Alright, so I have a confession: despite my peddling around early adulthood, adamantly screeching into the ears of anyone who will listen that “I. AM. AN. I N T R O V E R T”, I might not be. Or, rather, not… entirely.
You see, I went to a party this year–a few, actually–and, contrary to every piece of intel I’ve gathered trying to pin my identity down, I actually enjoyed them…(?)
Aside from their almost exclusive attendance by bare-skin gays, nothing about these parties stood out as obviously special or extravagant to me. I witnessed no fireworks, no flashing lights or pulsing dance floors–just a few of us lounging around, heads bobbing to music as we chatted in the amber-dimmed light.
The first of these parties fell in the dead of winter. I was invited by a friend of a friend (of a friend, maybe?) and knew almost no one. Looking back, I’m genuinely perplexed why I agreed to go in the first place. I’m the type of person who, if given the opportunity, will choose to lock my front door at 5:30 p.m. only to slink into the darkest crevasses of my bedroom, put on a record, pull my tarot cards from my bookcase, and not make another peep until well into the following afternoon*. The Salt Lake Valley had just been thrashed by the season’s first real snowstorm (you can thank that asshole climate change for withholding it until halfway through January) and the underprepared roads were an icy mess. The night pleaded for me to stay in, slinging shards of ice at my window with a ferocious desperation I’ve only seen in the messiest of breakups (it’s me with that ferocious desperation, to clarify). I can’t recall what dark magic surged through me that night to rip me from the warmth of my bed (my personal, scientific conclusion is voodoo), but I followed that strange impulse, packing on the vital extra layers, weathering the insane winter roads, and managing not to face a rightfully deserved, untimely death by arriving to the party tastefully late.
Despite my dire lack of significant familiarity with anyone there, I floated seamlessly from group to group (after, of course, taking a necessary hit of a magic plant matter I won’t directly name to keep things mysterious**). Inexplicably, everyone was either topless or pantless, but never both (unless they were buck naked, which accounted for a higher percentage than I’m comfortable admitting). The group in attendance funneled in from various day jobs, from finance students to artists, retail managers to interior designers, entrepreneurs, and nannies. A few fully-clothed individuals scattered the room (myself included) and so I gravitated to them like homing beacons, trying my hardest to avoid the waves of internal shame all those perfect abs were sure to unleash, eventually introducing myself with a cute little jig. (Before you ask: yes. I mean this literally, unfortunately–after sneaking up on my unsuspecting victims, I pointed my fingers in aggressive succession while pseudo-grape-vining, sing-speaking I’m Addisooooooooon WHO are YOUUUUUU?!) Of course, thanks to the enchanted spinach haze, my targets hooted at my careless display and goofily returned the favor, allowing me to take in their response bright eyed and big eared. To my surprise, these silly introductions unfolded into genuinely interesting, personal conversations, opening up to include party-goers at all levels of dress.
Wading through this previously uncharted territory I’ll label “not feeling like a complete alien in a dark room full of attractive gay men,” I leveled up my sociability meter, reaching point of social comfort I didn’t know I was programmed for. With my walls effectively down, I morphed into a human magnet for very personal disclosures. If I believed in the concept of TMI, the idea that human connection or self-exposure is somehow quantifiable and therefore able to have too much, the conversations I had with these men could have easily filled, like, thirty cases of whatever the hell classifies as an “ample” amount of information (AAoI). Seriously, you wouldn’t believe the things they confided in me. At one point I found myself cornered, lounging on a chaise somewhere in the outskirts of the main room as, one by one, a cycle of guys flocked to my side, telling me their life stories and unleashing some demons along the way. I sat there for maybe 45 minutes before I recognized what was happening, but instead of resisting the onslaught to go and have fun like everyone else, I accepted what I had become: [a human diary-THINK OF SOMETHING FUNNIER]. For the sake of time and privacy (and an admittedly foggy memory of any and all specifics), I won’t get into the details, but I will say this: connecting so earnestly and honestly with friends, both new and old, is ELECTRIFYING.
Granted, I did have the help of a light inebriation to loosen my joints, but things wear down, and a few hours in I was sober as a pup, yet entirely dedicated to that connection. I left the party bubblier and more energized than when I arrived, and more ever would have expected.
That night made such a mark on me that, lo and behold, I came around again in April with (mostly) the same group–and then AGAIN at the beginning of this month, providing these new friends with my lighthearted facsimile of discount therapy.
Now, at the risk of coming off as a soulless wench, I do feel an obligation to point out that this group of attractive, well-to-do, SLC-based gay men is not my “tribe”. I hesitate to suggest I even have a tribe because a) that term might be a little culturally insensitive for taste and b) I’m almost always the lone wolf (again, insensitive?). While I’ve been warmly accepted into the LGBTQ+ since I came out at 17, I’ve struggled to “fit in” with those most like me–gay men. There are only two points on Addison’s friendship spectrum: incredibly, unbelievably close friend and confidante or some peripheral, vague acquaintance. Unfortunately, most gay men fall into the latter category. The idea of casual, “weekend” or “sometimes” friends is painfully foreign. I’m either all in–sharing every intimate detail and showcasing my entire, labyrinthine range of emotions–or I connect/relate/empathize from afar, struggling to muster the energy to socialize.
So the fact that I not only attended these outings but enjoyed them–and so casually at that–holds some significance.
Like everyone else, I’m a deeply layered, wildly complex individual, so of course labeling myself as an “introvert” absolutely is a messy, broad generalization. Personalities are fluid, and almost constantly in flux. Though I’m biased, mine feels a titch more amorphous and malleable than most–it comes with the territory of my anxious, scattered brain, I guess. When I change settings or interact with different people, I’m bound to present a little differently, and that might just be a pillar of my identity.
So that’s on me. I shouldn’t assume personality is constant. But that isn’t what confuses me so much about the situation. I’m well aware of my shifting personality, and it’s totally within my internal parameters to act outside expectation. What gets me is this: in my twenty-three years on this earth, I’ve never come to enjoy large, dark, and loud social gatherings so why are they suddenly so… tolerable? Have I changed, fundamentally, as a person? Or should I just chalk it up to these parties being some perfect storm of tolerability?
Though I’m generally uncomfortable with the label (because, at least on the Internet, people use it as some weird social currency to prove moral superiority), I’d consider myself an empath–that is, I feel things deeply and tap into other’s emotional energies easily. I’m quick to connect with people, almost to a fault. My introversion, then, is largely fabricated as a defense against all that connection–taking on the energy of too many people can be exhausting. Retreating into the deepest corners of my home–like a sick cat nearing the end of her life–was self-taught early in life.
Strangely, it was when I embraced the empath in me that I found a sense of comfort in those loud, over-populated rooms. By releasing my flinch from that pressing anxiety mingling induces, I opened myself to the beautiful intricacies and intimacies of some pretty wonderful people.
The common response I offer when people ask why I spend so much time alone is cynical, full of resentment. I roll my eyes: I just haaaaaaate peopleeeeeee. I’m realizing now that couldn’t be more false. I love people–am fascinated by them–and sparking a genuine connection with another person is one of the most thrilling, euphoric experiences I can name. These connections, more often than not, energize me. The trouble lies where that connection isn’t made, when I fail to forge that magical bond with someone I’m interacting with. When this happens, it seems some suffocating protective shell shoots up from beneath me, and suddenly I struggle to act comfortably myself.
From that point, my interaction becomes performative–I downgrade into something slightly off, duller than my typical self, like the Malt-O-Meal version of Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries. Rather than continuing on, relating and sharing the disparate, rad little nuances that, together, form me, I withdraw and cling to what can be easily seen and digested by strangers. When I could be gushing about the goopy cloud of emotion Sheila Heti’s “Motherhood” left me in or grilling a person with impeccably soft, insightful queries, I–extremely begrudgingly–spend the rest of the conversation dodging the virulent, agonizing getting-to-know-you questions that people wrongly assume are socially acceptable. You know, the kind of questions with this subtext: “I do not care, so will ask the most vanilla inquiries imaginable–out of politeness for politeness’ sake.” Questions like: “Where do you work?”, “What did you study in school?” or, my personal demon, “What are you going to do with that?”
The weird thing is, some people actually like these kinds of questions, and legitimate, engaging conversation launches off when the answerer makes a snide comment about their alma mater [EXAMPLE] or a lame office-type joke [EXAMPLE]. I am not one of those people. Small talk actually, literally makes my skin boil, my eyes bleed, and my heart shut down. I have such a hard time putting up face or acting agreeable when one of those instant, magical connections isn’t made–there’s no getting to know you hump for me: I either click with you immediately, forging twenty years of familiarity in a few words, or a friendship between us is flagged a lost cause by the end of the first hello.
Now, I’m blissfully aware that I’ve written myself into a bit of a corner… I am raising more questions than I have the patience to answer, and at the end of all this pondering, I’m discovering I might know less now than I did 1400 words ago. However, I will say this: I’ve “clicked” with strangers and acquaintances alike with a staggering frequency in the last year or so. Coincidentally (and as I’ve mentioned elsewhere on the site), over the course of that year I’ve come the closest I’ve ever been to knowing, loving, and accepting myself in all my flawed beauty. I think this sudden “okayness” in social situations stems, at least in part, from that knowledge, love, and acceptance. Now that I’m comfortable skin–something I don’t think I quite understood was possible two years ago–sharing that bright, genuine self loudly and proudly is a lot easier…
My introversion is a defense mechanism, and now that I realize that, I’m watching that facade crumble. In the interest of absolute honesty, I’ll admit, fundamentally, my introverted nature isn’t dissipating (nor is that necessarily a bad thing). I’ll still prefer nights in with my cat, skipping out on family reunions, and avoiding eye contact 90% of the time, but just knowing that socializing doesn’t have to be an entirely life-draining experience will make navigating through my twenties so much more tolerable.
As I continue to get to know myself, it becomes clear just how complex identity is, and how much more layered and multifaceted it becomes in its exploration. For every detail I pick up to inspect, a world of unknowns unfolds underneath it. Even just a year ago, that concept would send a shock of panic down my spine, but now, at least, at this precise moment, I find it inspiring. I don’t think I’ll ever come to a firm conclusion on who I am, but what’s the fun in that anyway?
*not 100% accurate–I’m actually a HUGE fan of talking with myself…
**Okay OKAY–it’s spinach.