Every morning as we cross the school parking lot on the way to our goodbye kiss spot, my daughters and I pass a group of moms chatting, laughing and cooing over a couple of babies in strollers.
I see them every morning and every afternoon. I know these women, and I like them. We attend parent council meetings and plan fundraisers together, we’re neighbours and our kids know each other.
But I’m not in the club.
I don’t seek out other moms every morning to stand and sip travel mug coffee long after the bell, when the kids have gone inside. I marvel at the fact that no one’s in a hurry, no one is rushing off. They’re just enjoying each other’s company, and it seems to come as naturally as putting on pants.
I wave, they wave and everyone is friendly but it’s clear that I’m not in the club.
I’d love to say it’s because these women cold or unfriendly, but they’re not; they’re lovely. I’d love to say there’s something wrong with them, that it’s not my fault. But it is. I’ve been welcomed into our school community with open arms, but I’m still not part of the club.
Admittedly they’ve known each other for a long time. Their kids, most a few years older than mine, have grown up together. These families have lived in our neighborhood for more than a decade. Together they’ve witnessed change and development, comings and goings, the good and the bad.
But it’s not about how long anyone of us has lived here. It’s about me. I’m not part of the club because everything about the club scares me, and every part of my body screams ‘please don’t ask me to be part of your club.’ I’m crap at small talk and making new friends. I’d rather go home and sit quietly with my coffee and my cat, and I’m pretty sure it shows.
Call it introverted, call it anti-social, call it whatever you want. I accept that being this way means I am opening myself up to judgment and criticism. And I know I’m missing out. I’m not saying ‘this is me, take it or leave it,’ this is simply an acknowledgement of who I am and what I’m capable of. I’ve tried being someone else and it never works.
A good friend once told me that her first impressions of me were that I was chilly and aloof. At first I was surprised and horrified but soon came to understand where she was coming from. My shyness and insecurity can come off as disinterest. I don’t want to have to decline an invitation (that I’ll probably cancel last-minute) so I don’t join the group. I don’t want to be asked to do more, share more, invest more, be more, so I stay away. (This also helps me maintain the illusion that I’ve got my shit together, which is a nice side benefit.)
‘She seems nice,’ I imagine people saying. ‘But not overly friendly. Maybe she’s just really busy.’ Yup, super busy over here. Gonna go home and scrub the coffee pot before I fold some underwear and take a nap.
Of course I join in when there isn’t an easy alternative (and because invisibility cloaks are, sadly, not yet sold on Amazon). But I do it out of obligation, not desire. This doesn’t mean I’m not interested. I genuinely care about what’s going on in people’s lives and I’d be the first one to reach out if help was needed. But here’s the thing: I won’t know if help is needed because no one will think to tell me, because they think I’m not interested.
If you don’t know me well, you might think this is all very weird because I can confidently address a gym full of parents on winter concert night, and, in a former professional life, my job included speaking live in front of 20,000 people. I don’t look like someone who’s terrified of other humans. Together with my husband—a seemingly extroverted public figure who would rather perform his own vasectomy than talk to strangers—people usually assume we are as genuinely chatty and outgoing as we seem to be when we have to be.
Being trapped inside this introverted, socially awkward paradox is like having a category five hurricane inside your head at all times. You know that saying, ‘not my circus, not my monkeys?’ Well it is my circus, those are my monkeys and those little bastards are high on meth, swinging a hundred miles an hour from the ceiling fan inside my brain.
So when I pass you in the school yard, rushing through the rain and hurrying to and fro like I have something to do (coffee pot) and somewhere to be (kitchen sink), please know that my smile, my hello and my wave are truly genuine. It is nice to see you and I do want to you have a good day. I can’t be part of your club, but it’s not because I don’t want to.