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January 11, 2021

Pseudo-Extroverts: How it Feels Being a Wallflower in an Overly Social World.

This one tidbit from my childhood pretty much sums up my life: I was sleeping over a friend’s house, which was around the corner from mine, and I panicked and had to have my mom come to brush my hair because I just wanted to be home and be in my own bed.

While I did go on to successfully execute sleepovers at a variety of friends’ houses, I never ceased wanting to sleep in my own bed. Pretty much a homebody, I spent a lot of time in my room by myself, reading books, playing with my Ariel and Eric dolls, or competing against the computer people in my handheld Wheel of Fortune game.

Certain periods of my life also brought me to appreciate some of the finer things, like magic tricks, Boondoggles, and Lite Brite.

Fast-forward to my middle school years when it was expected that I should want to hang out with a gaggle of girls toting the latest Ralph Lauren Polo Sport purses while we roamed the mall or congregated outside the movie theater.

I had a difficult time understanding why any person needed to collect so many purses that all looked the same. Nevertheless, I went along with it in a constant state of discomfort and fear, not knowing enough to know that I didn’t have to do whatever it was they were doing. At every outing, I couldn’t wait to retreat to the silence and safety of my room where I could peacefully wonder why I was seemingly so different from the rest.

Cue high school when I got a little bit smarter and realized that I didn’t always have to go out and socialize. I was armed with excuses, like the fact that I had soccer practice or a game to attend. Throughout the summer months, my go-to excuse was, “Sorry, no. I’ll be at the shore house.” The shore house was our sanctuary on the water where time seemingly didn’t exist; just the sound of seagulls mewing and tiny waves lapping up against the dock.

With age and a slowly increasing understanding of self, I learned about the concept of pseudo-extroverts, or people who pretend to thrive in social situations, and suddenly it all made sense. Disclaimer: I don’t like to live my life under the confines of these “-trovert” labels, but I do believe that there is an inherent truth behind them because I feel it on a daily basis. I imagine we all do, in some way, shape or form.

Anyway, I didn’t know it at the time, but now I realize that in order to survive those four years, I have to become pretty decent at acting like a social butterfly.

Moving on to college and with a whole new level of independence at my fingertips, I suddenly had to navigate socializing with large groups of complete strangers, sharing a room/bathroom with complete strangers, and the expectation of consistent participation in frat parties on both Thirsty Tuesdays and Thursdays.

I had friends, but I also chose to hole up in my room—a lot. Gone were the days of my pseudo-social-butterflyness. While I silently struggled with depression during my first year away at school, I gained weight, withdrew from people who could help me to instead participate in unhealthy relationships, and I generally just didn’t like myself.

Thanks to the concepts of fate and MySpace, I connected with a familiar face and kind human during my second year. We went to high school together, but never really talked at the time.

Before I knew it, I was in a wonderful relationship with someone who understood and accepted me. I’m almost certain he doesn’t know this, but he was the reason I became okay. He gave me confidence and showed me happiness. He helped me get to a place where, for the first time, I felt it was okay to really be me and not have to pretend.

However, before I was in this relationship, I had decided that I was going to sit down at my parents’ dinner table one night and tell them that I wanted to spend a semester studying abroad in Australia.

At that time, the only places I had traveled to were Disney World, an all-inclusive resort in the Bahamas, an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic, and a handful of other states on the East Coast for things like skiing, visiting family, or soccer tournaments.

So why would someone who A) did not have much travel experience, B) yearned for her own bed/the serenity of her own room, and C) was not good at making small talk with strangers want to travel alone to the other side of the world for six months? Especially now that she was in a loving, healthy relationship?

Well, part of the story is that I was walking down the hallway that housed the Study Abroad office and saw pamphlets for a bunch of different countries and I grabbed the Australia one. The other part of the story is a major truth bomb—the real, honest-to-whatever-God-exists truth that I don’t think I’ve ever said out loud—and that is that I decided to study abroad during the fall semester of my junior year because that meant I would leave in July, and I wouldn’t have to spend the summer at home, as it would have been the first summer in my entire life that I wouldn’t have the shore house as an escape.

The thought of having to spend the summer at home, faking friendships, and concocting constant excuses was enough to send me running to the other side of the world.

It was my first really huge, life-altering, actionable step toward following through on the escapism tendencies that I possess.

Long story short, I ended up going to Australia with one other person from my school who became my travel buddy and my saving grace. He did all the extroverting that came so naturally to him with the other socially adept people, who seemed to be outnumbering me no matter where I went.

Despite struggling with homesickness, I absolutely loved Australia. I went bungee jumping and skydiving while we traveled the southern island of New Zealand and explored the east coast Down Under, complete with a three-day scuba/sailing trip through the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef. I was officially infected with the travel bug.

Once I started working full-time and saved some money, I took little trips to satisfy my newfound wanderlust and went to places like Jackson Hole, Savannah, San Diego, and Chicago. I loved the adventures and the wonderment of being in a different place.

Despite my love for my bedroom, my mind was constantly creating an entirely new life everywhere I went. At the time, I was still living with my parents, had been through a few different jobs in search of what I wanted to do with my life, and was no longer in the aforementioned relationship when “round two of escapism” hit me like a brick.

This time, I decided on a one-way ticket to Cambodia to teach English. This time, I was really going alone, without a token extrovert to do the dirty work. This time, there was intense culture shock. And this time, there was a new language to learn.

So I went, got my Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certificate, taught some adorable kids, met some pretty cool people, faced a lot of fears, and went on some amazing Southeast Asian adventures.

Unlike high school, though, I was not a social pretender anymore, which caused some internal conflict. Part of me didn’t feel the need to pretend, which was due in part to the fact that I was older and more confident, but the other part of me felt like I should be “more fun.” The problem with that notion was that I was having fun, it just wasn’t the outward type of fun that the majority of people thought I should be having.

It wasn’t until I got to know one of the kindest people I have ever met in real life and the first person who made me feel not so alone that I realized I was good to keep on keeping on the way I wanted. Rachel and I were freakishly similar in so many ways, and I was like, OMG. I finally made a friend on the same wavelength as me, and I only had to wait 27 years and travel to Cambodia to meet her.

I am a firm believer that people come into our lives purposefully. They come at a certain time, for a specific amount of time, and for a reason. While Rachel and I were gallivanting around Cambodia and Thailand, it was so validating to know there was someone else with me who also needed to be alone a lot and that it was okay to want to go back to our hostel after a long day of adventuring and read a book or write a blog post rather than drink with the ladyboys until sunrise.

Up until that point, I thought I was a little crazy and almost felt guilty for wanting all these adventures while simultaneously wanting to be alone. I’ve been called weird numerous times throughout my life thus far, and I spent a majority of that time half-believing it.

I know I’m not weird. I just wasn’t surrounding myself with the right people for me. I also realize now that it’s okay to want to travel while wanting to be alone, at least until I find “my people.”

I was so drawn to traveling once I got a taste of it because it opened my eyes to the limitless possibilities that exist for me to do whatever I want and be whatever I want wherever I want, so long as those “whatevers” make me happy.

But really, isn’t that what traveling is about? Not just the action adventures or the sightseeing or the people or the food, but the experience you make for yourself. To this day, the thought of having to interact with strangers or make polite, small talk with randoms is enough to make me fall back into a scaled-down version of escapism mode, but people aren’t so bad when you surround yourself with the right ones for you, doing things that bring you joy.

I’m not a social butterfly, but I’m allowed to want adventures. With each year that passes, I am yearning more and more for a quiet cabin somewhere on a lake in New Zealand or in a seaside town in Nova Scotia or in a mountain town in Switzerland. I could write and take pictures and drink coffee and go for long hikes.

I want all the adventures, but I want them my way.

~

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Jackie Swierc  |  Contribution: 220

author: Jackie Swierc

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Editor: Elyane Youssef