Ever observe middle-aged adults hang out with their parents? Ever take notice how parents and their grown-up children seem to have a similar gait, talking style and repertoire of gestures? Ever think to yourself: That’s not gonna happen to me. I’m different, my own person.
Sooner or later, inevitably we become our parents. I’m convinced. Nature appears to overpower nurture. Oftentimes it’s a slow erosion, a gradual undoing of all the hard work we do over the decades through deep introspection, character-building exercises and the voracious consumption of self-help books.
My mom is an extrovert. She feeds off human interactions. The more, the better. Yap, yap, yap all day and night and never tire. This fuels her. My father was a confirmed introvert. He’d spend quiet time alone reading, organizing, fiddling with this or that and cleaning the pool. And only after a long stint of solitude, would he be ready to re-join the ranks of the human race.
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I always fancied myself a social butterfly and loved people. I had a lot of friends growing up and assumed to be more like my popular mother, a bona fide friend-magnet.
But as I get older and invest years in my private sacred world of writing, I realize what I most enjoy is learning about myself, about different people’s lives, and connecting with others on a profound level. Not socializing per se, or making small talk.
However, when 2pm rolls around and I’ve got to pick up my sprightly bunch from school, my trained psyche obediently transitions from Dad to Mom. The shifting of gears from this deadpan silence to wanton noisiness skyrockets me out of my introspective state of mind.
Swinging from one extreme to another: from Dad to Mom, from introvert to extrovert, from serenity to chaos, feels unnatural, yet becomes irreversible once it’s taken effect.
Because once I’ve accepted my loud fate with five kids in tow, I’m poised to mingle, and on the prowl, craving adult conversation via face-to-face interactions or long-winded phone calls.
Problem is that my social skills are lacking and rusty and way out of whack.
Like my father often did before me, in an untempered eagerness to emerge from my cocoon and connect with others, I end up sticking my flat bony foot in my mouth.
Four is the number of times this past week that I did this. And I feel terrible because my careless unfiltered tongue belies my good intentions. (Ironically, I’ve had one of the most productive weeks of writing in months. Don't you notice the positive correlation between writing productivity and social ineptitude?)
I remember burying my head in the sand each time Dad belted out some corny compliment where he'd over-praise a friend he hadn’t seen in ages or he'd embarrass himself with irrelevant blather. He always seemed a tad uncomfortable as he struggled to regain his composure.
And now the same phenomenon is happening to me. In the long hours I spend holed up in quiet isolation, stuck inside my world of words, I realize that I’ve become a lot like him, an accidental misfit--tongue-tied, awkward, reclusive and momentarily self-unaware.
But as Socrates says, it’s important to know thyself. Because I realize that my entire life until now has been a lie; a long-established-introvert-in-denial---I took a litany of online assessments of which the results unanimously screamed incurable introvert---I’ve been forever-disguising myself (and selling myself) as a cool, affable extrovert.
I guess my genetic destiny could no longer be squashed, and finally caught up to me.
Finding this true self after forty is both liberating and life-affirming.
And it feels so good to know it and accept it and try to learn to work with the cards I’ve been dealt.