The other day I wrote about How Being Social Helps Me as a Writer and an Editor, and now here's my post about how I learned how to do that.
My parents are both very nice people, and they are thoroughly introverted. Their home is their restful place away from other people. They don't get the notion to invite friends over. It's just not their thing, and that's okay.
Anyone looking at me when I was a child, if they were inclined to think about introverts and extraverts, would surely have thought I'd turn out to be an introvert. I was shy and quiet. I liked to read. I played by myself, and didn't really understand other kids. I didn't smile much, and when I did it was with my lips closed. I was SERIOUS.
Anyone who saw me then and saw me now, with a gap in between, would think that the child they'd seen had been replaced by someone else. Anyone who knows me now would be SHOCKED at the quiet mini-me, if they could see her. I'm just so different. So what happened?
We moved from a small town to the suburb of a big city just a couple of weeks after I turned twelve, when I was in the middle of sixth grade. The move was a big change, and I was suddenly around a whole new set of kids who had no expectations about what I was like. I didn't transform all at once, but I was trying new things simply by having to meet new people and make new friends if I wanted any, and then over the next few years I was increasingly interested in boys, too. I had the inclination to be extraverted, but it took me a while to develop some of my social skills because I needed to be around more people to learn them. It worked well for me to learn the ways of introverts when I was younger, fitting in with my family, but as a teenager I found that I wanted to expand outward and understand how to interact with people better.
Then I went too far with that and became clingy and needy, which made people push me away. That was upsetting, so I turned to self-help books.
The best one, strangely, was called Intimate Connections, by David D. Burns, M.D. I say "strangely" because the premise of this book is that in order to develop good friendships and find love, you need to learn how to really enjoy being alone. How to treat yourself as well as someone you would date. So I was learning how to be social by learning how to be alone. It's odd that a person growing up with introverted parents would need to learn that being alone is good, given examples of people who craved alone time, but I did. This was a life-changing book for me at a time when I really needed it.
What I learned was that there's a reason for this phenomenon most people know about: when you're single and looking for someone to date, or you're lonely and looking for friends, it's often hard to find them because you have a needy vibe. People sense that you want them to fix your life, and this is off-putting. When you stop looking and start to enjoy being single and don't even want to date, instantly you meet people who want to date you. It's because you're happy with your life, and happiness is attractive. Therefore, depending on a relationship to make you happy, or friends to make you happy, will limit your ability to have relationships and friendships. It's important to find your own happiness. The trick is to like yourself.
Everything I've learned about being social since then has been layered on top of that principle. It's not about being selfish or putting myself first; it's about treating myself well, and maintaining my own stability so that I can give affection to others, and listen, and be helpful whenever possible. This means knowing my own limits so that I can say "no" when I need to. I can't help everyone all the time. I have to do my own stuff. But if I have some time and there's something I can give freely and without resentment, I give it.
Also coming soon: How to Say No When You Need To