Long before someone coined the phrase “bitchy resting face” I developed a habit of softening my face and wearing a pasted on slight smile whenever I’m in public. Not because I suffer from BRF, I don’t, but because I wanted to convey that I’m a nice person even though I don’t seek out polite conversation with strangers. I can’t even remember when I started doing it, when all the articles and blog posts about BRF started getting popular it dawned on me what I do.
You see, I’m not like most of you. Whatever it is that makes you excited to say hello to a stranger passing on the street, or engage in conversation about the weather with someone in the elevator? I don’t have it. Every stranger is not a friend I just haven’t met yet to me. It’s not that I’m a bitch, I’m not.
If you’re a close neighbor, I will wave hello. If you speak to me, I will speak back. If I pass you every day walking my dog, I will nod hello or wave if you are friendlier. If you’re a facebook friend, I will say hello to you in a store and maybe even have a conversation. I just don’t enjoy talking to strangers, and I never have. You see, I’m an introvert. I know even more articles and blog posts have surfaced lately about introversion. Perhaps to the point that you get tired of seeing them shared on facebook with comments like “Yeah!” or “This is SO ME.” Articles with names like “How to love an introvert” or “20 great things about being an introvert.” The internet provides a great soapbox for us, because we are able to put our energy out there without having people grab at it and take it.
I’m not just an introvert though. I also have an emotional sensitivity disorder. If I were more “new-agey” maybe I would say I’m an empath. I have an anxiety disorder, and I also wasn’t socialized like you were. I was home schooled and spent the majority of my childhood in a house interacting with two other people. I probably would have adapted out of necessity if I had been out in the world like most people, but I wasn’t. I am my own unique cocktail of weirdness that makes it unpleasurable for me to interact with each and every person I pass, even in a small way.
To connect with me, you need to be in a small group or one on one. We need to have something in common that we both like to talk about, so that we aren’t just chatting about nothing. When there’s a give and take of energy in a small group of like-minded people, that is where I am at my best. When you and I are chatting over coffee, getting to know each other, I am filled with the positive energy of getting to know a new person. When I’m in a room full of tumbling conversation and loud voices and there are seven or eight of us a standing in a circle having multiple conversations, I will probably be silent. You might think that I’m aloof, or uninterested, but I’m overwhelmed. Large crowds don’t enthuse me the way they would an extrovert, they take a lot out of me. I don’t know where to focus and I feel pulled in too many different directions. You won’t get the best of me in a large crowd, and I’ll probably have had a glass of wine or two to calm my nerves because while I love events, the chaos can go from pleasant to more than I can handle very quickly. I also do not hear well. I spent much time in my 20s listening to loud music in small clubs, that’s the drawback to loving hard rock and marrying the lead singer of a metal band. So sometimes in situations like these, I can’t really hear what you’re saying to me. I promise you that I want to be able to have a conversation with you, but rather than ask you to repeat yourself I will just nod in a way that makes it impossible for us to truly engage.
I have a physical illness that causes me to be fatigued to some extent on all but my very best days. When I interact with you in passing, it takes some of my energy away and that is energy I need for things like studying and doing my dishes. If I don’t know you, speaking to you makes me anxious. In fact, I get anxious about NOT speaking to you too. Wondering if I should have said hello when we passed on the street, and if you think I’m some horrible person because I didn’t acknowledge you. While I manage my anxiety pretty well, it’s not something I can control, I can’t decide not to be anxious about if you think I’m a bitch. It’s not even that I care in an active way, but my body and brain have a reaction like “fight or flight” where normal everyday situations are stressful for me in the way that a crisis might be for you. When we can focus on each other and exchange energy, our interaction will make me happy and enrich my life but if we can’t then our interaction takes energy from me while likely doing nothing to you. You’re “normal” so none of this has probably ever even occurred to you. Feel lucky. I envy you.
I wish I could just hand a post-it note to everyone that I encounter that says “I am not a bitch.”
It’s not you – it’s me.
Likely, no one I pass on the street while walking my dog is ever going to read this. So if you are reading this, and you have someone that you see that isn’t seeking out an exchange with you, even if it’s just a friendly hello, don’t immediately decide that they’re rude or mean or think they are better than you. It could be that, like me, the world around them effects them differently than most other people. If you smile at them, they will probably smile back.