Monday, April 9, 2012

Finding Love as an Introvert

All my life I have admonished myself for not wanting to be “out there” more. When I was in grade school, I was always jealous over the “it” girl in class. In high school, I wished I was part of the cool crowd, reigning supreme at the back of the bus. Into my 20s, I took self help workshops to learn how to be more dynamic and likeable. Even in my 30s I spent inordinate amounts of time trying desperately to be someone I wasn’t.

Thank god for aging. It wasn’t until I got into my 40s that I began surrendering to the hand I’d been dealt, which involved a long and arduous process of struggling, in earnest, with who I really was. And I’ve come quite a distance. Many years of solitude and introspection have enabled me to get out of my own way. My character has finally begun to take shape and find expression. And I am far more interested in living my own life than anyone else’s, even with all its uncertainty. For the first time in my life, I have found liberation in not knowing. I’m going to be 50 in June, and I’m very, very excited.

For years I have heard from women about how great the 50s are. You finally start relaxing and learning to really enjoy life. You don’t sweat the small stuff. You are in your element sexually. You tell it like it is. The list goes on. I intend to reap all of this and more. But more than anything, my 50s will be an ownership and a celebration of my true, introverted nature.

I can thank Susan Cain for this, in part. Her book, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking has opened my eyes to a “cultural evolution that reached a tipping point around the turn of the 20th century.” America, she says, has shifted from what the influential cultural historian Warren Susman called the Culture of Character (which focused on inner virtue and honor) to a Culture of Personality (which focuses on outer charm, and how others perceive us). In other words, extroversion has become the North American cultural ideal. Today, she says, “we make room for a remarkable narrow range of personality styles….we are told that to be great is to be bold; to be happy is to be sociable.”

But the great thing about this book – I am still reading it – is that it is helping me to see myself in a new light; to “take stock of my talents” as an introvert and to appreciate all the qualities that come with it. Of course, most of us are on a spectrum, so I do have an extroverted side, born of a stronger inner core – but it’s interesting that, when people see that, they can hardly believe there is an introvert buried underneath it, calling all the shots. I have become someone I never thought I would be and frankly, spent much of my life fighting: a deeply sensitive, unconventional outsider who needs substantial alone time in order to assimilate, integrate and refuel.

That makes finding love extraordinarily difficult. I have spent the vast majority of my adult life on my own, outside the bounds of any conventional relationship. Couples who have found happiness in spending most of their days together are foreign to me; I cannot imagine living that kind of life. I have always put passion over domestic love; I am what author Esther Perel calls a “romantic”. Since I don’t get out much, I have been on dating sites, but I find small talk intolerable. I ache for something real – thought provoking, deep discussions that expand my mind, touch my heart, or inspire me to see the world differently. And I aspire to affect others the same way. When this happens, it rocks my world. I treasure it; become hungry, reach for more. But at some point I have to back off, re-group – and none too soon. I need my space, and lots of it. Somehow it makes whatever was shared mean that much more.

I know there are other people like me out there, but finding them is another matter. Intimacy with someone you trust and have chemistry with is a gift. But so is a connection with self. The life I have chosen, the solitude I have had – it has, many times, been lonely, but I would rather be lonely alone than lonely in a relationship. And it has taught me a lot about independence. I suspect, if I were ever challenged by the prospect of an ongoing, long term relationship, I’d have to learn how to do it. Learn how to “do” a relationship. Maybe I’ll get lucky. Maybe I’ll find someone who needs time alone as much as I do.

Or maybe not. Either way, I want my 50s to be a time when it all starts coming together; of coming home to my destiny, and living in harmony with all my core values. Cultivating a rich, inner life, I think, is what helps make that possible.