more than the average human being.
I grew up thinking that there was something wrong with this. I thought that I was not ‘enough of’ something. Let me illustrate with a few examples.
It starts from kindergarten when you barely have the speech capacity to roll out ten sentences right. Not to mention the added limitations when you are an Indian in the Middle East. All your classmates come from different Indian states and at the age of 4, almost everyone speaks a different language.
All you can do is put yourself in someone’s face and do funny things like offering a toy or go ahead and speak in whatever tongue you know. Kids get along like that.
I remember my first day at school, looking at people who were already becoming ‘friends’ and panicking. This made me even sadder than the fact that I had to sit in a classroom with thirty other human beings. This made me feel lonely.
Yes, introverts like people too. In fact, I LOVE people! Just not all people. I love people who I can call my own. And to a four-year-old introvert, that didn’t come easy. I spent a good part of my first three months in school bawling my eyeballs out and sleeping. Oh God bless sleep, such a savior!
Language on the other hand, came easily to me. At least learning English when I was four did. But putting myself in someone’s face and offering toys still did not (fun fact, it never would!). But communication skills ensured that I could speak to the kids who sat beside me.
And here is the part that confuses the crap out of most people, I made friends quickly (I still do, actually!).
Needless to say, I was never popular in school. I wasn’t popular in my apartment community (until I was nine, we lived in a close-knit Indian community). And I wasn’t popular in the church.
I never wanted to be popular either. I was content with a handful of people who I knew and loved, and people who knew and loved me. Yet, I always felt that there was something wrong with me.
The trouble is that the world we live in glorifies extroverts. My father is an introvert too. He is a wonderful man but he avoids crowded spaces where he has to engage in a lot of casual banter. People call him all sorts of things like ‘different’ and ‘special’. He was too old to change, not to mention too stubborn to listen to anyone. But they could still change me, or at least, so they thought.
The social gene in my family got passed on to my sister. And as much as I love her (which I truly do!), it was a real pain to grow up beside her. While it is inevitable that most younger siblings get the tag of ‘Oh you are the sister/brother of..’ I assure you that it is a lot more difficult when you are pretty much polar opposites. And the world at large welcomed one side of this spectrum, no prize for guessing which one!
I didn’t mind that people knew me as ‘The sister of..’ but my problem was their disappointment when I turned out to be, well, me!
I still shudder when I recall the of the number of people who’ve told me things like “I thought you’d be more active in class. You are nothing like your sister,” or “I didn’t even know who you were. Your sister, on the other hand, everyone knew her!”
So I was deemed ‘difficult’ before I even understood what that word meant. Such a problem child! She doesn’t talk much to the aunties, or even kids her own age! She doesn’t like our parties and social gatherings. Does she even have friends?
I ASSURE YOU, I’ve always had top-notch friends. But nobody ever understood why I wanted to head home as soon as the bell rang. And I never understood why people didn’t want to. I’d groan awaiting for the cool kids to get done speaking to their fifty thousand friends and find their way to the school bus.
It didn’t end at that. Extroverts like to be around people. People who they know in varying capacities. They recharge by speaking to more people. So even after school hours, playtime entailed calling a bunch of neighborhood kids to their homes. I liked playing by myself, so I was always discounted as weird.
I grew up to like writing. And writing is a lonely thing. From the age of ten, it was me and my leather bound journals night after night. Sometimes sightings of the moon accompanied us. And sometimes we were accompanied by the white noise of the television. But mostly it was me telling stories of myself and people who I had the chance to observe at close quarters.
It’s alright to be a 40-year-old brooding introvert. But it’s quite another thing altogether when you are four or fourteen.
Life got even more complicated when I began to make friends with extroverts. You see, I don’t only relate to people who are like me. I actually like all sorts of people.
In my senior year at high school, I became friends with one of the most popular girls in our grade. It sort of happened, you know how these things are. She pulled me along to more things than I cared for. But I complied for the most part. Sometimes it was even alright. But for the larger part, it was misery.
Then came college, and again, I became friends with a few people who loved to be around other people. They’d want to speak to everyone in the class, and in college, and I had to pause in my desire to dash to the cafeteria and get coffee, while they indulged.
I even dated some extroverts. That was genuine hell.
I love being in spaces bustling with energy, as long as I am not expected to speak to these people. Like a theatre, or a cafe, or a mall. I even like walking on the roads an awful lot. I like the stillness of being on my own, or with one other human being who feels as close to me as my own, while the cadence of life surrounds us.
I’m one of those people who doesn’t have too many friends. I have best friends and acquaintances. The area in between where someone is too familiar to be an acquaintance and also knows too little about me (and vice versa) to be a best friend, I settle for the term friend. I settle, but I don’t like it.
To me, friends are people who are in limbo, from either growing distant enough to be in your outermost circle or coming close enough to get into you innermost circle.
It stems from my want to love all-consumingly, or to not love at all. I don’t like the flow of love that is tempered and passionless. It feels like when you have to keep turning the faucets to get the right amount of ‘lukewarm’ water. The hot water starts to run out, and you are going to have to keep turning it through the course of your shower if you want to maintain the same temperature. And that is too much effort to carry into anything that is not a God damned shower!
Okay, yes, I am guilty of saying things like “I want some new people in my life,” and “I hope I make some new friends this year.” I have found myself worn out from giving and taking from the same stagnant cesspool of energies and vibes over the course of several years. I have wished that some friendships, along with the negativity that they brought into my life, would leave. I won’t lie about that.
But that doesn’t for a moment mean that I will walk into a random place or reach out to an acquaintance out of compulsion and try to create a friendship.
Making a friend is never something that I force myself to do. Along the course of life, it happens. Aside from a few exceptions, I have realized that for me, a new friend only arises when I am brought together with someone in the physical world every day (or at least, often enough) under completely natural circumstances. So a large majority of my closest friends are people who I’ve gotten to know through school, colleges, and workplaces.
I will open my heart and admit this. Until six months ago, I had no idea what was the matter with me.
I’d heard of introverts, but I didn’t hate people. I wasn’t a brooding, asocial loner. I actually felt lonely without any form of human contact over a prolonged period of time.
We live in a world that still doesn’t have a place for introverts. In schools, in our communities, in workplaces, we are left charmed and in awe of the people whose omnipresence is valued more than an introvert’s genuine intentions. (In no way do I mean to say that extroverts or ambiverts are not genuine, but that a lot of times, their natural urge to speak to everyone and have a say in everything makes life considerably more easy for them on this front.)
So let me put this down for you.
We aren’t shy. We don’t hate people. We have friends. We aren’t gonna change. There is nothing wrong with us. And yes, we are everywhere.
So take a look around you and accept us.
And to my fellow introverts, accept yourself. All you ever need to be is enough of you, and you are enough. Don’t let the world make you believe anything else, even for a micro-millisecond.
*After receiving a lot of interesting feedback, this piece has also been published on Thrive Global with a few edits and a little more understanding. Click here to read! 🙂