I am not an extrovert. Other people make me feel uneasy, strangers kinda petrify me, and even in groups of people I’m individually comfortable around I freeze up and suddenly feel awkward. But, at the same time, I’m expected to be outgoing and sociable for a lot of my committee positions, and I feel uneasily easy about doing this: I talk to strangers, meet new people, ask what people are studying and what year they’re in, as if I’m actually interested in any of that crap. It’s weird.
The only answer to this apparent inconsistency is that I’m being less genuine when engaging with people as part of a society. I don’t want to talk to that person, but I’m in a position of leadership, and so am obliged to make them feel welcome; it’s much easier to follow another’s protocol than push yourself out of your own comfort zone. As a result, I worry that I’m being false, or even untrustworthy in talking to a lot of the people I meet a various welcome events; I’m trying to appear as James, but to a few of them I can’t help but look like the Publicities Officer who’s been told to make small talk.
This is even worse for people I genuinely enjoy talking to at these societies. There are a few freshers I’ve spoken to and really enjoyed chatting with, but surely they’re seeing me flit from fresher to fresher, shaking hands and pretending to be interested in their boring life? How can they not see themselves as just another faceless source of ice-breaker questions that I’ve been asked to indulge in the charade of the Freshers’ Drinks with? I also worry about people who I have known in these societies for the last year; if I have been engaging with people in this false way at the start of our relationship, but now consider them to be genuine friends, at what point did the shift occur? Do I have a set of hard criteria in my head that I’m ranking all of my friends against? Or is it a softer, more long-term transition that leaves all of my relationships in this gooey state of flux, with everyone being stuck somewhere on a tragic spectrum from awkward hand-shaker to actual buddy?
There’s an even more worrying matter in play too, that I might have this all backwards: perhaps my natural state is one of the extrovert, and I get genuine enjoyment out of ice-breakers and awkwardly meeting new people, which means – by extension – that what I consider to be the ‘genuine’ relationships I have with people on my course and who I’ve known for years are, in fact, the false ones. What if instead of putting on a brave public face for freshers events, I’m putting on an introverted visage among my English buddies, to look cool or moody or angsty? I’m gonna stop short of wailing ‘WHAT IF ALL MY FRIENDSHIPS ARE A LIE?’, but I’m heading down that road.
I think the important thing is not to think about this too much; I enjoy meeting people at dodgeball, and I enjoy hanging out with my friends between lectures. The fact that I like two opposing forms of socialising doesn’t mean that one is inherently false, as there can only be one way of interacting with human beings; people are complex, and the relationships between them infinitely more so. I know I’m not very supportive or comforting as a person, but I try to be genuine, and appearing false or vapid to people is honestly my biggest fear; I don’t think I’ve been shallow with the people I’ve met, and as long as we have a healthy relationships, I don’t think I need to worry about it.