Wednesday, October 30, 2013

On Shyness, Travel, and Extroversion

When I was first getting to know my husband-to-be on our tour from Illinois to Oregon, I remarked offhandedly that I’m really shy. Shocked, Zachary replied, “You’re the least shyest person I know!”

This was a revelation to me, although it shouldn’t have been. I considered what he said. I realized that the entire trip, I had been ridiculously extroverted, especially when I’d noticed (with much gleeful hand-rubbing) that he was shy. My desire to befriend him made me chase him like a lion after a gazelle, pestering him with question upon question and sharing all about myself. 

As I thought back to my other travels, I realized that this was always how I acted on the road. I wanted to talk to everyone; I wanted to hear their stories. I wanted to talk about the weather and culture and history of where they come from. I wanted to hear about their families and talk about mine. I wanted to know what they believe about God and religion and morality. I wanted to know their passions, their favorite food, their travel adventures. On all my trips, I was anything but shy!

Yet at home, both then and now, I all too often dissolve into the silent girl squirming under someone’s attentive gaze, avoiding eye contact and trying very hard to keep my hands still— as I have done almost my entire life.

A combination of my parents’ hard work, some friends pursuing me in my awkward teenage years, and drama class coaxed me out of my initial shell. I learned that I didn’t have to be shy around strangers. I often overcompensated and seemed eager to the point of maniacal attention. But I preferred to be seen as annoying rather than unnoticeable, because I find people fascinating.

Travel is the perfect construct for meeting new people and having intense conversations, whether it’s the girl you’re volunteering with, the guy you meet at the hostel, or the random lady walking her dog in your sightseeing town. Almost everyone is willing to talk to you if you’re from out of town.

At home, those constructs go away. My fearless travel persona starts to melt at the edges. I forget to make eye contact with the Walmart clerk. I stutter and stare at the floor. I stand in the corner at a party, oddly exhausted at the thought of trying to initiate a conversation. 

Over and over, I’ve tried to figure out the difference between people I don’t know on the road and people I don’t know at home. I haven’t been able to figure it out yet. 

So if I see you in person and I seem stiff or awkward— or if I’m way too extroverted and up in your face— please forgive me. It’s a delicate balance, and staying on that tightrope is proving to be much, much harder than I expected.


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