When I turned sixty (several years ago now) I promised myself that, from that day forward, I would do exactly what I wanted to do regardless of what anybody thought. Brave words. It takes bravery, or perhaps just bravado, to stand firmly opposed in the face of convention.
Not that everything I choose to do or choose to think veers too far from societal mores. I believe we all like to fit in, to be at one with our community, to be loved and respected. Sometimes that is a good thing. For if we could not compromise, would not our community, our world, eventually just collapse from simple aggravation?
But aging brings its privileges and one of them is that it is okay to be yourself once in awhile – even if it tends to piss off those around you whom you would really rather not irritate at all.
For example, I am a committed introvert. I do not crave the society of my fellows overly much. I don’t go quite to the extent of living on a mountaintop, although I do live on a small island. For me, a crowd is three people. Whenever I am forced, by convention, or inconvenience to be surrounded by any more than that many people, I break out into a cold sweat. My mouth dries up and my tongue, for some strange reason, can’t come up with one intelligent thing to say.
The problem is, you see, I have never been taught how to translate what people are trying to say to me. A conversation with someone can cause me such anxiety that I go over it time and time again days after its occurrence, trying to glean the “true meaning” of what she said. Or what he meant, exactly, when he told me such and such. This is a hard enough experience with one person, but throw in a roomful of people, all talking at once, throwing words around willy nilly, oftentimes lubricated with copious amounts of alcohol, and things get scary very fast for people like me.
Take this time of year. Christmas is not a fun time of year for introverts. We are often forced against our will into small rooms with crowds of people filling every available space with small talk. I don’t do small talk well. I don’t do “talk” well for that matter. At best, I count myself lucky if I come out of a conversation feeling somewhat still intact and not like some total incompetent boob. On the whole, I would rather email conversations than do them live.
Staff parties are particularly swampy traps for introverts. On the one hand, we don’t want to look like we don’t care about people so we force ourselves to attend these horrific things despite wanting to do so as much as one would like to stab oneself in the eye with an hors-d’oevre fork.
But when you get older, you tend to not care about things like that. Instead, you remember all the times you forced yourself to go, spent time painstakingly making pointless conversation with everyone in the room, and finally being able, at long last, to escape to the safety of home where you can crawl into the corner, curl up into a ball and banish the entire horrible experience out of your mind. And vowing to never ever do THAT again. And doing the whole thing over and over, year after year ad infinitum, because you are just too afraid to say, “NO!”
Now, I just don’t go in the first place. There is a lot of freedom in that little sentence. To paraphrase a running shoe ad – now I “Just Don’t Do It!”
Aging definitely has its downsides, which will undoubtedly be the subject of future posts, but being able to embrace saying no to situations you hate getting into is not one of them. I only wish it hadn’t taken me six plus decades to find that little gem out!