I had a realization the last few days. I am not an introvert.
For most of my life I thought I was an introvert, because I had such a hard time interacting with other human beings. There were too many social barriers, to many protocols, too much anxiety. I was always afraid I’d say the wrong thing, blurting out a half formed thought and then making a fool of myself or, worse, offending someone. This happened a lot in the early days of my relationship with my wife, I was constantly putting my foot in my mouth. Thankfully she thought it was cute how flustered I always got.
The only place I ever felt safe to socialize was in online chat rooms. I could take my time to form my sentences, and there were no barriers to entering conversations. Any topic being discussed in a public space was open for participation from everyone, as the very nature of the chat. I also was highly engaged in online forums like Reddit, and Fark before that. Sure, many of these spaces were extremely toxic and I found myself frequently having to ignore casual misogeny, but they were my home. Sometimes I even found myself chased away from these spaces because people were just so hard to work with (looking at you, Freenode #node.js).
When the opportunity to work remotely offered itself back in 2010, I lept at it and loved it. It seemed like the remote life suited me extremely well, since I didn’t feel like I needed to be around co-workers, and if anything I valued the lack of distractions. It was like this for 6 years and through 4 jobs. I believed that my wife was all the interaction I needed.
After I started my transition I found myself even more engaged in online forums. Desperately engaged, even. I poured myself into all manner of trans communities. I found a place where I fit, everyone could relate to me, and people weren’t so judgemental. As I came into my womanhood, that then expanded into trans-inclusive women’s spaces, both online and in real life. The barriers that my maleness had caused had evaporated and suddenly I was able to have meaningful conversations and friendships with other women.
More and more of my time went to socializing. My work suffered as a consequence, it became harder and harder to keep myself on task because I was always looking for more conversations to participate in. On days where there wasn’t active conversations to be found, I got depressed. I’ve been neglecting my work duties because I just kept scanning various social platforms. To counter this I started going in to work more, ostensibly because I needed fewer distractions, but also because the socializing that came in the workplace could fill that dependency. I don’t think I understood that until now.
When I’m not at the computer, I’m constantly on my phone. Sometimes I’ll just sit there regularly rotating through slack groups and discord servers looking for anything and anyone. I’d break away to read twitter for a bit and then come back to the chats. My wife gets frustrated with me because I’ll be engaging with social platforms when I should be more present IRL. I’m addicted.
Last week my wife came down with a particularly nasty sinus infection which left her bed ridden. That meant I had to stay home to take care of the kids and her. Social plans got canceled, going in to the office was impossible, and I was too busy to engage online. My wife was asleep in bed for 4 days straight, and when she was up she was in no mood for conversation. I started getting really ancy and depressed. Finally she was more getting healthy again and on Friday I was free to get social again… except nobody was engaging. It’s a holiday weekend, everyone was gone offline. As the day wore on I got restless and depressed and finally decided I had to get out of the house, even if it was just to go get dinner.
That simple act of getting dressed, getting out in to the world, being seen by others, and interacting with restaurant staff left me feeling significantly recharged and feeling great. It was like getting smacked with a cluebat, I started thinking back on all the ways I was engaging. During all those times I thought I was “fine” with having no social life, I was filling it through chat rooms, forums, wow guilds, TF2 servers… I’ve always been extroverted, it just was happening through gateways.
I have no idea what I’m going to do about this, but I feel empowered simply by recognizing it.