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.