Friday, January 3, 2014

Communicating & Introspection

There has been plenty of ink spilled over whether we're losing our ability to connect with each other in meaningful ways now that more and more of our communication happens online.

I probably should be concerned about this, and I do think its important to think about--I make a point of trying to keep my time on my phone or computer to a minimum when my kids are up, for example--but the truth is its exactly what I love about online communication.  I blog and I post a lot on Facebook, allowing me to feel like I'm being social and outgoing (and giving others the impression that I am) without actually requiring me to interact with anyone.  Most of what I post on Facebook isn't terribly personal, and definitely isn't really detailed.  My blog is much more personal, but again it gives me an outlet for those more personal and emotive things I don't share on Facebook, without actually requiring me to talk to anyone about it.

Most days, I talk to my kids, to a friend as we do kid drop off/pick ups at each other's houses, and Doug.  Doug and I can swing between 2-4 hour conversations and hardly speaking at all, instead just turning on the TV or diving into a book, both of us sort of done being interactive for the day (he's pretty introverted himself).  The same goes for car rides--we can easily fill an 8 or 9 hour drive with constant conversation, and can just as easily go 3 or 4 hours without saying a word.  Dylan and Keira often go long stretches without saying anything to me at all, both of them very self-contained personalities, but Keilana and Kylie will talk nearly non-stop if you let them, so often by the end of the day I am done being conversant.  I do interact with other adults at Church once a week, but that is done mostly through offering comments during lessons--I don't actually do a lot of conversation most Sundays.  There are individuals--most notably Doug, my mom and my older sister--with whom I can turn into a downright babbly chatterbox, and I have bursts of energy or amusement where I can briefly turn into a loud, chatty personality.  In groups in particular, those occasions are rare, and nearly all of them happened with my closest friends in high school, or with my in-laws (where I made a conscious effort to change my demeanor when, the first summer I spent around them, several of them made it known just how weird it was that I would sit in the back bedroom by myself with my notebook rather than be social).  In very large groups, particularly with people I don't know very well, I still tend to feel overwhelmed and awkward.  Ward parties, for example, aren't really very fun for me.  You know that feeling when someone is trying to take photos of you and you suddenly don't have any idea what to do with your hands?  Yeah, my feelings when I'm in a crowd tend to veer between that and just good ol' fashioned anxiety.

When I post and comment on Facebook and blogs, it gives me the opportunity to enjoy the interaction and conversation with others without dealing with that anxiety and self-consciousness.  When I'm typing, I don't trip over my words or thoughts the same way that I do when I'm speaking aloud, and so I actually end up feeling like I can get much farther in an online conversation.  I can engage when I feel like, when I'm in the mood, instead of having to force it when its convenient for someone else to try to fit into some notion of politeness.

I do love people and genuinely enjoy the company of others, and how I make others feel is important to me, so I've been practicing being warm and friendly and outgoing for many years.  But because I have to practice and do it consciously, there's always a part of me that feels like its phony.  Its not, but even with people I know reasonably well, I can see myself holding them at arm's length a bit, and yet somehow I can't quite get myself to put the arm down.  The flip side of that is that I don't really have the capacity to be phony--being real and open is so exhausting, I can't even imagine how draining maintaining a facade would be.  There are some people who don't seem to know the difference between reserve and falseness, but I've never much worried about them.  When people demand that you prove yourself, its usually evidence that no matter what you do, you can't prove yourself to them.

The fact does remain, however, that I struggle to connect in a really meaningful way with very many people.  I love lots of people that I love and that love me, and most of the time that's enough.  But intimate relationships--feeling like I'm close enough to people that I feel like we'd genuinely miss each other if we were far away, rather than just remembering fondly and filling the space with other people--are relatively few.  That's part of what made Lindsay so hard to leave--it took several years, but I built several of those relationships there, women and men that I had no hesitation calling "sister" and "brother" with my whole heart.  The other along the way are people I've known virtually my whole life, or a few, wonderful souls, who, for whatever reason I not only clicked with, I clicked with instantly.  That is extraordinarily rare, but there are a few people who I simply have concluded that I knew and was close friends with long before either of us was on this earth.

I forgot where I was going with this (the other nice thing about writing--I can follow the many diversions and side roads my brain takes without being interrupted).  I thrive on relationships;  I readily admit that nothing is more important to me.  Which is complicated when I feel awkward and hesitant to talk to or get to know other people.  And here's where I fall into the same social media trap as many others:  I feel like I've interacted, I've done something, I've been friendly.  Except that usually I haven't actually done all that much.  I'm a terrible visiting teacher, for example.  I love being able to quietly meet people's needs, but that is difficult to do if you don't know what the needs are because you've been hiding out at home. Fortunately I have a strong enough emotional perception and intuition that I can usually pretty quickly figure out, at least in the ball park, what someone wants emotionally and response appropriately, but its difficult to do that for people, at least very often, if you don't put in the time to get to know them well and to build their trust in you.  Basically, I want to find a way to save the world and love everybody, without anyone actually knowing it.  Which, I realize, is quite ridiculous.

But I've decided that even though social media isn't nearly enough, its something.  Practicing being outgoing in the virtual world does help the quell a bit of my anxiety when I try to be outgoing in the real world.  So, I will continue to sometimes hit the silent button when the phone rings and I'm not mentally prepared to talk, spend hours stressing about what I said to the stranger or casual acquaintance I talked to that day, and absolutely dreading even the thought of group projects.  But I'll also keep posting pictures of my kids and random articles that address my approach to life or politics, and comment on other people's posts discussions, and hopefully I'll get to a point where I stress a little less about everything I say out loud to everyone outside my family.

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