the highs and lows of solitude

So, I had lunch with my colleagues on Wednesday. Major wow. Because, me, lunch, with colleagues. Me, a hermit who’d usually rather have lunch with a book and my mp3 for company. And you know, it was nerve-wracking, yes, but it wasn’t half-bad. I managed to converse (occasionally) with the three of them without appearing like a weirdo or a fool. I looked almost normal.

And last night, my relatives came over and I actually sat in the living room (for a short while) and engaged in a conversation with them that wasn’t half-awkward.

I like to think I’m able to handle social situations with grace and ease, and everyone I meet falls under my spell and adore my charming, endearing self – and even if they don’t like me, that I don’t care because I’m too comfortable in my skin to care about a few haters. But of course, that isn’t true. The truth is, I worry  too much about how I’m perceived by people. Sure, it’s easy to think that I’m beyond caring about what others think about me. But I’m always too worried about whether I’m too boring or weird or idiotic company, or whether people would rather hang out with someone other than me. And as a result, I clam up. I run a million conversation starters and topics through my head and gun down every one of them because they’re too boring, weird or idiot (as above). And then my silence makes the people around me even more uncomfortable because, why is this strange girl not talking? Is she bored, tired, stuck-up, or just plain rude? The whole process of hanging out then becomes equally painful for every party.

People think I’m too standoffish, and I guess that’s true. But it’s not because I dislike them enough not to want to talk to them, but because I don’t know what to say. It sometimes gets tiring, worrying so much about what others think. But I can’t help it. I think too much. Everyone who knows me tells me that.

I find it easier to convey my thoughts (and personality) in words. You get to think through them (see, again with the thinking – which, in itself, isn’t a bad thing, but nothing is ever in itself, is it?) before you put them out there to be carried by the wind, never to be retrieved again.

I used to be normal enough with company, back when I was in secondary school and junior college, and I saw so many people my age everyday. Making friends isn’t difficult for me, but maintaining a friendship is the tricky bit. Because it’s easy for people to decide you’re too much trouble (more trouble than you’re worth) and walk out of your life. Especially when they aren’t even related to you. It’s so easy for people not to make the effort to meet up or hang out and let the friendship fizzle out.

After junior college, when daily social interaction wasn’t a must (and also because my closest friends were in polytechnic, and were still schooling while I was free of it), I had more me-time than I ever had in my life. I got used to the idea of walking around town alone, watching a movie alone, shopping alone, having lunch alone… You get the idea. That wasn’t a bad thing, per se. Because I had things to do. Like writing the novel I had always wanted to write but was too busy with exams to do so. In those couple of months till the end of 2008, I completed my first standalone novel (that I don’t feel the urge to burn upon reading) When the Lilies Turn Orange. Then, it just got easier and easier to be alone – I didn’t feel like a loser hanging out with myself. In fact, it was liberating to be unencumbered by company. I could go wherever I liked at any time I pleased without having to consult my company or taking into account what anyone else wanted to do or go, and when.

And that was the start of my solitary lifestyle.

When I entered university, having a co-curricular activity wasn’t mandatory, so I wasn’t too active in school. And I didn’t go for orientation activities, a decision I don’t regret even now, because the idea of travelling all the way to school just to play pointless games for three whole days and cheer for your tribe or whatever still doesn’t appeal to me. Also, given that everyone basically takes different modules every semester, it’s hard to find (and keep) a solid group of friends in school or form friendships that will last for life. In my experience, that is. My closest group(s) of friends are still those I’ve made in secondary school and junior college.

Before you start thinking I’m a misanthrope, though, I’ll state that I don’t hate people or mankind, in general. They’re mostly nice enough upon first encounter. It’s just that they occasionally get tiring to be around, with their own judgements about you, their own value systems and opinions and preferences and expectations of you and their demands. Most of the time people are fine. Sometimes, it’s just easier being alone. With a book and an mp3.

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