On Introverts

Photo on Unsplash by Molly Belle

I’ve always classified myself as an introvert versus an extrovert. I mean if there are only two options then obviously I’m the former. Being around people is exciting but also exhausting. Socializing is a draining rather than energizing activity. But I still have twinges of guilt and mild FOMO when I spend too much time by myself at home.

Maybe that’s because I’m a millennial and have basically been programmed to believe that social media is an extension of my life and needs to be updated/maintained regularly. Just so your peers, family members, exes, and that bitch you love to hate still know you’re thriving. But aside from that pressure, which I think everyone feels, I don’t know why I feel the guilt of not doing things. I genuinely have a good time just staying at home. Even before I started living with my partner, I found plenty to do to keep me occupied and happy. I never feel stressed or overly irritated when I’m home. I never feel like I need to impress anyone or present myself in a certain way. I just feel like I should want to be out and about.

Most everyone at this point is like, yeah no shit you just described your typical introvert which is pretty normal. But having that title wasn’t enough of an explanation for me. Growing up I felt like the opposite. I was so involved in activities and sports and clubs in high school that I probably had an hour or two by myself every day, max. And I loved it. It did energize me. On the rare occasion when I had a free day I felt out of place just doing nothing. I would at least text the current flavor of the month or one of my girl friends. So why do I now wait at least five minutes before I even read a text? Or mute all of my group conversations? Why is the best part of my day when I put my phone on do no disturb?

Photo on Unsplash by Priscilla Du Preez

Shouldn’t I want to spend my Friday night out on the town checking out a new bar and making new friends? Instagram tells me that’s what all other 20 somethings are doing. Shouldn’t I want to try those new cocktails and get an amazing sunset picture? I just want to put on my raggy sweatpants, take my bra off, and talk to my partner without worry of saying something offensive or impolite. Because I will say those things and we might even fight about it. But it’s real and I know I’m not going to lose him because of it. Or that he’s going to think differently about me because of it. I feel like I can be myself. And maybe that’s the root of the issue. I feel exhausted by socializing because I feel like I constantly have to curate a specific version of myself that I want other to see. As I write that I wonder if that’s part of social media culture and only presenting the best, perfectly manicured snippets of our days to others. Do I feel like interacting with real people who aren’t my close friends or family is like interacting on social media? Maybe. Does our extremely high PC society of being overly cautious about what we say so as not to offend or appear racist/sexist/homophobic/conservative/uneducated play a part? Most definitely.

This issue stems beyond social media and PC culture for me though. I actually can pinpoint when I started to become an introvert and enjoy my time by myself. It’s when I started my longest abusive relationship. One that lasted four years, cost me valuable time and energy, and forever changed who I am. Her name is the U.S. Army.

Photo of me in Montenegro in 2013

I thought I was going to be madly in love with the Army. I found purpose and fulfillment when I first began my journey in ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) at Boston University in 2011. The people I met were exciting, smart, and talented. I wanted to be like them and I wanted them to like me. I was good at being a cadet because I was (and am) a quick-learner and extremely adaptable. Years of playing sports taught me how to be coachable and good teammate. I bonded with my fellow cadets and deeply admired my seasoned cadre. When I graduated and commissioned I was thrilled to take the next step. I’d spent four years studying to be an officer and I was ready to take the training wheels off to try it on my own.

I won’t list every single negative I’ve had throughout my tenure in the Army. Not because it’s too long or too boring. But because you don’t have to list every fight, every argument, every word spoken to know when it’s a toxic, abusive relationship.

Photo of my first field exercise in 2015

When I moved to Texas and started my first real job as a platoon leader, my way of socializing drastically changed. Throughout ROTC and S-BOLC I was surrounded by peers. I was able to bond with those around me because we were all in it together. We were teammates, colleagues, brothers and sisters. But when I got to Texas I was the leader. I was 23 and the boss of some fifty other people. Some younger but most older than me. They were and weren’t my teammates anymore. I was separated from them by a bar on my chest. I knew how to connect to my Soldiers and NCOs because I understood how to be on a team. But our connections stopped at the post gates or the doors to their barracks. I learned the intricacies of each of their lives and their families but they knew none of mine. We would spend a lot of time together training or just at the office. We found common ground, shared experiences, and we laughed a lot. But there was always that invisible guard up. It was around each of them and maybe even heavier around me. The guard was called fraternization. A rule as old as time that does not allow junior Soldiers to have any sort of relationship with senior NCOs or officers. We could be friendly, but not friends. I was always “the ma’am” and never just Sarah.

Ostensibly this rule is necessary and a good thing. It maintains order and discipline within the organization and sets clear, defined boundaries. After all, we as officers have to have the authority. We can impose legal rewards and punishments that literally change lives. We don’t need that responsibility clouded by favoritism.

But nobody told me that. No one prepared me to be suddenly surrounded by almost no peers. I had been training and readying myself to be strong leader who makes sound decisions and earns the trust of others. I had done that by learning how to lead within my peers. I was told that was the hardest kind of leadership. But it’s not. Because when you learn to lead your peers you are still allowed to be yourself. You are allowed to let them in on your personal life and see your faults and strengths and everything that makes you who you really are. In some ways its easier to build trust that way. I had never thought about what kind of leader I would be without my peers. I was so wrapped up and in love with the idea of having brothers and sisters by my side to bond with and lead alongside me in the Army. It’s what made me feel fulfilled and accomplished. So I really didn’t know what to do when I realized my new team, my platoon, had no peers for me. I didn’t have brothers and sisters, I had kids. And you can be friendly with your kids, but you can never really be their friends.

Don’t get me wrong, there were other lieutenants in my unit that I could hang out and essentially bond with. There were a handful people of the same rank and somewhat same age. Of those, only two were girls. As someone who has always struggled to bond with other girls, my chances of developing a strong connection with them was slim. And I did try. I tried to make these peers my teammates. We even went to a couple of lieutenant hang outs and had a group text. But when you don’t work together every single day, it makes it difficult to create that same bond that you do when you’re going through the “suck” together. We were also all in competition with each other for the top rating spot by our battalion commander, who constantly reminded us of this. He even went so far a few times to say where we stood out loud, in front of our peers. This unhealthy competition with each other’s performances prevented a lot of us from getting too close. But it worked out great for our senior leaders. Their junior officers were busting their asses to do better than each other. Who cares if they’re tired? Who cares if they don’t trust each other? Who cares if they’re lonely? They’re just lieutenants.

Photo on Unspalsh by israel palacio

I’m not saying that I didn’t have any peer friends. I had two. Both of them were guys because I could not relate to the one girl with two kids and the one girl who spent all her free time shopping in the most bourgeois parts of Austin. Being friends with the guys was easy. We talked football, television shows, and what we hated about the unit. When I was sitting at my desk completely bent out of shape about upcoming training they would show up to draw stupid shit on my whiteboard. They made me feel less alone. But I still kept them at bay. They never came over to my apartment and we only hung out outside of work twice. I think it was partially out of fear that people would assume there was more going on than friendship. Women who have close relationships with men are often subject to raised eyebrows and rumors of sex; the military is not immune to that. I don’t think either of them would ever consider me as anything other than a sister, but I didn’t want to risk the possibility of anyone even suggesting otherwise. I couldn’t lose them as my work friends so I didn’t jeopardize it. I kept them at the same arm’s length as the rest of my platoon.

I made a few attempts to curate friendships with girls outside of the Army. But it became increasingly difficult to find any young professionals close by. And when I did hang out with fellow 23-year-olds, I struggled to relate to their seemingly immature, minute drama of bartending or working in a start-up. They could not understand my military jargon mixed with complaints of shitting in a bag in the desert.

So I did what I knew how to do. I adjusted. I learned to spend time by myself and actually enjoy it. I watched the shows that interested me, read books I’d been putting off, even experimented with new cooking recipes. It was weird at first but then I got used to it. Suddenly not having friends was the new normal. Or at least I chose for it to be normal. Because deep down I was hurt. Not that I couldn’t get along with civilian girls my age or peers in my unit. But because I loved my platoon. I loved my Soldiers. They were funny, annoying, loud, insightful, surprising, and eager. They made me feel like I was doing the right thing, that my job mattered. But that invisible guard stung. I felt it when I would walk into the platoon office and NCOs would stop talking. Not that they didn’t want to include me, they just couldn’t. Having a connection at a distance feels like shit. I wish I could think of a better description, but I can’t. It’s like you know you get along so well with these people and you have this bond, but it can only go so far on a personal level. That hurt. It made me feel like I was doing something wrong because I wanted these people to be in my life, but I had to be their boss. So, for four years I swallowed it and made myself believe I didn’t need that kind of connection, that my own company was enough.

Photo on Unsplash by Isaac Holmgren

Now when a coworker asks me a few questions and gets to know me, I’m learning to not shut them out. To not instinctively keep my answers short and vague. I know most people just assume I’m kind of a stuck-up bitch who likes to keep to herself. Or they might think I’m better than them. Or worse, that I don’t like them. If they only knew. I so want to be the girl who was energized by talking to people. The girl who lit up when thinking about going out and adventuring to a new bar with new people. The girl who saw potential fun and kinship in others instead of potential disappointment. The girl I used to be.

Maybe one day I’ll get back to her. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I haven’t met the new girl who has learned to be vulnerable to genuine connections while loving herself on her own. She sounds really nice.

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Army veteran with a passion for writing, leadership, women, small towns, sports, and Texas — in no particular order.

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Sarah Gloyn

Sarah Gloyn

Army veteran with a passion for writing, leadership, women, small towns, sports, and Texas — in no particular order.

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