There is a very big difference between shyness and reticence. I’m not at all shy. I am so obnoxiously forward that I embarrass people. I myself don’t embarrass easily because I’m acutely unaware in the first place. (Everyone who knows me in real life is vigorously nodding.)
Reticence is “a lack of willingness or desire to do or accept something” according to Merriam-Webster. If I am reticent about something like joining in a convo or going somewhere with a group, it has a lot more to do with being able to see a long list of disastrous consequences from blown off misunderstandings and me becoming agitated, if not severely pissed (making whatever problems arise much worse since I’m not good at real time feels), and has absolutely nothing to do with anything shyness is automatically connected to. Shyness is about being too aware of peers and an inward difficulty with handling one’s own feels about other people’s possible feels, maybe even a sort of dread. The only thing I dread is coming to my senses with bloody skin in my mouth. I’ll believe I’m simply explaining something and the recipient will feel shredded and never be friends with me again.
Over the last 5 years since I’ve come back out public, I’ve been invited to several introvert groups and lumped into the ‘shy’ thing multiple times, based solely on minimal observations, leaps to conclusions, and shortcut explanations. I know it’s difficult for some to understand that jumping to a word like ‘shy’ as a shortcut for ‘extremely reticent about commitment to interaction that I know could turn sour with me as the bad guy’ makes me kinda crabby because it automatically denotes a whole slew of behaviorisms not like me at all, but there we go, for lack of better verbiage in a quick way, what the hell, I’m shy.
The truth is that I am a stupid person. Really stupid. And I’m not shy at all about owning this. In fact, I think it’s crucial to understanding why I’m NOT shy. My social intelligence quotient (the capability to effectively navigate and negotiate complex social relationships and environments), called an SQ, is so bad that I constantly misinterpret not just social signals, but everything being said in the actual words because typical humans don’t use words logically but emotionally. Most people have an inbuilt translator that interprets all the incoming into how one should behave in response. Basically, a bunch of happy bubbly people on a road trip will have gone silent long before they’ve dropped me off, and I usually won’t have a clue why.
As far as I can tell, it begins with me not behaving properly, and they receive the wrong signals from me. If I’m not bubbling along with a bubbly group, they automatically think something is wrong. If I’m being quiet, someone might think I don’t like them or I’m not having a good time. If a brave soul tries to interpret FOR ME to the group without having any kind of real clue, I’ll become hostile without even realizing it, and I’ve been told I even scare people, which confused me for years because I’ve heard this even when I didn’t feel angry or raise my voice in any way. I think it’s because I can twist blunt truth through emotional guts like a hot knife through butter and completely miss the empathy part while I’m doing it. It usually hits me a few days later and I quietly die in a corner all alone facepalming, because by then it’s usually long beyond repair.
This is my point of view on how humans see things. Apologies to the friend I’m using as an example, but it’s spot on. A dog can be really cute tilting its head and looking at you funny. Personally, I don’t see ‘cute’ when I look at animals. I grew up with animals and can read them very well. So a person sent me a pic one day of a dog and was all awww, and I was like are you sure the dog is feeling ok? And sure enough, within the hour the dog puked big time. Why I was able to get that from a picture, and a person living with the dog couldn’t see it?
If humans can misinterpret a pet, they can certainly misinterpret me. A glance at a person doesn’t mean anything unless you really know that person. You cannot tell by looking at someone or by how they’re behaving whether they are suffering something inside that you can’t see. I worked retail for years, and many people go shopping to relieve stress. You never know when a person is hiding fear of a dental appointment, or sadness and dread about an upcoming funeral, maybe even just lost a baby, and when they snap at you in a check out or return line, you can’t assume they are always hateful and mean like that. Well, you can, you can assume all the shallow you want.
Deep down we are all hiding something. When I am surrounded by bubbly people, I don’t for one second believe they are happy just because they are bubbly. I don’t believe they aren’t shy just because they’re behaving like they’re not. I believe the quickness to judge the outer cover is an automatic defense mechanism that most people don’t even realize they are utilizing to justify their own points of view on how they think something in the world around them should be. Many people behave in response to perceived peer pressure, real or imagined, and go along with the bubbly bit because they’re supposed to. I don’t think most people are even cognizant of this process, stepping into rhythm with others like that. I’m very aware of it because I don’t seem to have the wherewithal to get into step in the first place.
I don’t pretend well. I don’t play ‘happy’ to an audience very well. I can’t keep up the tone, the rhythm, and the banter and still keep up with the convo. That doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying the convo. That doesn’t mean I’m shy about talking. That only means I have a cognitive disability to juggle all the eggs in a social situation without dropping any. I could care less what someone thinks of this, and it doesn’t hurt my feelings at all to be the auntie on the fringe, but I cringe when I hear “she’s shy”. I especially hate when it backfires and full attention turns on me to oh don’t be shy we won’t hurt you. That has really happened. The irony is how close they come to a tiger claw in the ol’ jugular when that happens.
If I quietly sit on the side of a convo, believe me, I am enjoying the people doing the talking. If I weren’t, like if I were bored or not interested, I’d be gone really fast. I don’t hang in there for chatter I’m not interested in. I actually miss a lot of chatter I *am* interested in because I can’t keep up with all that. My incoming pile for ‘talking’ lasts about an hour, tops. After that, nothing makes sense any more because my real time starts lagging and skipping. When that starts happening, I tend to drop off because it doesn’t make sense trying to be polite going drrrdrrr in my brain. That’s not a reflection on the people doing the talking at all. That’s my brain.
Yes, I do feel like I miss a lot. Yes, sometimes I do wish I could jump in and keep up. Yes, once in awhile I feel a little sorry for myself. But you know what? I have a sweet advantage over a lot of chatty people. I remember what I’ve audio processed for a very long time. It’s like how I can remember something I’ve seen on twitter years ago and find the timestamp. I said something to someone just this week about such and such, and they’d already forgotten that only 2 days before they’d said such and such, and suddenly it was almost a weird insult coming out of my mouth because they had no context and thought I was being snotty instead of adding to something funny after the fact.
I wouldn’t trade that kind of memory for any amount of bubbly happy. I like that I remember the people I listen to, and I like that I can see discomfort behind staying in step with social pressure. The empathy I’ve learned has come from the outside like this, and sometimes I can tell when someone might need to puke and keeps smiling anyway and no one else ever picks up on it. I may not be able to pretend, and I may not be able to keep up, but I’m human too, and I know there’s a lot more underneath words flying over my head and behind cute faces looking at me.