I read Jonathan Fields’ post about trusting the pendulum over the weekend with interest. I feel this swing inside myself, from extroversion to introversion, on a regular basis. I’m not sure it’s quite the same as the person he describes, but I have long felt tension between how I am perceived on this particular topic vs how I actually feel. I’ve written about this “perilous gulf” before, and, at least for me, it exists in so many dimensions of my personality. This is just one of them.
A couple of weeks ago, I took a little quiz that I found on twitter to ascertain if you are a connector (Malcolm Gladwell style). To my surprise, I apparently am. This reminded me of the ways that I am very often a resource for people on myriad, random topics: do you have a pediatrician to recommend, do you have a book I would like, can you put me in touch with a babysitter, hey thanks for sending me the name of that person in my new town, she is my new best friend, thanks for referring me to that professional connection, I have a new job.
What I felt when I read about being a connector was both surprise and vague unease, which I think speaks to my turmoil about this whole topic. The truth is, I most often choose to spend my free time alone. I like to read, and write, more than anything else. I don’t even really like the telephone, preferring to be in touch over email, text, or IM. There are very few people whose company I would choose for extended periods of time. How to square this with my apparent ‘connector’ self and the fact that many people have told me I appear “social” and “extroverted”? I am not sure.
What’s more interesting to me about this lack of inside/outside congruence, though, is the indistinct but inarguable internal discomfort I feel about it. Where does this come from? It’s not from a judgment of more-social vs. less-social people, I don’t think. What it is, I am concluding after a day of mulling it, is a frustrated feeling of being inaccurately labeled. To be told I’m one way when I don’t think it’s that simple is aggravating, and makes me feel reduced to categories that don’t quite fit. The labels don’t capture the nuance, the tensions, the tradeoffs. The description of me fails to notice the ways that my interest in solitude or company shuttles back and forth sometimes with the regular, metronomic click of those office toys with swinging silver balls that hit each other.
Maybe I am simply a connector who very much appreciates time alone. Maybe I’m a loner who happens to know a lot of people. Maybe I’m a crazy schizophrenic! I don’t know. What I do know is this is just one more way that I feel misunderstood by the world. I know, I now, this anguish is just so adolescent: even as I write it I sort of cringe. But it is true that I chafe against the way that the world seems to see me regularly and with more agitation than many people I know. It is true that I am apparently easily reduced to simplistic, caricatured qualities in the eyes of others.
My mind flits, again, to the wonderful Walt Whitman line, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” There are innumerable dimensions of humanity, and I think most of us have at least several on which we refuse simple categorization. I think both the desire to fit people into these categories in order to more simply understand them is as innate and natural as is the frustration on the receiving end of this forced classification of people. It seems to me this is just another manifestation of way that the paradoxes at the heart of life and people are both unavoidable and discomfiting.