I probably set a record last week, for Least Time Spent at a Christmas Party.
Have you ever walked into a party, completely on your own? No name or face clues. Just a pretty dress, strappy heels and a hot blush creeping up your neck.
Last week, I did it. When the invitation to this Christmas bash arrived, I was so thrilled. Flattered to be included, and positively gleeful with the prospect of meeting this group of wonderfully smart women. Then and there, I promised myself that I’d go.
The day came, and I spent hours fretting about the party, desperately tempted to excuse myself from the event. I so frequently duck out of parties at last minute in favour of hibernation, but I challenged myself to go to this one. I pictured myself chatting loudly, making meaningful connections, befriending writers I admire enormously. I pictured myself an extrovert.
This is what really happened.
I drove to the pub straight after work, at about 8.30pm. I switched my sensible flats for strappy sandals that leave zig-zag indentations on my feet but make me feel sassy. I circled the block 9 times, half looking for a park, half psyching myself up.
I walked in. Scanned the room. Tried to make eye contact with someone sympathetic. Everyone had been there 3 hours, their cheeks were flushed with drinking and their conversations were in full, jolly flight. I didn’t recognise anyone. I toyed with the idea of getting a drink, so I had something to hold. I couldn’t work out a way to infiltrate any of the circles of party-goers. Karaoke was imminent.
So I faked a phone call. Walked straight out and back down the stairs, and flew out onto the street, sweaty and grateful for the light breeze and anonymity of the curbside. I called my mum, high pitched and wobbly: “Ma, am I allowed to go home now? I’m actually quite pleased with myself that I turned up at all, but I think I need to go now. Can I just notch it up as a good story? Maybe I can write about it! Being scared of parties! I was actually really brave, mum. But I’d like to buy myself an ice cream and go home via the bookshop.”
And so, I’m confronted with my own introversion. I’m an introvert, and that’s OK (sing this to the tune of Monty Python’s I’m A Lumberjack And That’s OK).
Being socially timid (I like to think it’s not always obvious when you meet me) is at odds with the fact that I’m a performer. Put me on the stage, in front of a camera or at a lectern and I come to life. I’m a spotlight-dwelling creature who trades in words and witticisms. Give me a keyboard or a pen, and I’m all sass and eloquence. But in a room full of people I don’t know, at night, with drinks, straining to hear what people are saying over the din of clanging music? I shudder at the thought.
You know what, though. It’s actually more than OK to be an introvert. It’s only jarring when you have this mental image of an extrovert-version of yourself, cackling at the centre of attention.
I’ve pondered my introversion in the wake of my 40-Second Christmas Party Cameo. I made a tally of famous authors, poets and great thinkers that owed their success to their near-hermitude. To a certain extent, being inwardly inclined makes writing possible; it breeds philosophical thought. I spend a lot of time in my own head, capturing ideas from the ether and putting them into words. My being a wordsmith probably has everything to do with my being an introvert.
I realize now, that I’m actually quite fond of my dweebiness. I’m a self-confessed dag, and I’ve finally shrugged that teenage feeling of being pathetic if I’m at home on a Saturday night with my dog. I’d rather be watching DVDs than doing tequila shots, and I honestly cannot think of anything worse than clubbing. I’m a daytime activities kinda gal – coffee & brunch & picnics. Or dinner in a restaurant where the music is at such a volume that I can actually hear my companions speak. It’s quite liberating to know that about myself. And to like that about myself.
I know I’m not the only one, and I know social interaction is hard for most people. I’ve found that the best way to work through social anxiety is to set little challenges – and always be kind to yourself when it’s too much. Choose to surround yourself with people who lift you up, people who listen to you, people who nestle into your life in such a way that you can be as dweeby as you care to be.
I have the most extraordinary bevvy of friends, collected from all stages of my life so far, and my astoundingly wonderful love-friend. But they know how erratically I like to go from fragility to confidence, confidence to fragility. They know I won’t stay at parties long, that I prefer text message communication that phone calls, and that sometimes I cannot make myself leave the house, or even my bed.
And that’s what you gotta do, I think – find your tribe, find your people, and find pride in whatever character traits you happen to discover when you go rogue at a Christmas party.
As Susan Cain explains in this video, introvert should be encouraged and celebrated…
Would you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? Do you count down the days until a party, or would you prefer to stay home with a DVD?