The book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking literally changed my life. You know that feeling when you hear or read something and think, “Oh my goodness, that’s me!” I finally had words, and more importantly, the desire to bless my sensitive, introverted self. As I’ve thought about friendship in the context of who and how I am with others, I came back to something Susan Cain said in Quiet.
“Probably the most common – and damaging – misunderstanding about personality type is that introverts are antisocial and extroverts are pro-social…neither is correct; introverts and extroverts are differently social.”
So much of my memory surrounding childhood friendship feels painful, awkward, and lacking. I rarely had more than one friend at a time, something that seemed so sad. Yet today, as I ponder how I am “differently social”, I wonder if I missed some of the goodness in those friendships because I wasn’t mature enough to know that more friends didn’t mean I was a better person, there wasn’t something inherently wrong with me for enjoying fewer, closer relationships.
The challenge to step out of that childhood space into the world of grown-up friends intensified as I found myself a young married woman, with an extroverted husband whose career path meant numerous relocations in the first half of our marriage. I no longer had the luxury of easy companionship with friends I’d known for years, we’d moved thousands of miles across country and I knew absolutely no one. I remember crying about how lonely I was to Chris one night, and he was puzzled about what was so hard. “Just call Joy, that woman we met in Sunday school class, she seemed nice. Ask her if she wants to have coffee.”
What was so simple in his mind, translated much differently for me. The conversation in my head sounded more like, “Hi Joy, you probably don’t remember me, but we met on Sunday. I’m sure you have plenty of friends already since you’ve lived here a while and seemed to know everyone in the room, but I don’t have any. Would you be willing to be my friend?” That was just too needy, too pathetic. It took me a few more weeks of feeling sorry for myself before I risked that call…and found a new friend.
That first important risk led to many others each time we packed up and moved. As a result, I have a richly colored room in my heart that holds the faces of many women, and even men, that I have been blessed to call friend in the communities we’ve lived in. Diane and Marion, women who shared generously with me in my early days as a new teacher, joined my new California friend, Joy. In North Carolina, I found another fellow schoolteacher everyone called “Miss Ruth”. It didn’t matter that she was 80-something or that I only saw her a few times because of the shortness of our time there, she was a friend.
Chicago brought multiple new friends, the abundance in part because we lived in an area of the nation with the highest percentage of corporate transplants – so we were all without family, all re-starting as friends. I can still feel the ache in my heart of the moment five years later, standing in a circle with our church community, singing “Amazing Grace” as we said goodbye to so many who had loved us well and taught me much about what it means to be a friend.
In Minnesota, my heart began to feel the despair of multiple moves, it felt too hard to keep risking and putting myself out there, enjoying some goodness, and then having it ripped away again. I began to “hide out” at home with three young kids – not so hard since people who’d grown up there were not known for being incredibly welcoming.
But God knew the longing in my heart, and planted us next to Mr. Bob and Miss Luane, who became stand-in grandparents for our kids, and close friends to us. Luane is the kind of person who doesn’t give up, her slightly annoying pursuit the thing my heart really needed. We were only neighbors for 2 years, but 17 years later, she still calls each of our kids on their birthdays, and is intentional about finding ways to connect. I think of how much we all would have missed if I had allowed my despair and desire for self-protection to be the truest thing.
I have learned new things about friendship since settling in Michigan 15 years ago. With no forced separation as a result of yet another relocation, my heart has had to navigate the reality that friendships can come and go on their own; that people change, and as they do, relationships change, and sometimes even end. I find myself again in that awkward space of risking a phone call to invite someone new to coffee, but without the excuse that I’m new in town.
I know my capacity for close friendship, and have learned to expend my energy where there is the best possibility of the intimacy I seek.
There is goodness in the fact that I have to be more honest with my own heart, and that my longing for more, with a few close friends, is worth pursuing. I heard a speaker say once that asking “Why” you do anything isn’t a helpful question, instead asking “How do I…” brings more awareness and blessing of who you are. I’ve learned how I do friendship, and have come to embrace that it is good because it is who I am. What about you, how do you do friendship?
Janet Stark is a woman learning to embrace her depth and sensitivity. Inspired by Mary pondering things in her heart, Janet writes about her experiences here. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband of 26 years, as well as her 4 children and 2 grandchildren. She is a life-long lover of words and looks forward to reading and sharing at Red Tent Living.
I love the question of “how do you do friendship” and the freedom you’ve invited us all to with your honesty about your own journey of friendship. The conversation in your head about Joy felt very familiar to my own when it comes to reaching out to someone new. I am so grateful to have been the recipient of how you do friendship, so grateful.
So glad I’m not alone in those conversations in my head! And I too am grateful for how we do friendship together.
I, too, have lived in many places and had many friends touch my life. Although I am an extrovert and can connect with people easily, I find my latest move to be the most difficult in terms of finding new friends. Perhaps it was because I was grieving when I moved–the loss of a close friend to cancer and then the loss of my life/home/church/work/friends. After two years in my new home (Michigan) I am still pondering friendship and how best to go about forming new friendships. I am blessed to have family and a few old friends here. I am also weary of the energy it takes to form new friendships, and so I am moving slowly. Technology helps me stay connected with old friends, and I am grateful for that, too.
Thanks for your post and for sharing your friendship journey.
Madeline I’m so sad as I read how much you’ve lost…how much you have to grieve. It is so hard in that space to find the energy for anything, much less building new friendships. I pray you begin to find some new, friendly faces who might even reach out to you!
Oh thank you…I too am married to an extrovert. Your words are so encouraging.
Then I imagine you know well the gift that is, as well as the challenge! Bless you as you show him how you do friendship.
Dear Janet, I found myself here alongside you. My goal recently is offering myself kindness and acceptance of who I am – who God created me to be. Your words set me on the path of kindness to myself this morning. I am grateful for you and feeling a kindred spirit between us. I’ve noted the book you mention and will seek it out. I sense it has goodness for me, too. Thank you Janet for allowing us to experience the beauty you are, the quiet, gentle lovely but very strong woman.
It’s always so good when we can help each other choose kindness. I am grateful for your words of encouragement as well…they speak to a deep part of me.
Janet, how refreshing your words are to my soul. Many times throughout my life I have felt so inadequate when desiring to contribute positively to a friendship because I am such a quiet soul…my husband is also an introvert so we live a very quiet life! I know there have been times when our introvertedness has totally mystified our friends and acquaintances. Friendships, as you can imagine, for us as a couple are few — but deep. I have found the risk of reaching out so rewarding when I step through the fear and into the arena. I still second guess myself when extroverts misunderstand…but that is okay. I am learning who I am and drinking in the kindness of God’s creativity in me to express who I am in ways that fit me well. The reaching and risking still require a certain degree of bravery…but I am realizing that has more to do with my wounds than my need for quiet. You have a way of radiating acceptance and kindness. You don’t even need words…your eyes and smile speak volumes. I am ever grateful, however, for the beauty of your words and what they also convey to me and to others. Thank you for embracing who you are and, by doing so, blessing many.
Wow, Christine, you so beautifully just demonstrated the depth and goodness in us “quiet souls”. I found myself reading your words and saying, me too! Mystified friends…living a quiet life…few, deep friendships…all things I relate to well. More confirmation of what I’ve felt with you since the first time I met you – you are easy for me to just be with, and that is a rare gift.
Dear Janet, I loved hearing the journey of your life with friends. So good. I think it is scary to call someone on the phone because they might be way too busy and that alone keeps me from calling and so I think you are very brave to call and invite someone to coffee. Thanks for sharing about the book Quiet…seems like a good thing to read. I always enjoy your writing. Thank you.
Becky I’ve been surprised how many peope I’ve talked with who also dislike calling on the phone…and have to work up courage first! I have to really challenge myself to make the effort these days with texting being so much easier…but not really conducive to deeper connection. Hope you enjoy “Quiet” if you get a chance to read it.
I love being your friend here in Michigan. My bet is your friends scattered around the US loved your friendship as well. I hear your tenitive voice of wondering who wants to be your friend. You have given words to the angst of my own heart. Yes, friends come and go…thank you.
And I am so grateful to count you among my MI friends…for a lot of years! You have heard my heart well, thank you Mary Jane.
Time, space and physical presence – not easily accessed when living so far apart yet I am most grateful for the friend you have been on my own journey and to my heart. Your face, words and presence have provided invitations to more in so many ways. Thank you for your encouragement to reach out and risk!
This so spoke to my introvert heart. There is goodness in the fact that I have to be more honest with my own heart, and that my longing for more, with a few close friends, is worth pursuing” Thank you!