Becoming a parent transports us into this weird land of aloneness where there may be a lot of people around us yet we feel very strongly one. For some reason, we just don’t feel part of the bigger scene. We know what our mission is now (to love and care well for our children), and that sustains us. But it also costs us—socially. Some parents fight against the pull into the pit of isolation by having “nights out” and all of that, joining clubs for parents of little kids, or attending workshops on parenting. All of this is good. However, we have found a way around all of this. We have learned how to meet our own needs, be our own best friend, and help ourselves in ways that no one else really can. We are light years beyond our peers in this area. But we are still human. And being human means that every now and then we can really stand to benefit from being around other people who simply share the common bond of being human. A plus if they are also parents. A double plus if their children are around the same age bracket as ours. The shared experiences create a bond that is tough to break, and those who open themselves up to other people at this time in our life’s journey reap the sure benefit of never having to be physically or emotionally alone when the tough times come.
As it is, though, we have learned that it is safe to keep to ourselves (rejection, criticalness, and cruelty can’t hurt us as much then). Over the course of our lives, we have found that isolation is comforting and that, as a whole, other people tend to drain energy and vitality out of us instead of add to (in the most positive of ways) our health and happiness. These are common tenets of the introvert’s manifesto. We have built a cocoon around ourselves to help our own selves and to protect our own selves and to nurture our own selves because we have learned that others (whom we should be able to trust) have failed us over and over again at the job of helping us and protecting us and nurturing us. We certainly trust in our God, which helps to mitigate the pain of participating in fractured and otherwise unhealthy relationships, but we have accepted the possibility that we might not ever know the joy of having deep and meaningful friendships (because a surface friendship is no friendship at all, and we don’t like wasting our time with external pleasantries when we already know that the people with whom we are interacting don’t mean what they say and are questionable in their motives and don’t really care about us as a person). We are okay with this. We are not children anymore and do not need playmates for hopscotch. We’ve made it through high school and college and careerdom and marriagehood and parenthood. We have found other ways to bond with other humans so that we stay connected and still qualify as being social beings. We aren’t hermits or hideaways or recluses or weirdos. We’re simply free to make our own decisions about our lives and aren’t tied down by the superficiality of loose acquaintances. We understand that people generally don’t have time for a real relationship, and so we don’t hold them to it. But because we truly want more than surface-y chit-chat and idle time-together and hypocritical gossip, we have walled ourselves off from all of that until we deem that someone may be worthy of the emotional investment we are willing to make. In other words, we do want it (making connections with others and developing friendships), but we don’t want to waste it (our time and our money and our energy and our attention and our vulnerability). So what are we to do when we have arrived at a time in our lives when we recognize that we need to grow in this area (even if no true friendships come of our efforts)?
Number 1: Remember that socializing is about socializing. It’s not about intellectual stimulation (even if you crave it) or even emotional fulfillment (even if you need it). It’s about being around other people (however annoying that may be) and participating in conversation (however painful that may be). You can still be smart, but try to stay nice. You don’t have to let your superiority in all things become a barrier between you and the rest of the socializing world.
Number 2: Learn to brush everything off. That is, take nothing personally! Even if malicious intent is involved. Remember how you became quite adept at being the professional person that you were and could put on any kind of face that was necessary, on demand? Well, same sort of thing applies here. For as much as you’d like to be “real” with people and let your guard down, the truth is that you just can’t—at least not right now—not until you’ve put more time in. Similar to dating and other rituals of the life-outside-myself world, you just have to go through the motions of the pleasantries for a little while. If there’s a click, then that’s a bonus. It means you can let more and more of your real self through. But until you can get a good sense that the people you are with are worthy of what you have to offer (wittiness, compassion, wisdom, etc.), it’s best to keep things light and airy and non-personal. You won’t get so disappointed that way if things don’t ever pan out the way you’d like. You can still enjoy other people’s company (as they can yours), but there won’t be such an emotional investment that might cloud your judgment if it turns out that your newfound “friends” are no good in the end.
Number 3: If this sounds like horrible advice, then you aren’t the type of person who needs it. For most people, the general rule is to just put yourself out there. Be who you are regardless of who’s watching and regardless of whether they like it or not. But with us, something went very wrong somewhere (I’m guessing way before we could pull up memories). It is painful to us to be rejected, criticized, and cruelly treated. We hurt ourselves when we put ourselves in positions where there is bound to be rejection, criticism, or cruelty. The remedy, it goes, is to expose yourself more and more, little by little, to these things, the things that cause you pain, so that over time you can learn to build up a sort of resistance to it that allows you to live your life the way you truly want to without worrying or caring about what other people think. The pain goes away the more we face the fear of our root hurts. It makes perfect sense. And it no doubt works. But, see, we’ve already been-there-done that. We’ve already had jobs that gave us impeccable callouses. We’ve already outgrown all the crucibles we’ve been stationed in. We are, essentially, in a sort of earned (albeit early) retirement where we do what we want now. But with that said, there is always room to grow—and so here enters the aforementioned thoughts on how to break out of isolation, introvert-who’s-also-a-parent style.