Thursday, July 6, 2017

Social Style and Self-Judgment

My Social Preferences
I see the conversation as the most fundamental social unit. To me, all relationship begins, ends, and thrives on conversation. I enjoy deep meaningful conversations that develop, that delve, that gain momentum. I also enjoy more lighthearted fare-- topical, cultural, comedic riffing, etc. My favorite conversations are the ones that feel organic, that find their way through topics and through personal passions, with equal engagement by its participants. My favorite people are the ones with whom this seems to happen organically and consistently. These are people who both share some part of my range of interests, and who are about as skilled and motivated as I am to ask questions and self-disclose.
Then there’s a number of conversations I stay out of, either for lack of interest (sports, reality TV, most material culture, etc.) or distaste (cliche conversations, arguments in which I or the other party are not well-read on the subject, etc.). If someone tends towards those kinds of conversations, we don’t end up as friends.
I find that I’m not that into parties, whether I have many, few, or no friends at them. At a party, I’m likely to talk to one person at a time, and find myself unsure what to do in between those one-on-one conversations, and at a certain point I’ll just leave. (Of course, if alcohol is involved, this changes greatly.) Depending on the quality of relationship or quality of conversation, I’m often anxious during those conversations, unsure if the other person is wondering when it will end, or myself also wondering where this is going, when it will end. I’m very unlikely to talk to strangers there unless I am new to the area (and therefore have to make that effort), playing host, or drinking. My favorite social events are structured, even content-driven (cultural academic spaces, themed gatherings, etc.).
If I am around a conversation with more than one person, I’m likely to split off one person into a separate conversation. If that’s not an option, I’ll usually just observe, not desiring to engage in the attention-seeking strategies required to take the floor, or I’ll ask follow-up questions of others but not actually weigh in. And I’ll get disappointed or annoyed when others just weigh in and never ask follow-up questions.
There are a lot of social gatherings in which I see the socializing as an afterthought. In high school, I was very active in a non-school based youth group, so I saw school mostly as a place to learn, not socialize. When I used to be religious, I would go to shul to pray fervently, and then not really understand why there’d be a social gathering afterwards-- I thought we all came here to talk to God! Even when I invite people to go to concerts, it’s also a strange experience, since my primary reason to be there is to enjoy music, not to make conversation.

Introversion and Self-Judgment
Based on the above description, I think I’d be called an Introvert. Most people who identify as Introverts embrace the label, seeing the social style described above as healthy and fine. I can see that perspective, and yet I find myself with a lot of negative self-judgment for being like this. Here are the various ways I might judge myself or feel inadequate:

  • People who enjoy parties are having more fun! Wouldn’t I like to have more fun?
  • Shouldn’t I be starting more conversations, especially with strangers? Am I not friendly enough? Do I lack a natural curiosity about people? Am I too self-centered?
  • Are my interests too narrow? Shouldn’t I have more topics that I find interesting? Shouldn’t I be more well-read on the things people want to discuss?
  • Why don’t I have the interest/skills to be start or join larger conversations?
  • Am I an introvert because I lack the social skills to get even more enjoyment out of being with people?

Growing out of It
This topic is an example of the personal limits/boundaries paradox. The pains of being limited turn into suffering when I vacillate between accepting and challenging the limitations. What is the appropriate path of growth here? I keep wanting to ask “Can I grow out of it?” but I’m ambivalent about which “it” to grow out of:

It = My particular way of socializing
It = My habit of judging myself harshly for my particular way of socializing

So that’s the struggle as it currently stands. I imagine, vaguely, that the solution lies somewhere between the two. I know this harsh judgment doesn’t help much, and yet I also know that it’s a deeply ingrained habit. I also think that the ability to check in with myself, to identify my social desires independent of any internalized/imagined peer pressure, is an essential skill and practice to develop.


  1. a related thought... i used to identify as an introvert. that all changed when i changed my environment and found a better community. it turned out that i was not actually an introvert, just was too often surrounded by people i didnt especially want to connect with.

    1. Yes! I can relate a lot to that experience. And therefore, once again, it feels like "introversion" could be a character trait, but can just as well be a response to less-than-ideal surroundings.