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On being social

I’m not afraid to admit it, nowadays: I’m an only child. Back when I was a child, in the 80s, it was a sort of novelty, us singular children– most of my friends had at least one sibling, and some had two or three more. It wasn’t until I was 10 that I even met another only child.

I didn’t mind being an only child, and it was only romanticized notions of siblinghood I longed for– the fantasies I had of a sister always revolved around the idea that she was close in age to me, and had my exact interests, and also thought I was super cool. I could have dug a sister like that.

As it was, I was one of those people who learned, early on, how to entertain myself. The kids on my block, my easy-access friends, had to go home for dinner just as I did, they went out of town, and church and the like, and so I was alone often. I like to differentiate between “alone” and “lonely.” Certainly I was the latter from time to time, but, truly, it was a rare occurrence. I was a voracious reader, and my parents were happy to indulge the obsession. I had bookshelves full to bursting, and was taken on frequent trips to the local library. I wrote, even from a young age, making friends of characters, and creating worlds and experiences for them.

I am an incredibly shy person. I’m not sure if it’s due to this alone-ness, or if I would have been naturally disposed to this personality even with a passel of siblings. At any rate, it is far easier to be shy when you’re okay with being alone– I can’t imagine being an extrovert who is painfully shy, the agony of wanting and needing social contact to feed your energy, yet being terrified of talking to others. That I garner my energy from quiet and solitude makes my shyness mostly inconsequential: it’s easy to never learn to swim when you live in a desert.

I have to say, though: all of this makes it hard to be sociable. I’m good with a person or two– I have a small group of good friends, people I feel know me well and I know them. I’ve met them through various channels– online, in class, at work, and living above me in an apartment. The thing is: it took awhile, and I am very poor at it.

Oddly enough, those who meet me tell me I’m outgoing and bubbly, talkative, and can’t believe that I’m painfully shy. I have been told pointblank that I’m not an introvert, that it’s not possible, because of how I react to people (which leads me to wonder: what is the appropriate behavior for an introvert in a social setting? To scream and duck? To sweat profusely and refuse to speak? I’m fairly certain, as an attribute, introversion would have fazed out of our DNA if it was truly that difficult to endure, but that’s a different topic). I’m a good actor, I suppose, or my anxiety drives me into some kind of stand-up comedy. I give a killer punchline while convincing myself that you hate me.

The internet is a blessing for people like me: you can meet people on your own turf and have time to figure out what to say and how to say it! No one can see you! You’re a genius with spellcheck! In the early days (back when we paid for AOL by the minute), I hopped into chatrooms and bulletin boards, and was quickly treated to my earliest dose of internet attacks. I was young, though, innocent still, so that I plugged along.

There was Diaryland, and Blogspot, when I got older, and then Livejournal. I participated on a couple boards for young and radical mothers, joined up on forums for writers and role players. I was, dare I say, POPULAR.

However, in the past few years, things have shifted. Perhaps it’s my age, and my inborn tendency to be stubborn, slowing me down. I feel like the crotchety old lady waving at the kids on her lawn. I DON’T UNDERSTAND THE NEW SOCIAL MEDIA. I can roll with Facebook, but apparently that’s for grandmas anyway. I’m okay with Twitter (and have some absurdly low join number, making me either elite or pathetic), and I’m moderately capable at Tumblr. Past that, I suck.

Social media is all about conversation, but, it feels to me, like walking into a room of strangers and having everyone stop and turn to look at you and wait for your introduction. “Hi, I’m Lorrie! My favorite book is… uh… I have one, I’m sure. Favorite movie? Um, that one, with the blonde…?”

My husband hangs out on Reddit, which appears a little like a crowded bar where the drink names are in a different language, and I can’t find the bathrooms. Goodreads groups confuse the hell out of me, with huge threads where the replies overlap and I’m genuinely afraid of making a fool of myself with my poor memory for what I’ve read in the past year, let alone my life (intellectual cred is much more difficult to fake).

I’m making an effort. I’m seeking out blogs now, something I’ve avoided over the years as the internet seemed overrun with them. It seems less threatening: even on blogs that garner a lot of comments, it’s as though I met up with the writer in the corner of a party and we’re sharing a laugh. It’s calming.

Being social on the internet is apparently one of my jobs now, in this writing and publishing gig. I feel a bit like I did when I changed schools at ten: nervous, and kind of nauseous. I’m myself, but also a brand, and I really REALLY want people to like me.

Hey, how about you leave some links for blogs you like in the comments? I’ll bring you a glass of wine and we’ll hide out by the garage door for a bit, take a breather from that party. I hope you like my jokes.