I had lunch with a friend today – a rare opportunity though we live in the same city and, until recently, only several streets away from one another. We both work, on opposite sides of the River of Charles, we’re both married — to spouses we like to spend time with on a daily basis –, and both of us are that breed of people society identifies as “introverts.” Working in public services, at the end of a seven, eight, nine hours of being “on” around other people, the last thing we usually have oomph for is happy hour or dinner out. Most days, I can barely string out enough public-space energy to pick up a book at the library or pick up a foodstuff on my way home.
What this means, in practical day-to-day terms, is that the maintenance and cultivation of social connections with my people is spatially and temporally constrained: I need to be careful about how far, how long, and how many commitments I make. Since weekends need to be reserved, to a great extent, for quiet recharging — both Hanna and I need down time — we can usually at most make one social plan a weekend. A booked week, for me, usually looks like a weekend activity and a weekday lunch with a colleague. Three such meetings and I start to feel prostrate with togetherness.
This, I must stress, even with people I like very much and enjoy being around.
I was thinking, after the lovely lunch with my friend today; a lunch at which we talked about our mutual need for such unscheduled weekends, and the affective labor of public services work that — while rewarding in the context of professional work we both chose and (mostly) love — takes a particular toll on the private lives of those introverted people who choose to pursue it. In that it enforces a rather severe rationing of non-waged sociality.
I grew up outside this system of required togetherness (at work; at school) that our Western society largely expects of its worker-citizens. This might surprise people who assume homeschooling is like their worst memories of being trapped at home 24/7 with family members during summer vacation. I think my mother experienced some of that intense isolation of early-childhood parenting when we were small, but for much later childhood and early adolescence what I chiefly remember is the hours of privacy or one-to-one play (with a sibling, with a friend). I would closet myself in my room with a stack of books from the library and sometimes not emerge until they were devoured — perhaps then only to run down the street for more! College and graduate school, in some ways, allowed me to extend this period of self-organized time; work and classes took social energy, but long periods of uninterrupted, solitary study time fed the soul. Living alone, or at the very least with a room of my own, gave me the space to cultivate intentional friendships and the energy to nurture them.
Such time is precious difficult to come by these days.
Which brings me to a related point: that I continue to be grateful, in this period of space/time social drought, for the Interwebs and the social media tools that allow me to maintain my friendship and family ties — even broaden them! — in an ambient fashion. There’s a sociological or psychological study to be made somewhere about how letter-writing, emailing, Twittering, Facebook updates, Google Chat, text messages, and the plethora of other tools we have for relationship maintenance in the virtual realm allow those of us with limited social energy to be social in ways that aren’t emotionally and physically exhausting. Perhaps this isn’t true for every introverted or highly-sensitive person; certainly the demands of connectivity have felt like a burden when I forget to use them as tools for my own means and ends. But I am unequivocal about the fact that they’ve given me a “third space” somewhat parallel to both the public and private parts of my days, weeks, months, in which to find a tenuous balance of self among others and keep my sanity at the same time.
This blog post has been brought to you by a day of rumination. Have the best weekend you can envision.