Saturday, January 15, 2011

Social Concerns

I knew that the post-school world would be difficult for me as a strong introvert, from a "finding friends" standpoint, as I watched a lot of graduates from my school continue to hang out around school because that's the only paradigm we've ever known for like-aged social interaction.

Already, I fear following the example my parents set for me of the adult social life.  Today, for the first time in my memory my father is actually having other adults over to his house for a social event.  This is not an "oh look how uncool my parents are" exaggeration:  my parents are so extremely introverted that throughout my entire life I have never known my father to have any friends outside of my mother, and my mom only a few whom she saw only once every few years.  Their self-imposed social isolation, combined with the fact that I am an only child, has left me with a keen feeling of strong loneliness that still doesn't go away when I'm not actively involved in a social community, and contributed strongly to my own strong independence, introversion and general feelings of social ineptitude.

I'm happy for my dad.  He's finally learned a lesson that it seems I've been trying to teach him my whole life:  people need a wider community to be happy.  Sure, some people need more or less than others, but we're still fundamentally wired toward social groups.

Now that I'm not in college, I don't know what my community is--but I can already tell that I desperately miss having one. Significant Other alone is NOT enough--and that one college girlfriend who meets me for coffee only after I've called her five times isn't really, either, though it is a good start.

(It is tempting to look at that girlfriend and all her other friends she does spend time with ostensibly without them having to persist in drawing it out of her, to look at all the other people who graduated with me and lament that they don't seem to be having this problem, that of course it's just me and my bad social skills or general undesirableness as "friend."  That is unhealthy, not conducive to healthy friendships generally, and, I hopefully believe, only a representation of overcomable dark thoughts, not actual truth. The paradigm switch from "college" to "real world" is hard for many of us.  Hard things sometimes make us face our dark thoughts, and it used to be a theme of mine in blogging to lay some of mine bare before my readers, so they might take comfort if they've had some of the same ones.)

My new community could become work, but at this point work doesn't feel like the right fit.  Not long ago I put much effort into trying to secure any work at all with the imagination that it WOULD provide that community that I needed and no thought of what I would do if it didn't, and although I like my boss and his wife who also works there, the nature of my job is such that I mostly sit in my office all day all by myself.  If I interact with customers or co-workers it is usually through email; rarely, it's over the phone.  Even without the vast friend network of school, friendly interaction with real people during the day provides on it's own more than I would have thought.  And Office Silos are a sharp change from the collaborative camaraderie I came to love so much about being a physics major with other physics majors, being a student with other students in general.

It is possible that this will improve.  Right now I feel like I have no concept of office culture at all:  I understand what professionalism is, but how do you make small talk, much less friends, when everything we do entails sitting in our isolated little rooms all day?  Work is the priority, not friendship. I tend to make friends through feelings of camaraderie, and my inner playful-banter smart-ass has wanted to rear it's head when I do actually see the people I work with, but as a 20 something interacting with mostly 30 somethings and up, as a new person working with people who have been there forever, I have no sense of what is appropriate so I just stay inside myself.

So maybe work will one day be the community I need, but right now eight straight hours of Office Silo sometimes make me feel a little crazy.  I do quite like the work itself, I just need people, and I either need our professional interactions to be not so stiff or I need our interactions to not always be just professional--or I need to find for myself a vibrant community outside of work to be a part of.  I've had almost 20 years of socialization in the "school" paradigm, I think I'll go crazy if it takes 20 to get to a comfort level with this one, but there's no reason I should expect it to come after just three months.

How much of my office culture un-surity is generational differences between myself and not-like-aged co-workers (which is all of them)?  One of the curses of being an only child is that I've always felt I had to be more grown up than my age:   there's nobody around to be loud and kid-like with but there are these two adults who like quiet pursuits around, so I'm pressured to be a little grown up with quiet pursuits myself.  Other only children have described their experience in similar terms.  And now I am grown up:  I work at a place where grown ups work, I live with my significant other just like a grown up, I don't have the network of "school" to fall back on for making friends and am now faced with learning how to find them like grown ups do.  Only the two grown-ups I've watched most closely never figured out how to do that.

I've still got ammunition up my sleeve, even if my introversion disqualifies me for the next-best avenues in which youngish people build social networks:  Bar and Party Culture. The kind of people I want to be in my community are likely not going to be found in those locations anyway.  Maybe there are clubs to be joined, workshops or skills to be taken up, networks formed for other recent-graduates who are still around and also struggling with the same "now what? Everything I ever knew about socialization has just changed!" issues.

I've still, after all, got the option of going back to school.

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