Photo:Split Pop 2, Robert Perez
When you like others but also struggle with them.
I think everyone who has ever met me would agree:
I sometimes struggle to, let’s say, “connect with people.”
I’m equal parts withdrawn and then critical — aloof and kinda cold until I come on way too strong and say whatever I want, getting my foot in my mouth.
But probably everyone who has ever met me would also agree:
Deep down, I actually care a lot about people.
As an often-angsty, usually-isolated introvert, I was shocked when my mom, sister, and best friend — happy-go-lucky extroverts, every one of them — all used the word “caring” to describe me when I once asked in my mid-20s.
This is a quiet little struggle; a fine line many of us dance.
I am an introvert
And not only am I an introvert, but I am also, as one professional coach described me (in a session for which I actually paid her), one of those “judgy little shit” ones.
I stand at arms length from others and then tell myself (and them) “I don’t need people.” I come off as “cold,” and when asked whether I prefer logic over feelings, I’ll claim “logic” up and down every time.
But what this really means — and what it means for everyone — is that I’m actually highly people-oriented, otherwise I wouldn’t even care enough to judge or get mad about them or their “lack of logic.” It means I find people confusing, my like of them even more confusing, and the cycle inherently difficult.
And I’ve learned — only by first being honest with myself, and only secondarily by realizing I’m not alone in this tendency — that the more someone feels compelled to be seen a certain way, the more they’re posturing and overcompensating for an uncertainty or insecurity.
And when someone all but introduces themselves: “hi, I’m Jess — I’m very logical.” I just want to sad smile and then lunge across the table to hug them for a little too long. Because: okay, Jess. Okay. I know.
As someone who’s been there, I know that what you probably really want is: someone who gets it. Someone to listen. Someone to rant a little bit too, sure, but also someone to bounce ideas off of. Someone to agree. Someone smart to say “hell yeah — you’re absolutely right!” Someone who means it. Someone who picks up what you’re putting down and says “yes” to you and your logic.
In other words: what you really want (and what I really want) is someone — i.e., others.
I am an introvert who likes people
But I am also an introvert who is unsure of them.
So: I know that a major solution to like 99% of my problems (many of which are caused by “getting stuck in my head”) is: connecting with others (and, to a lesser extent, “taking action,” pursuing measurable external systems and, lastly, “new ideas,” the last of which does least for me.)
But every time I try to connect with them, I do this in one of two ways: either a.) passively listening (“mm hm — oh, wow!”) or b.) trying to impart my Genius Insight, the latter of which, despite my sarcastic and self-deprecating capitalization, is actually quite dear to me but is rarely understood, the combination of which means every time I try to “connect with others,” it’s like having my ice cream knocked straight outta my clammy kid hands.
Sometimes people don’t want to hear what I think — about people.
I once wrote about “infinite realities” in love
I had a whole “moment” (it was like a year+) where I was really tripped up on the fact that everyone has a different reality and part of our “reality” includes others and ourselves — meaning nobody will ever see you the way you see yourself. Which is all fine in well in everyday “real life,” but really bothered me in romantic relationships.
Because it begged the question: then can we ever really love?
If we’re always seeing one another differently and defining each other in ways they don’t see themselves, can you really love that person?
The answer is: I don’t know. Yes. No. It ultimately doesn’t matter.
The best we can do, I think, is to a.) find someone who gets pretty close to how we see ourselves. Which means the other side of the best thing we can do is b.) try to honor and get pretty close to how others see themselves.
And although I figured this out in love, it took me a long time to realize that this is also the case in real life.
You can’t really care about a person until you stop holding him at arm’s length. And you also can’t really care about a person if you keep trying to have conversations with him that you just treat as mega horns for your own Brilliant Insights.
In other words:
What we think about someone is not more important than what they think about themselves.
Caring about someone means caring about how they see themselves.
If you don’t, then you don’t really care about them.
And that’s not to say that they might not be a self-delusional twat. In fact, they probably are — because all of us are.
But they’re still entitled to their reality, and part of caring for them as a person means caring for the person as they see themselves.
What does this have to do with anything?
Man, I don’t know.
It has a lot to do with happiness, at the end of the day. If, way way way deep down, other people bring you a sense of happiness and meaning and richness (and this is true for literally almost all of us. So.), but you find yourself pulling back and feeling closed off, then you might consider this.
You have to choose, kid. You can either stare at the cake longingly through the display case, recalling all the times it made you sick or wondering how you could ever eat such a thing on your own, or you can appreciate the cake for all its imperfections and shortcomings, and come at it in a way that better honors its “inherent cake-ness,” as a thing meant as neither our enemy nor our salvation but simply a damn dessert, nothing more. Its beauty is a smallness; its own image outside of ourselves is what makes it edible and real.
That’s maybe not a good metaphor.
But, selfishly, I want to trust that you get it. Though it’s also okay if you don’t.