One of my favorite quotes from my teenage years comes courtesy of my mother. She had come into the dining room just as I was ending a phone conversation with a friend. As I placed the phone back on the receiver (this was back when everyone had a land line, and cordless phones were on trend), I proceeded to inform my mother that I was getting bored with my friend and that I planned to stop hanging out with her soon. My mom gave one of those long exasperated exhales and shook her head before saying, “I just don’t know how you manage to keep any friends.” Maybe I wasn’t supposed to laugh at that since she was expressing disbelief in the fact that she had raised such a rude daughter, but it was and has always been funny to me. According to my mom, the fact that I have friends is a miracle.
I wish she could see me now.
I am married and amazingly enough, the clerks at the nearby hotel don’t have a secret room permanently reserved for me. Nothing short of a miracle.
A growing distaste for my favorite word
In recent years, one of my favorite words to throw around in any conversation was “introvert”.
“Hey, Sam. You want to come over for dinner tonight?”
“No. I’m an introvert. I’d rather eat alone.”
“Look! There’s a warthog over there!”
“No thanks, I’m an introvert. I don’t follow the crowd.”
God: “Go witness to that person over there.”
“Is it going to start with small talk? I’m an introvert, remember? You know I hate small talk.”
When I first came to understand what the word introvert meant, I felt totally liberated. There was finally scientific evidence to explain why my brain would literally cease to function properly after a few hours of social stimulation, and apparently it was normal. It wasn’t a malfunction! In my excitement, I threw that word around as often as possible. Everyone needed to know, or else they couldn’t be my friend. How else would they understand when I rejected their invitations for large gatherings? Nowadays I can’t help but groan inwardly whenever I hear the word “introvert” leave my lips. Yes, it defines me to a T and has really helped me understand myself and my brain better, but it also has become an excuse for me to refrain from engaging properly in relationships.
Since I’ve been in Kenya, I’ve called home less than ten times. I’ve been away for nearly five months, and look Ma, I’m still homesick free! Yes, I love my family, but I really can go months without talking to them and be just fine. I can’t say the problem is that we’re all introverts, though some of us are, as much as it’s just that we simply lost the ability to communicate properly when we lost mom. You can imagine then how much of a struggle I’m having being in a culture where family ties are very important.
Our African wedding was my first hint of this reality, when after we cut our wedding cake I was instructed to take some to Ray’s grandparents and mom and feed it to them (literally put the cake in their mouth) to symbolize the fact that I’ll take care of Ray and that I’ll look after them as well. We also attended a birthday party for a five year old last week and the same ritual occurs there. The child helps cut the cake and then feeds her parents. From a young age kids are taught to value family ties, and various traditions serve to reiterate that point throughout their lifetime.
Difficulties with ‘leaving and cleaving’
This is definitely something I admire about the culture, as I hope to raise our children in an environment that fosters togetherness, but as someone who would typically choose to spend a Friday night sitting on a warm vent in her apartment watching “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” for the twentieth time instead of going out with friends, this has been incredibly hard. As newlyweds, Ray and I decided to take this first year of marriage to focus on adjusting to one another. During this year we aim to stay out of ministry, treat the weekends as sacred time for ourselves, and not have any kiddos. By doing this we hope to establish a good foundation to our marriage before building a ministry or family.
For the most part we’ve done well in this area, and we feel that our relationship is stronger for it, but it’s kind of unfathomable for his family to see how we can be so “distant” when we’re so close. We hear remarks often about how it’s like we live in the States because they never see us, and how we’ve become strangers and so on and so forth. Growing up a PK, I’m used to having people gossip about me, so the comments themselves don’t really bother me. What’s most bothersome to me is that in America I could tell people, “Hey, listen. I’m an introvert,” and they would back off and give me some space. They might even apologize for being so intrusive. But Kenyan culture is like my introvert kryptonite. I’ve yet to meet a Kenyan that isn’t impervious to my introverted powers.
Will this be the end of our not-so-super heroine?
There are days, especially when Ray catches wind of some of the gossip that circulates about us, that I feel like detaching completely. I mean, that always worked back in the States. Whenever people got on my nerves, I would just slowly back into my cave and hibernate for months. I can’t do that here. People would either complain until you were guilted into spending time with them or just show up at your house. Like I said, completely impervious.
For a long time I thought the problem lied with the people who didn’t know how to take no for an answer, but if marriage, leave alone culture, has taught me anything about myself, it’s that the problem lies with me. My introverted “powers” are actually a weakness. They indicate a deficiency in my ability to engage in healthy ongoing relationships with people. I don’t know how to work through issues with people, because I always shut them out when the relationship becomes too cumbersome.
That conclusion is pretty easy to come by when you move into a home with your brand spanking new husband, and then after a doozy of an argument, you realize the place didn’t come equipped with a secret hiding place behind a bookcase. There’s no running away in this relationship. I can’t shut him out and pretend that he doesn’t exist when he’s lying next to me in bed snoring to the tune of a steam engine. I have to choose reconciliation… especially if I plan on sleeping next to him for the rest of my life. I have to choose to pop the bubble I frequently don as my outfit of the day, and let him in so he can become part of my processing routine.
Something I should have done a long time ago
This transition hasn’t come easy. I’ve tried to storm out of the house a number of times, only to walk a few feet out of the gate, hear/spot wild dogs, and run back to the complex to find a safer place to “be alone”. It didn’t take me long to realize that my disappearing act didn’t accomplish much. I was only doing it to punish him, which usually ended up making communication even harder when I would finally return. I’m still allowed time to process, and Ray is really good about giving me space to do that if I absolutely need to work some stuff out internally, but I’m no longer allowed to run away. I mentioned in our co-blog last month that we stress verbalizing issues with each other. Ever so slowly I’m learning how to process outside of myself with my husband instead of shutting him out so that I can sort out the hurricane of thoughts and emotions on my own. Even when it comes to processing, two are better than one.
Throughout my lifetime I’ve offended my fair share of people, and as I reflect today, I realize that I need to apologize. If you’re reading this blog and I’ve used the “introvert” excuse on you, this is for you. First, I want to apologize for using a personality trait as an excuse to put my wants/needs before yours. Secondly, I want apologize for lying, because in order to avoid hanging out, I most likely lied to you. And finally, I want to thank you for still being my friend (I’m assuming if you’re reading this blog we’re still friends) even though I wasn’t a very good one myself. Hopefully by the time we head back to the States I will be in a position to call you just to hang out.
To quote J.P. in reference to the miracle of seeing angels in the outfield: “Hey, it could happen.”