I spent this morning getting reacquainted with myself. On the suggestion of a friend, I looked up Susan Cain’s Manifesto for introverts… for anyone, really, but it’s a view that’s especially relevant to introverts like me. The link to the whole creed is http://www.thepowerofintroverts.com/sixteen-things-i-believe/ but I’ll reflect here on a couple of her points:
11. It’s OK to cross the street to avoid making small talk.
Or, in my case, to cross three aisles or six at Costco, dropping tuna and heading for electric corkscrews or hand drills on the other side of the store. But the self-talk that has nearly always accompanied that move for me is something like Good god, Jan, what is wrong with you? You’re pathetic.
And just maybe that person I’m dodging would feel the same energy suck trying to converse with me—someone that she, also, has felt no reason to contact in two years. And maybe avoiding the small talk, we both leave Costco with a little more energy for ourselves or for the people who add meaning to our lives, or for the project that came to us while we were tooling around in electronics. Maybe we both leave without the deflation of pretense. Maybe.
13. If the task of the first half of life is to put yourself out there, the task of the second half is to make sense of where you’ve been.
Where I’ve been… Do I begin with my life as a 20-something Baptist missionary and the quiet letting go of religious institution that followed? Or my life as a 30-40- something wife and mother that had me no less bound to cultural expectation and the letting go of tradition that guided me to 50? For me, I don’t think this cycle of putting yourself out there and making sense is so easily divided into first and second halves of life. Rather, it happens in waves of lifting and falling and lifting again. And falling, albeit sometimes unpleasant, is rarely an out-of-control plummet—but a falling out of and into new understanding, before some new experience creates a lift. Naturally, there’s overlap.
I remember six or seven years ago, sitting in a Bonnie Raitt concert at Red Rocks with my husband to the left of me and a lesbian couple to my right. Despite this love of music we shared—that he gave me, to be honest—we’d reached an impasse that I didn’t yet understand. I only watched, as best I could, through the corner of my right eye. And in that limited view, I saw a touching and tenderness that I knew, even as my husband and I sat gently tapping and rocking, we didn’t feel—hadn’t felt.
I’d begun, by then, to imagine relationships with women, but it was all too easy to chalk those feelings up to an unhappy marriage—especially considering the feelings hadn’t been there until sometime around 40. So, as is typical of me, I analyzed and peeled back the parts that I could see (no ambiguity allowed), to the bottom-line justification for divorce: joy was gone and not likely to come back around. I would divorce and these feelings would go away.
I did, and they didn’t.
Given that this is a blog and not a novel, I’m going to give in to brevity and fast forward a bit. I’m now in the lift of life’s experiences, sitting at Red Rocks again, in General Admission at intermission between performances of Maroon Five and Train with my new girlfriend. We’ve touched and danced and chatted and kissed and now looking through an app on her iPhone, identify the stars and constellations above us, when a man behind us says something that I miss.
“Did you hear that?” she whispered.
“That guy behind us… he said, ‘I wanna see what those lesbians are seeing.’”
Would that he could—that anyone could. We were lifting into a sweet passion that, I suspect, would give any observer pause.
But for reasons I alluded to in an earlier post, it couldn’t age as we’d dreamed. And sitting with a somewhat premature heartbreak, I’m for a month now with this beast in me that wants things final and concrete… that wants no more tears for a relationship that lasted only 15 months. And, to my mind, the brevity of the relationship just doesn’t justify the reflective second half… the slow and purposeful making sense.
Really, Jan? Thirty plus years of heterosexual relationships then finding genuine passion with a woman for the first time at 49–that doesn’t warrant a little reflective space?
Apparently not. And thinking that the quickest way to get over someone is to replace them, I went on Match.com, exactly where I met her some sixteen months ago. A couple weeks earlier at a book club, talking about Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild, I’d wondered aloud about the propensity of our culture to medicate so as not to experience the gut wrenching depths of our feelings and whether or not disallowing ourselves those experiences doesn’t also disallow us the chance to arrive at some richer, more meaningful reality, yet here I was, taking the Match.com pill. For a couple days it was an unpleasant distraction, but a distraction nonetheless. But Match is wicked in its methods and her profile picture sits there at the bottom of a list of “connections.” The caption beside her picture reads, “You favorited her 491 days ago.” Then in another tab under the picture, “Find more like her.” I could hit delete, if only I could. Instead, a few days ago, I hit the tab and got this message: “Sorry, we didn’t find any other matches like yogi… . yogi is truly unique.” I stared at it for a minute then collected a defense: I bet that’s true of half these women, and I began hitting the same tab on other women. The first turned up 112 matches, the second, 73, third, 141, next, 172…
Yogi is unique. And so is my life and the brief part of it that I spent with her. Maybe in the big picture, the time shows up only as a ripple and not a wave at all, but I’ve decided it gets the time that it needs, and I won’t know how much time that is until the tide makes its quiet, inevitable shift.
For anyone interested, Susan Cain has an inspiring TED Talk on introversion at
I’ve requested her book, Quiet, for Christmas 🙂