There are people who really enjoy socializing, there are people who merely tolerate it, and there are those who dislike it. I am in the latter category. It’s not that I dislike people, particularly, it’s just that it takes tremendous effort for me to make small talk and be “sociable”. I’m not socially awkward, or anything, and am pretty personable when I put my mind to it. But that’s the issue…I spend my workdays with my professional face on, and the last thing I want to do with my leisure time is put on my sociable face. I want to relax and be myself. And there is a very small circle of people around whom I’m comfortable doing that, and (more importantly) whom are comfortable around me in that mode.
You see, my basic nature is that I’m a surly, sarcastic curmudgeon. I feel that being myself in “socializing” situations is not appropriate, so I have to sort of tone it down and be a bit more sociable, and this takes effort and concentration, so socializing is not relaxing for me in any way. Now, my family knows me and understands that with them I’m all bark and no bite, and don’t take any of my curmudgeonliness seriously (because it’s not meant seriously).
Alone <> Lonely
Also, when I’m not with my close circle of friends/family, I’m very comfortable with my own company. I *like* solitude. In fact, when I’m not with my inner circle, I prefer to be by myself. I know that there are people who are energized and recharged by spending time with people, but I am the opposite. I find time alone to be soothing and rejuvenating, and time spent with non-close friends and acquaintances to be a draining chore. That’s not a reflection in any way on people in general, and does not indicate that I find the individuals themselves to be draining chores. It’s just that I will invariably prefer to spend my time with my inner circle or alone rather than with someone with whom I am not close.
You see, I have come to the conclusion that my available time is divided between four primary categories – Career, Life Maintenance, Family/Leisure Time, and Social Obligations.
Career – I spend a lot of time on my career, but I am fortunate in that I can bring a fair portion of it home and do not have to be chained to my desk to be effective. And in our house there is a routine that the time after work is sort of unstructured, but most evenings includes the whole family at the dining table working on stuff at a sort of a low-intensity, while also interacting and playing things by ear. So, the work at home doesn’t consist of being locked away working intensely and hoping to not be “disturbed”. After-work time is a bouillabaisse of working, talking, watching TV, cleaning, playing with the dogs, kanoodling, kibbitzing, knoshing, etc. So, the nice thing about my career is that I can work hard at it without abandoning my family life.
Life Maintenance – Life Maintenance is stuff like cleaning, cooking, home repairs, paying bills, haircuts, yard work, renewing driver’s licenses, getting the car inspected, grocery shopping, doctor/dentist visits, etc. Trust me when I tell you that I expend the minimum amount of time on these activities as is humanly possible while still *having* a life to maintain.
Family/Leisure time – This is the category that I try to maximize, while still having a career and a life that’s organized enough to be livable. However, I *have* to do the first two (Career, Life Maintenance) to be able to have Family/Leisure time. We don’t have a lavish lifestyle, but neither are we independently wealthy. we have to earn our own money, and we can’t afford to pay others to organize our life.
Social Obligations – So, after all of the above, the “Social Obligation” category gets the short shrift from me. The combination of being low on my priority list plus being something that I do not enjoy means that I spend as little time as possible on Social Obligations. Now, Mynagirl and TheGIRL are both more social than I am, so we compromise on a mutually acceptable amount of socializing, but it’s not something that I seek to do on my own.
We Are Family
Most importantly, I love every moment I spend with my wife and daughter, and prefer spending time with them over just about anything else in this world. And that is not a canned platitude for this column, that’s the literal truth. I like playing golf, but not enough to give up 1/4 of my precious weekend time away from my family on a regular basis. I like going to the movies, but it’s only worth it to me if it’s a family activity. In fact, I can’t comprehend people who feel the need to “get away” from their families, for some reason. How sad that must be. Nothing makes me happier than having unstructured, footloose time at home.
For example, over Christmas we spent hours playing poker, which Mynagirl and The G-I-R-L are just learning, and we had a blast. We played for chips, not money, and spent the whole time talking and laughing and joking and just being together. I cannot think of any way to spend my time that I would enjoy more than just being with them playing cards (or doing whatever).
My Blind Spot
I know it’s not a zero-sum game where you either spend time solely with your inner circle or you are a social butterfly. I’m sure there are people who feel exactly like I do about their close friends and family, but then also enjoy socializing with semi-strangers (for lack of a better term). And that’s something I just cannot comprehend. I mean, I know people who like sushi, which I loathe, but I can understand them liking it, because it’s fresh and clean and healthy and interesting.
But I cannot fathom the desire to spend time with semi-strangers. If I could interview a social butterfly, I’d have so many questions. How can you possibly care about the stories or problems or opinions of semi-strangers? You socialize with them for the most random of reasons, such as they work in your office, or hang out at the same bar, or belong to the same gym, or live in your neighborhood. Are you so desperate for companionship or attention that the company of Random Person Number #37 is fulfilling? Are you so non-selective that these random people seem like good friend-candidates simply because they are right there in front of you?
”You know, Bob sits in the cube right next to mine. Gosh, I hope he’ll be best man at my wedding!”insert names of people whose names you won’t even remember in five years
“Hey, Mary gets her nails done at the same shop as me. I should tell her all the true feelings that I keep inside and don’t tell my husband or family!”
“Well, I know that I’ve been working late all week, and haven’t seen my family, but I think I’d like to spend Saturday golfing with .”
“My wife is feeling a little self-conscious about her weight lately. I think I’ll respond to that by sneaking off to a strip club with my Neanderthal friends.”
“Jane lives in the same building as me. That fills me with such strong feelings of sisterhood that I know we’ll be friends forever!”
Now, those are slightly over-simplified exaggerations, but only slightly. To me, the actions of social butterflies basically look like the above. Suffice it to say that I don’t understand what drives social butterflies, and I’m old enough and set enough in my thoughts and ways that I never will.
All of the above being said, I do have one point of clarification – if you are new in your town or single or just looking for a new set of friends, I totally understand wanting to socialize and mingle and try new folks on for size. The things I am talking about here don’t apply to people in that situation. What I don’t understand is people who HAVE close friends and HAVE a family and a full life but STILL willfully choose to make the time to regularly socialize with semi-strangers.
What it comes down to for me is that I find peace, rejuvenation, and joy from being with a small circle of close friends and family. My inner-circle is my sanctuary, where everybody knows my name (and my game), and where I feel completely safe, completely fulfilled, and completely happy. Anything else (less) is simply in the way of me having my life. Socializing with semi-strangers is a chore to be dispensed with as quickly as possible so that I can get back to my real life with my close friends and family. I’ll never be a politician, a cruise director, a game show host, or a party planner, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.