My mum is an extrovert

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My mum is really social.  She started all these community groups when I was a kid and ran about 10 book clubs, a science club and even a magic club for kids to learn magic tricks. I’m not kidding. I could do one magic trick, and it took me weeks to learn it. It involved magically tying a rope in a knot, just by moving it around a little in a non-rope-tying-looking fashion. Yeah, I was talented. I did that trick at every meeting of the magic club.

My mum also loves to throw parties. My brothers and I always had three birthday parties each, just because she liked them so much. She would bake these enormous, elaborate cakes. Alligators and Darth Vaders and turtles; for me, a cream and lavender castle, with actual spires and tiny windows. I think if she asked me now, though, I’d want Darth Vader, too.

I never really liked the parties my mum threw for my birthday. When I was a little kid, I was infamous in the family for crying every time people sang happy birthday to me. I think I was just overwhelmed, thinking, “Why are they all singing at me?! What do they want? What am I, some pony that’s supposed to perform a trick now, for their amusement? If there was any compassion in the world, they would just give me my cake and leave me in peace!”

My mum was a good sport about my whole, you know, personality. I grew up and thought I was really great and was very impressed with myself for a number of things, including most of my dark poetry, several of my larger paintings, and my lace up suede moccasin boots, which went up to my knees. I tried to prove to the world that homeschooled kids can still have rockin’ fashion sense. And are very confident, instead of being socially inept and obviously weird and unable to multiply normal numbers.

I can’t really multiply, I’m not gonna lie. But I can socialise, damnit. I can.

I just don’t really always like to.

That is the problem. And it is still a problem today. Especially, I sometimes think, because I am a girl. Woman. Some combination of those.

One night, my husband Bear had a friend I’d never met over, and, in my defense, it was the second day of Rosh Hashanah and I had just gotten home after singing in synagogue for a lot of hours, so I was exhausted. They were hanging out and drinking beer and talking about the latest stem cell research or something stereotypically manly (no, but really they were, from the sound of it through the wall), and I was lying in bed watching a Bette Midler movie, which is sometimes all I want to do for what feels like forever. And then I had to come out because I needed the computer charger cord and I made some (hilarious) jokes about how antisocial and lame I was being by hiding in the bedroom. I explained that I was really really tired and otherwise would’ve loved to join in.

And Bear said, “See? I told you she was antisocial!” In this fond tone, like it was so adorable.

And they both laughed. And his friend was like, “Yeah, Bear was telling me that you’re just like him and never want to go out, so I shouldn’t even try to get you guys together with me and my girlfriend.”

I laughed. “Yup, we’re pretty well matched! But I think I could probably manage to be around your girlfriend for a couple hours, you know, if I had to.”

We all laughed, because we’re all so polite, and then I retreated.

But I was taken aback. I mean, come on! I can do a double date! I love double dates! I love really small groups! They’re my specialty! And also, I’m not antisocial! I’m totally social! I can talk to lots of different people in lots of different settings! I am just like the school kids! I can tie my shoes! I can multiply!

But it was something else, too. I felt like I shouldn’t be “just like Bear.” I felt like that was a failure. A laziness. Because he’s the brilliant, nerdy, lovably distracted, slow-to-speak man. But I am the woman. And it’s different. Especially if the man is like Bear, the woman should be social.

I know, of course, that the woman shouldn’t have to be anything. She should just be herself. She should embrace her unique qualities. She should be whatever she feels like being. But also, there’s this blueprint in my head, and it has very clear instructions about this: “The woman should be social.  If the man is like Bear then she needs to complement him with her clever people-reading and her bright, welcoming conversation.”

Except we’re not in the 50s, are we? So what is the deal with my head?

I don’t know, maybe it’s just that I get this sense, from being alive and stuff, that we are all probably supposed to have great hair and cute skinny jeans and be at least relatively witty. And that being a better woman involves being more social. There are a lot of ways that women are encouraged to be better women. It’s like the message that cosmetic companies sell: be a better woman! Look younger! Be more like the you you want to be! Be more like the you Beyoncé already is!

I’m fairly certain Beyoncé is extroverted, too.

Throughout my life, there have already been so many things I didn’t do that I felt strongly I should have, but they just sounded so awful to me. Joining activity groups in uni. That’s where you meet friends! That’s why I only had like four friends in college! Volunteering. God. What’s wrong with you. You’re improving the world! But I’ll have to stand around and schmooze with so many other volunteers!  Parties. After work drinks. Company lunches. I should have gone to all of it! I know! I know! I’m terrible. I should be somewhere right now, actually, I’m pretty sure. I should be out somewhere, doing things. Meeting people. Expanding my world. Clinking glasses. Making witty small talk.

But you know where I am? I’m inside my apartment, with my laptop, writing.

“You need to go out, to have something to write about,” my mum is always telling me, in an effort to trick me into having something that looks a little bit more like a life.

It wasn’t until much later that I realised maybe I’m really just a normal person who happens to be introverted and loves to write and is very, very lucky to get to do that all day, and maybe it’s OK for me to not go to parties with everyone else because after all, I make very good pasta, and I paint very large paintings, even now, and there are so many wonderful stories stuck in the cracks between the supposed to’s.

It occurred to me that I have the potential to be pretty damn good at being myself. Which is good, I think. But first, I’m pretty sure I need to admit who that person is. Not, like, who that person would be if my mum organized my schedule. Or if I was also Beyonce at the same time and had her perfect skin.

I’m trying to hold on to that idea, instead of hoping that Bear’s friend who I just met doesn’t think it’s lame that Bear married this woman who can’t even talk about stem cell research for two minutes like a regular friendly person. Instead of thinking about what might happen when I’m living in a retirement community, (I’m never going to live in one anyway. It’s not my thing.) I’m going to live in this little cabin in the mountains, with my novelist granddaughter and possibly her potter girlfriend. And I am going to have these adventures that you won’t even believe. Most of them, maybe, inside my head. But some of them in very small groups. And it will be great.

Kate Fridkis blogs at eatthedamncake.com

15 comments

  • I'm a complete introvert - an INFJ according to those tests, and I too have a complete extrovert as a mother. Mine is a bit less understanding of my desire for peace, quiet and privacy as well as my discomfort in social situations particularly the larger variety. I have few friends and don't go many places but I'm fine with that. Entertaining leaves me physically and mentally exhausted as does a long run in public. I hate staying at other people's homes and am not that keen on people staying in mine.

    I get called anti-social too, although I'm not - not with those close few I call friends, I just have to do it all in small doses. My mother can't understand the desire to stay in and read a book, or curl up and watch TV or a movie, or that I can not leave the house in a week and feel totally ok about that! She can't sit still for a minute and needs people all the time.

    My husband is a bit of a mix, which is good, really. He's probably extroverted but he's also shy and anxious due to a few issues he has, so that impacts. He can be happy and blissful with me at home but also take on a lot of the 'social' side of things like dealing with other parents of our children's friends, or making calls I get a bit squeamish at. It's a good partnership. I couldn't be with someone like my mum who doesn't get it at all but it is nice to have someone who can go a bit further than me :)

    Commenter
    independent thinker
    Date and time
    December 13, 2012, 9:04AM
    • Same here, and I detest it when people call me anti-social. I'm social enough to satisfy myself, why should I be more social than I'm comfortable with to please them?

      Funny thing is, as a gamer I'm online with my friends every single night and probably socialise in that form more than anyone else. It's just different and some people seem to have difficulties accepting that

      Commenter
      Ailie
      Date and time
      December 13, 2012, 4:19PM
  • The best part of this story is that your husband is called Bear. If it's a nickname I don't want to know.

    Commenter
    Sheba
    Date and time
    December 13, 2012, 9:08AM
    • Kate, I've only just admitted this to myself, and I'm in my forties! It is only on becoming a mother that I discovered how much socialising is required. I must fight against my natural inclinations and establish networks of support and friendships to benefit my only child (an extrovert). Like you I would much rather be painting, writing, playing piano, reading, gardening or pondering the big quetions in life, than making small talk with other mothers (who are perfectly lovely by the way...it's my problem, not theirs!)

      Commenter
      Extraterrestrial
      Date and time
      December 13, 2012, 9:20AM
      • I can empathise with so much of this article. My mum's no extrovert, but my big sister is and I have always struggled against the idea that I should be more sociable, go to parties and be a more bubbly person. I've done that and it's exhausting. Like swimming against the tide.

        It's nice to hear that there are others who are happy to be alone doing their own thing. Somehow I've learnt along the way that not being social is synonymous with being a loser or weirdo or depressed, but perhaps that's not completely true. Maybe it's a case of getting a balance between hermit life and social life.

        Commenter
        Emily M
        Date and time
        December 13, 2012, 9:53AM
        • Hi Kate,

          I read your article with interest and I am in full support of your introverted-ness. I myself am what I like to call a "shy extrovert".

          In new groups, places, scenarios I tend to hang around the edges, not say much and engage in polite conversation before excusing myself to go home.

          But with a group of close friends, I will be loud and engaging (at least I hope) but I'll definitely talk to everyone in the room and be extremely animated, lots of touching and hugging etc.

          Lately I've been forcing myself out of my comfort zone and trying to be a bit more engaged in social situations where I'm uncomfortable. You never know WHO you're going to meet.

          It's tough and at times I hate it, but I think there's something to be said for stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new. If you read this comment, I challenge you to maybe go to one of those after work drinks and try to strike up a conversation with a person who you don't think you would have anything in common with.

          It might be a total waste of time or you might even for a short moment find an amazing connection and something to talk about (maybe Stem Cells even?)

          Commenter
          Adrian
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          December 13, 2012, 9:59AM
          • I am in my mid twenties, and I have always known since I was a child that I am very shy and introverted. It takes me quite a while to warm up to someone, just because of the way I am, usually nothing to do with the other person. When I started working at 15, just a casual retail job, I had to force myself to speak to customers, but after some time, that became much easier. These days my mother still can't understand why I would much rather be somewhere quiet, with a book or a movie. I can't stand night clubs and bars, which I find much too loud and usually, massively pretentious. I am happy with the way that I am, I feel I shouldn't have to force to do go places and do things I don't enjoy doing. I am much happier at home with my friends, enjoying and movie or a good meal and fun conversation with people who don't force or expect me to be anything or anyone I don't want to be or can't be.

            Commenter
            shygirl
            Location
            Narre Warren
            Date and time
            December 13, 2012, 10:24AM
            • wow, I can totally relate to this article!

              I do think there is a difference between an introvert and someone who is a very shy/anxious introvert.
              I admit I have to push myself sometimes to go out to parties and gatherings. I'm usually happy to have made that choice afterwards. But too many engagements and I feel really drained.

              I think we also need to accept and promote that there is nothing wrong with being an introvert!

              We often get the push (whether overtly or subtly) that in order to be popular or part of the "in-crowd" or to land the job or bond with the work-mates, we need to be more extroverted. Too bad we don't have flashing indicators that say "hey - I just want to sit quietly over here" so I can respond with "great, me too" and not feel the need to join everyone else wildly partying.

              Commenter
              introvert
              Date and time
              December 13, 2012, 10:44AM
              • The link to your article about your mum is not working.

                I started reading your article because I thought it would be on your feelings about growing up with an extroverted mum. I wished you had written on this, not just about you being an introvert. I too have a very extroverted and career-minded mum. She had a successful career and had many, many friends. We are polar opposites really. It was not easy growing up with her and yes, I certainly feel inadequate compared to her.

                I have also realised that I'm just me and I too look forward to my own little cabin in the mountains. (Though for me, I actually like being among people but just 'with' them.)

                Commenter
                Ann
                Date and time
                December 13, 2012, 11:09AM
                • My old man was like that, complete extrovert whereas I am the complete opposite.
                  Only difference was i used to get abused and a wack to the back of the head and told to go outside and talk to people I'd never met before...

                  Commenter
                  Bean
                  Location
                  Beanville
                  Date and time
                  December 13, 2012, 11:41AM

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