(Originally posted for Howwwl, May 11th 2014)
Why are you so quiet? What’s wrong with you?
A colleague at work asked me this last week. It’s an interesting question, and to be fair to her, it isn’t the first time I’ve had it thrown at me.
It’s also quite tricky to answer.
Usually, I settle for a shrug and a smile. If I respond at all, I’ll simply say that I am always quiet. Usually, assuming they don’t ask why, I’ll get an unsatisfied ‘okay’, then the person instantly forgets it and asks me again at some point a few days or weeks down the line.
Sometimes I feel it’s not good to be introverted and quiet. Thoughtfulness arouses suspicion. I remember one summer, sitting in a beer garden with a friend. Our conversation had ended like a flame at the bottom of a candle; not out of boredom or a loss of connection but simply from us having said all we wanted to on a particular subject. As the silence grew into the tens of seconds, I started enjoying the bright colours from the hanging baskets of flowers hooked just below the pub’s guttering, savouring the warmth of the sun on my skin and the warmth of the second cider that was gently cradling me into a drowsy tipsiness. My friend – of fifteen years – sitting opposite me, said something incredible.
He said; whenever it goes quiet, I can tell you are thinking, and it unnerves me.
Everywhere I have worked, I’ve usually found myself the quiet centre of the raging storm. I seem to blunder from one enthusiastic group to another. I sometimes stand in the hotel, as I have stood in warehouses and sat in offices, listening to voices all around me cutting across one another, three or four different anecdotes sweeping past like two crashing flocks of birds. I hear all the conversations, as the participants focus on their own. I connect the dots in my mind, finishing sentences, watching the body language as one person demonstrably grows tired of the story they are being told and wants to be away. Like chaotic moons, one person may abruptly throw themselves out of one orbit and join into another one, leaving the storyteller crestfallen and searching the room for a pair of eyes. They see mine. They realise I have been listening. They smile; continue their story. I smile back. They are satisfied, having finished their point.
What’s wrong with you?
It was quite emphatic. It wasn’t a caring enquiry, more a demand or an order. In terms of aggressiveness it was above an arm around the shoulder but just below me gatecrashing their wedding and clubbing a baby seal to death in the aisle. Of course, the real answer is that nothing is wrong with me. I am probably at my most content when I am quiet. If I’m talkative, it means one of two things. Either I’m in a really good mood and want to make a connection, or I’m in a terrible mood and want to make a connection. The cape and the security blanket, both wrapped around the collarbones but with different conotations.
I feel sorry for people who needs constant noise, people who are scared of their own thoughts. Walking along in silence, running through an old memory or a favourite song, and the person (or persons) next to you start to get antsy. And they say it. Someone talk! Someone say something! Quick! There is a fundamental difference between solitude and isolation – not physically but mentally. I desire the former; these people are terrified of the latter.
Being a relatively well rounded individual, I like the energy from a crowd. I love gigs, even if I’m not interested in the band on stage. I love people-watching a busy street, preferably from a high eyrie with a cup of tea or a glass of something stronger. But then, I’m happy to leave it all behind. As I did on a recent moors walk – twenty miles and I said nothing except a few mutterings to myself of the what a gorgeous view variety, and a couple of loud swears at some rampaging cows. The other morning, before work, I sat in my parent’s conservatory listening nothing but the drumming of the rain and the soft scratch of my pen on paper as I sketched out a bit of Art Wank. It was bliss. I’m an only child, who spent a good deal of his time growing up living inside his own head. Had I lived in a chaotic household of siblings and tantrums, things might be different. Or, perhaps, I might be more withdrawn. I don’t know.
I’m not sure why people find thoughtfulness so disturbing. That is what it ultimately boils down to. When these people are on their own, they complain that they are bored. When there is another person present, they demand chatter. Can they not just be bored in the company of another person? Or is it paranoia? Is it a fear that the quiet person sitting across from them is silently assassinating their character? I can say, from my own experience, that it is certainly not true. I’m way past that awkward teenage desire to please everyone, and I will no longer endure anyone’s company that I find disagreeable. Rather than sit there and stew, I’d prefer to make my excuses (or better yet, be honest and cause a scene) before walking away. If I ever have a drink, or a walk with any of you and I go quiet, I’m not thinking about disembowelling you.
I’m not going to suddenly become an extrovert. If I try, it’s too ungainly. If we share a common interest, I can be passionate and fiery, and I won’t back down or slink away from a good debate. But if there is nothing to be said, I enjoy the quiet. It’s a shame other people cannot join me in this. But, as the title says, The Introverts Of The World Cannot Unite. Sometimes, we just want to be left alone.