This Accelerating Contradiction

:

Being alone has never really bothered me. I was an only child growing up, and whenever a play-date wasn’t an option, I was perfectly happy playing pretend in my room for hours, reading, or (most embarrassingly) learning how to make databases on my mom’s Windows 3.1 computer. There were so many floppy disks. It wasn’t even connected to the internet. Am I dating myself?

Being alone has never really bothered me. I was an only child growing up, and whenever a play-date wasn’t an option, I was perfectly happy playing pretend in my room for hours, reading, or (most embarrassingly) learning how to make databases on my mom’s Windows 3.1 computer. There were so many floppy disks. It wasn’t even connected to the internet. Am I dating myself?

Maybe I’m getting more introverted as I get older, or maybe I’m just noticing it more, but these days it’s getting harder and harder to force myself out of the house. Through all my years of shared bedrooms and roommates, I always knew I’d love living alone–I just never knew how much. I spend all day turned up to eleven at school; I have to keep my students energized, talk to coworkers, and constantly switch back and forth between Korean and English (and sometimes Japanese when the kids try to mess with me). It is, in a word, socially exhausting. The feeling of stepping into my apartment and closing the door to the outside world is magical.

Most people who’ve met me have a hard time believing this, because I have an uncanny ability to talk to just about anyone, but socializing is not something I’m naturally good at. I had to train myself, and going to a party or even just going to work still requires a certain…different persona. When I worked in cafes and restaurants, I called it my Customer Service Face. It’s the face that smiles at rude customers, that cracks cheerful jokes no matter what’s going on behind the scenes, that can run on autopilot through most types of small talk. It’s convenient, but exhausting to keep up. When it’s cranked into overdrive, I can get home from a party or a day at work and barely remember a thing I said to anyone.

The reason for my aforementioned talk-to-anyone skill is likely my knack for reading people, reading the room, and modulating myself to match. I have to be careful, though, or I’ll change so much I don’t recognize myself anymore. It’s hard for me to stop thinking about how others are perceiving me, how the way I act influences the atmosphere around me. With all but the absolute closest of friends, socializing is like solving a constantly changing puzzle. I’m jealous of those people who seem to always just “be themselves” no matter the occasion. But then again, maybe people think that of me? Who knows.

The upside of having a no-roommate apartment to go back to is that I can more easily recharge after these daily bouts with humanity. The downside is that in order to have friends/any social life at all, it’s sort of important to, you know, leave the house. Ever. I know that once I get to the party, to the class, to the bar, what have you, I’ll have fun. Usually, socializing is fun, no matter how exhausted I am afterwards. But the problem is, staying home alone is fun 99.99% of the time, and it requires neither a bra nor pants. So you see my problem. I also genuinely enjoy traveling alone. Sure, it’s harder to take pictures and eat out in restaurants, but isn’t that what the selfie-stick was invented for?

When they invent something that makes eating alone less awkward, I’ll be first in line to buy 10.

I may be able to talk to anyone, but making friends has always been difficult for me. It takes me a long time to get close to someone, and my tendency to drop off the face of the earth (socially) from time to time means I lose a lot of friendships that don’t have a strong enough foundation yet. Living in Korea has added a bonus boss battle: my friends keep leaving.

It’s totally natural. The average stay for native teachers over here is 1-3 years, so it’s to be expected that people will come and go. If I were better at making and keeping friends, this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but when it takes at least a year for me to feel really close to someone, if they leave right after it’s almost like losing out on an investment. This is kind of horrible to say, but it’s almost as if I’m an employer who’s spent a year training a new recruit only to have them quit. Eventually, I don’t want to hire any new people, even though I know I need them. Does that make sense?

There’s clearly some lack of logic between what I want to happen and what I do. Case in point: I want to have friends, but what do I do? Avoid my nice neighbor who just wants to get brunch with me because I want to…what? Go for a walk by myself? Stay home and play videogames? I honestly can’t understand my motivations in a lot of these situations, and yet they keep happening in the same way. Anxiety is tricky that way, I suppose.

So I guess that’s where I am now; trying to find a balance between enjoying solitude and cutting myself off from humanity. Where do I draw the line? When does self-care turn into something bad? Tune in next never for the answer.



Leave a Comment