“What is wrong with you, Eugene?” a girl in summer day-camp asked me.
“What?” I stammered.
“What’s wrong with you? You never talk to anybody? Why do you never talk?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I’m just . . . um . . . you know, shy.”
Yes, that was a conversation I had as an early teen, and it in no way affected my self-confidence.
Yes, I am an introvert. In addition to my same-sex attraction (SSA) struggles, I’ve also struggled with a lot of insecurity and self-loathing. I’ve placed a lot of blame on my introversion for my struggles making friends and my perpetual loneliness.
I was still shy and quiet as a kid, though considerably less often than I am now. I actually looked forward to presenting for show-and-tell. I enjoyed acting in plays and class skits. I could easily chat with the other kids and make friends.
Then puberty came along and disaster struck.
I seemed to lose a lot more of my energy around people and became far more quiet. I couldn’t speak or think of anything to say in group activities. I couldn’t walk up to other kids and start conversations. And I began to dread — instead of look forward to — class presentations. I’d turn into a pile of nerves, stuttering over my words or speakingsofastthatnotasinglestudentorteacherlatchedontoasinglewordIsaid.
What’s worse, my quietness seemed to make me invisible to most people in some ways yet stick out like an Eskimo at a nude beach at the same time. In my church confirmation group, I always got that well-meaning mother of another kid approach me and say, “Oh honey, are you okay? I noticed you barely speaking to anyone. Is something the matter?”
Then there was the fate worse than death when a teacher called on me to say, “Eugene! We haven’t heard a word from you at all today. Do you have anything to say about our discussion?”
Even worse (if that’s conceivable), a teacher might announce, “So, today we’re going to do a group project. How about you just choose your own groups today?”
In that scenario, I typically ended up in the all girls group or partnered with the foreign student who barely spoke English.
I was also straight-up abused for my quietness.
Back in eighth grade when I was first becoming friends with Mark, my one straight friend to this day, I wanted to sit at his lunch table. I had been sitting with a group of nerds who I was kinda/sorta friends with but also deeply resented.
Mark sat with a bunch of the athletic kids, so I decided to join him one day. A few lunches later, I again sat at the athletic table while Mark was home sick.
One of the other boys turned on me: “YOU. Why do you even sit here?! You never say anything! All you do is just sit there. You just sit there, and you’re like — ”
He then gave a dramatic reenactment of my sitting there, not saying anything.
“You see? You see how f*****g retarded that is? Why do you never talk?!”
“I . . . I listen to you guys,” I stammered, aghast in terror.
“Dude, if you’re just gonna sit there and not talk, then don’t sit at this table. Hey Phillip!” he called to another boy looking for a seat at the same table. “Phillip, there’s a free spot over here. Sit over here! Eugene, get out.”
I briskly got up and headed straight for the bathroom where I tried desperately to hold back the floodgates. I never attempted sitting at Mark’s table again, even all the way until the end of high school. I was doomed to sit with the nerds.
Situations like these just made me want to avoid a social life altogether.
I hated being the awkward, quiet introvert; I wanted to be like the energetic, chatty, extroverted kids. They always seemed to make a bajillion friends and were always the life of the party who people laughed at and enjoyed. I hated myself for not having charisma or speaking when it mattered.
I thought something was wrong with me.
I have been getting much better over the years, especially when socializing with my “Side B” brothers who I connect with on a deeper level. In those situations, I can actually explode with extroversion. I’ve also gotten much better at having conversations and keeping them going with folks. It’s taken some coaxing of myself to get out of my comfort zone, and conversations come surprisingly naturally.
It’s not easy, though.
There are times where it’s still hard. Lots of moments in conversations when my mind goes blank, leading to solid walls of awkward silence. In a large group of people, I grow insecure and self-critical if I’ve not said anything in a while.
I’ve had many well-meaning folks say to me, “Oh, you really just need to speak up and be more assertive if you want to make friends.”
Like it’s just that easy! Like a prescription pill. I can’t just do that; being an introvert is part of my personality.
But yes, there is a grain of truth — you do need to push yourself out of your comfort zone and try. You will fail many times probably, but keep going. You will improve with practice.
So, this post is called “The Joys and Sorrows of Being an Introvert.” Does that mean I have any positives to share?
I’ve honestly had to rack my brain to think of any. I’d say one positive is that my listening skills are much more amplified. I can listen to people and empathize with their lives and stories.
I also seek a lot of quiet time by going on long walks in the woods. In these moments, I can recharge and reflect on my life. What helps in these moments is that I can listen to God rather than the sound of my own voice. I know extroverts struggle with finding alone time.
I think we all need a fine balance, no matter how extroverted or introverted we are. We need amounts of social time to connect with and love others. At the same time, we need silence and quiet time to recharge and connect with God.
Yes, I tend to overindulge in the latter.
But I’ve learned there’s nothing wrong with me. I want to embrace my introvertedness as I have no doubt it’s a gift from God. I am to use my introverted personality to his purpose with my perfectly flawed design.
How do you struggle as an introvert or an extrovert? Do you ever wish you were the opposite personality type? What are some positives of being an introvert or an extrovert?