This introvert’s bubble
I am an introvert.
If you were to ask Lord Google to define “introvert,” he’d tell you that means I’m “a shy, reticent person.” If you know me in person, chances are you’re laughing now. Shy? Ha! Reticent? Um, how do we get you to stop telling us exactly how you feel?!
I’d kindly ask that you not defer to deluded Lord Google here, and instead point you to the best succinct definition I can find: Urban Dictionary’s, which describes an introvert as a person “who is energized by spending time alone. Often found in their homes, libraries, quiet parks that not many people know about, or other secluded places, introverts like to think and be alone.”
Now there’s a spot-on definition! (If you’re interested in reading something a little longer and much more illuminating, this article is amazing.)
During my college years, I was lucky to be absorbed into a group of my sister Rache‘s friends who thought it was perfectly natural I’d show up at their parties only to fall asleep in the corner. They’d tease me playfully and with great love about it, all the while clearly recognizing–without my ever needing to describe myself as an introvert, or explain why I didn’t want to actually interact–that my craving contact without conversation was part of who I was. I was at home in the expansiveness of their undemanding, loving acceptance.
An article someone linked me once perfectly demonstrates how that group of friends became part of my safe space. The article, “A simple explanation of how to interact with introverts,” demonstrates in a few simple images the introvert magic those friends worked.
I’ve been thinking about that article a lot lately. I need a lot of space, physically and emotionally. My hectic life leaves me little of that, so that I’m always trying to recharge my battery three times faster than I’m actually able. I run around feeling forever depleted, though not eager to emphasize this in conversation. I’m determined to recharge as much as I can with the scant moments and inches I get, and to find and relish every bit of silver lining I can.
My bubbles work a little differently than in the illustrations linked above.
My default bubble size in all this hubbub is just so.
When I meet someone new, one of a few things could happen.
First is my very favorite possibility: They throw out a couple of feelers and chat from a safe distance, offering up conversational bits of themselves in exchange for my own conversational bits of myself. Their quiet respect means my bubble gets a little smaller in their presence. I rejoice their implicit acceptance. Yeah! Someone who won’t demand more of me than I am able to give!
Second is the most common: We chat. For whatever reason, conversation falters. We smile somewhat awkwardly, say our farewells, and wander separate directions with my bubble at default size.
Third is my very least favorite possibility: Someone tries walking right into my bubble. They can do this physically, by standing or lingering closer than I can tolerate, or with demanding, invasive words based on take instead of give.
“Tell me this,” “explain to me that,” “give me,” “you owe me” and words like these are sprinkled liberally through these conversations. Often these askers mean no ill will. They’re simply space unaware: I will bludgeon you with my affection! And yet, their space unawareness doesn’t make me more comfortable with them. It’s exhausting and makes me wish I were back with my sister’s friends, where they accepted what I gave instead of demanding what they wanted.
Unless someone’s actions are extremely aggressive, my bubble stays the same size at first. I just move it away a little so I’m back in my comfort zone.
Most people pick up on this. Phew.
Some are more aggressive, not as space perceptive, or both. They walk right back into my bubble.
As alarms go off, my default bubble size grows much bigger for that person. Since you’re not reading my milder cues, I’d better make it even more clear!
Remarkably, some people view this as an opportunity to push harder. But I gotta be there with you! You must let me in, because I want to be right there next to you, and my feelings should be more important to you than your own feelings!
My bubble gets bigger and bigger as I move further away in space and conversation, until–if push comes to shove–I’ll no longer bring my bubble anywhere near a person again, if I can help it. My days are already full enough of obligations to assume additional ones like “trying to adapt my personal space to make Bob happy.”
I grew up in challenging circumstances. I was fortunate to do so among three siblings who embraced me as I was, and later to find others who extended that embrace. My siblings’ and those others’ utter lack of need for me to be anyone other than myself, and their acceptance of me exactly as I came, was a gift I’ve only recently seen that many–unfortunately–do not receive … and some do not know how to extend.
I’m not looking to fill in spaces in my life or anyone else’s life. I don’t want to live in the center of a puzzle, with every bit of space around me forever filled. I’m not a puzzle piece. So it is that the people from whom I bubble away are those who’ve expected me to interlock with them this way or that, to give this or that of myself in their preferred manner, or to otherwise fill spaces they might perceive as empty in their own lives.
So it is that, perhaps confusingly, I hold nearest and dearest are the ones who offer me the most space. The ones who might not know what “introvert” means, and probably don’t care. To them, I’m just Deb, and their embrace of me exactly as I come, space bubbles, corner-sleeping-at-parties and all, is exactly why they remain ever welcome next to me and ever-present within my heart.