I hate small talk. I really hate it. And I'm bad at it, perhaps because I'm an introvert. It surprises some, usually because they think of introverts as quiet, timid and withdrawn. Not always the case! I mean don't get me wrong, I have my shy and withdrawn moments. Like when I visited my parents' church a few months ago: I walked in right as they said "Hey folks! Why don'tcha turn and greet someone that ya don't know!!!" Hell, no. Meet and greets are theeeee worst. I mean it! The! Worst! So I naturally do what any normal person would do, I backed out of those double doors very gracefully and power walked to the bathroom, where I sat in the powder room (the powder room!), watching the sanctuary TV, waiting for them to stop holding hands and smiling at each other so I could go back in and hear the word of God, dammit.
If you've ever worked in a restaurant, you know it's no place for shrinking violets. I was always "on"... no time for reserve or shyness. You have to meet, engage with, and keep the attention/approval of every table you touch. A shy person would find this terrifying. I found it exhausting. That is the difference between a shy person and an introvert. Rather than going straight home after work, I often went for a long, winding drive in the dark to decompress. I couldn't understand why anyone would want to be around people after a workday like that. But that's just an introvert for you. We recharge by being alone, whereas extroverts tend to recharge by being around people. So when I embarked on my journey overseas to the UK last spring, I wasn't worried at all that I didn't know anyone. In fact, I was perfectly comfortable with it.
That comfort lasted about three and a half days. By dinner on the fourth day, I noticed that the solitude there on the YWAM base was a different kind of solitude. No one was "bothering" me to hang out, calling me, knocking on my door, looking for me, needing me, seeking a moment of my time. Now, there were people everywhere. But there weren't many people looking for friends. The majority of the students in my TESOL program were older than I, and were generally in very different places in life than I was. There were students from other programs who'd gotten there at different times, and had different circles and activities and schedules. In that way, it was different from moving away to college, where everyone I met in my immediate vicinity was in the same boat. You were all alone, together. But in England, I felt that I was just plain alone. I would've given my last coffee bean to have someone walk me through their love for Twilight. Of course I made friends, but it was more intentional on my part, meaning I put myself out there a lot more than I'm used to. A lot more.
It was all so bizarre! To find that not only did I dislike solitude... but I was going out of my way for company. But hey, thus sayeth the Lord... "it is not good for man to be alone." So there. Jus-ti-fied.
Now I have, in the past, had a tendency to judge people harshly when they seem incapable of being alone. You all know who I'm talking about. They're the people who fling themselves from one relationship to the next(I nearly rolled my eyes clean out of my head watching He's Just Not That Into You ); the people who always have to be doing something social, avoiding solitude like... well, like I avoid meet-and-greets. The girls who don't want to go to the bathroom alone (What kind of conversation are you looking for? What do you think is going to happen in there? What is she going to tell you that you can't wait 30 seconds more to hear?) I used to scoff at them, marveling at how pitiful it was to be so incapable of finding happiness on your own. To be so, well, so needy.
Don't worry, for those of you who think I've been unduly harsh... I got what I deserved. I realized that I need people. And that needing people is okay. Hear me: I'm not saying it is okay to be needy. (Get a grip!) But it is okay to admit that you need people. Because we all do. Think about it. The most power-mongering authoritarians would be nothing if they had no one to control, no public opinion to manipulate, no poor unfortunate souls to torture. The most "independent" and "free-spirited" individuals still want approval. Who do they seek approval from? Their cage-free breakfast? Their checkbook? No. They want approval from people. Because people are the best. (Also the worst, but that's another blog, and I'm trying to be grateful for God's sake.)
As I pondered this really irritating epiphany, I started to think about vulnerability.
susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm
ORIGIN early 17th century: from late Latin vulnerabilis, from Latin vulnerare ‘to wound,’ from vulnus ‘wound.’
I don't know about you, but I'm not enthusiastic about the idea of getting hurt in any way, emotionally or physically. If you had met me in high school... yeah, right. Talk up vulnerability all you want, but, as Jack Nicholson would say in As Good As It Gets, "Why don't you go sell crazy someplace else. We're all stocked up here." I've been hurt enough. What reason on God's green earth would I have to welcome more pain?
Because vulnerability guarantees risk, but it doesn't guarantee pain. I've come to discover, through my own great sufferings, that there are worse things than pain. Of course it's highly likely and probable that I will get hurt when I am vulnerable... but you know what else is highly likely? Love. Success. Creation. Growth. Connection. (I feel like a PSA right now. Gross)
All of these things are the things we talk ourselves out of needing and wanting when we refuse to be vulnerable. I would tell myself that vulnerability belies weakness. Faltering, blind, pathetic, sniveling weakness. I began to despise the things I wanted in order to convince myself that I didn't really want them. Incredibly, our inherent desires (http://ilbordo.blogspot.com/2013/03/fifteen-days-of-gratitude-151-desire.html) are so much larger than our fears. When desire goes unacknowledged, it doesn't just curl up and die. But it may mask itself as bitterness and disappointment, morphing into something more "manageable." That is the coward's way.
Vulnerability requires bravery. When I realized this, it changed everything. I used to think I was really tough because I thought I didn't need people and I didn't take stupid chances. (I still cannot stand the character of Gigi in "He's Just Not That Into You", for the record. There is no excuse for... that.) There's nothing wise about incessant self-preservation, nothing noble in hiding. If we don't take the opportunity to reach out to one another, or to pursue the thing/job we really really desire, or chance making a fool of ourselves, we do the work of rejecting ourselves first so they don't have the chance. So I am so very grateful for people who know how to be vulnerable. I think of Anaïs Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." And finally, if we don't dare to fail... we guarantee it.