A little over ten years ago I remember seeing a girl who kept company with a good friend of mine. Although I either didn't know or couldn't remember her name I recognised her face, and remembered seeing her before. Ah yes, the snotty girl who hangs around with one of my closest friends and doesn't talk to anyone. Yep, that's the one.
That's the same person I've now been married to for nearly seven years.
Fact is, I should have known better than to just pigeon-hole someone like that. Although people who know her might say otherwise, the truth is that my wife is shy. I'm shy myself, not with people I know though, but with strangers and people I don't know so well I'm terribly shy.
It's not a great affliction to live with if I'm perfectly honest. When you look at other people who are naturally more outgoing you can only admire the way they can seemingly walk over to just about anyone and start a conversation.
I put part of this down to being an only child. It's a pretty striking difference going from a home where you're supported and encouraged to every day life where there is opposition, and people putting you down. I'm not saying that is a bad thing, or undeserved on some (okay, most) occasions. However if you've got a brother or sister you're almost certainly more accostomed to criticism, and consequently more likely to brush it off.
If you're like me you take criticism on board and dwell on it. As a result of this your confidence gets knocked, and you wonder what you could possibly have to offer other people. Why would they want to talk to you? And so you either a) talk to them, while always appearing uncomfortable and sounding nervous, or b) don't bother talking to them at all for the risk of sounding nervous.
Shyness can then become a vicious cycle. When you're shy and you don't speak to you people are left with no alternative but to make assumptions about you. You're unfriendly. You're unsociable. You're stupid. You're not worth bothering with. Once people have those kind of feelings about you they're tough to break down. In turn this leads you to retreat into your shell even more. You find somewhere you're comfortable and don't extend yourself beyond it.
Luckily for me just about everywhere I've gone I've had good friends. In turn these good friends have introduced me to other friends, and friendships with those friends have consequently blossomed as well. I consider myself fortunate that I can't remember the last time I was really lonely, although I'd guess my age was probably just in single figures. And yes, in the past two decades there are times I've been sad, homesick, and felt unloved and unworthy of love. But I've always had at least one friend (and usually more) who in one way or another have said words along the lines of, "You're alright."
When I'm not around people I know it's an entirely different matter. I've been in rooms and known people by their face and meant to go up and talk to them, but then I find reasons not to and excuse myself from doing so. I tend to avoid work events because I'm so far out of my comfort zone that it isn't true. I don't relax, I don't feel comfortable and in lots of ways I don't feel like I represent myself as I'd like to.
Of course there are times where I feel I need to force myself out of my shyness. I find these situations end one way, badly. For instance there is one guy who is married to a friend of Lorraine's, and it is pretty clear that he thinks I'm a useless idiot (please note I'm not saying he isn't right, he's just fairly transparent in the way he talks to me). Typically he caught me on the day I decided to be less guarded, forced myself to open up a bit, and then proceeded to confirm his suspicions about me just by talking. Wunderbar! And people ask me why I enjoy writing. Simple, I get the chance to give full explanations without there being any chance of me becoming nervous and tongue-tied. Lots of my friends have said they loved receiving letters from me, while the only person who has ever said they enjoy speaking to me is my Mum.
In my early thirties I think I'm probably past the point where I can change in this regard. With experience though I can act a little more succesfully, just about put on a front where required and in addition to that choose the situations I'll be in a little more carefully (if I'm not avoiding them altogether).
Is being shy a weakness? I certainly miss out on things because of it, and it hasn't made my life any easier so I guess it is. What would almost certainly be worse is to try and be an outlandish extrovert, something that I'm not in order to better myself. At least I know myself, and by knowing my weakness I can work around it. Knowledge is better than denial, and recognition of my character is better than being something I'm definitely not.
Have a good week!