I’ve always struggled to connect with other women, especially groups of women. While I’ve usually had a “bestie” in whom I could confide, I always had the impression that many other women found me to be a little too much. Which is funny, because I am probably the most introverted person in my family.
Sometimes the issue seemed to be my vocabulary since I am one of those voracious readers who—still to this day—tentatively tries out words that I inevitably botch because, well, I’ve never heard them spoken out loud. My speech and thoughts were always going to be a “tell,” differentiating me from others at times. Plus, as introverts world-wide know, small talk was never going to be super comfortable.
Developing the level of connection I wanted with other women was just hard.
Like many, I somehow thought that this was all my fault. A broader friends base was just not going to happen due to some problem in myself.
During the pandemic, I switched jobs, my kids switched schools, and we moved back to my hometown. My husband, a fellow introvert, and I relished the opportunity to re-establish some connections, thinking that it was us—distance, busyness, shyness—that had prevented deeper relationships.
We learned that it was none of these things.
I’ve been feeling rather apocalyptic lately. Of course there are all the environmental, economic, and social disasters facing our world today, and these can put anyone in an apocalyptic frame of mind. But I’m thinking more of the actual meaning of the word apocalypse: unveiling.
The pandemic was a time of great unveiling, on large and small scales. You know of what I speak.
For me, I experienced a social unveiling. What I thought to be true of myself was not necessarily true, and what I thought to be secure and solid in others was not secure and solid. Why did I assume that everything was my fault—that if someone didn’t connect readily with me that I was the primary problem? I had thought that if I lived closer to others and stopped overworking then everything would come together socially. Untrue, untrue.
A friend shared a guiding verse with me: “He brought me into a spacious place, he rescued me because he delighted in me” (Psalm 18:19). I was hoping that our move would bring us into this spacious place, a place to take wing and soar. Instead, feelings of disconnect worsened. And then the unveiling started happening in my own heart.
While the social dynamics that frustrated me were not my fault, a reframing in my heart was needed. Why did I yearn for connection with people who were put off by my vocabulary, my education, my intensity, anyway?
I learned a basic life lesson that I should have learned in childhood: If you can’t be yourself among your friends, then they are not your friends. Duh! Happily, I had one secret weapon: I refuse to substantially change myself to please others. So there!
Maybe what I was searching for was not what I actually needed. Maybe I was much stronger than I thought, and, as it turns out, less needy. Maybe I was a refuge and a place of safety for other women, and others can find their strength in me. I can, in turn, be vulnerable with them.
I can reject the false dichotomy of needing to be constantly affirmed by others versus being perpetually strong for others. I can be vulnerable and weak and yet a person of safety and refuge for others.
It’s like I thought that I wanted to be in a gaggle of geese when really my path was a fantastic V-formation. I know pretty much nothing about birds but have looked it up and learned that geese typically take turns in the V-formation. When one gets tired, another assumes that front position.
That’s exactly it. It’s not so much that I needed great healing and repair, but instead, I needed a reframing on the purpose of my wings and how that connected to my spacious place.
I don’t need to look for the perfect environment or group of friends or circumstances in which I can thrive. I can “bloom where I’m planted,” or to use a more avian metaphor, I can soar with my own perfectly solid and substantial wings. There was never anything wrong with them.
Stephanie Wilsey is an academic who currently works in online education. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband, two children, and—currently—two international students. Her writing focuses on the intersect between psychology, personal growth, and spirituality. You can find her at www.christianmusingsfortoday.com.