A Mostly Introvert Perspective: Family Gatherings

I always try and do a Christmas post, and I’m aware that I’m late. Furthermore, this year I’m setting aside Zombie Jesus. A guy in Ohio put up the coolest nativity scene and stole my Zombie Jesus thunder. I don’t mind.

family-iconFor something new, I thought I would write a post from the perspective of the outsider in family gatherings. Love them or hate them, we choose to live through them. If you’re the host family, you likely love it because you’re a people person. You like being social. What about the black sheep, that one family member negatively labeled by you and other family members?

Most black sheep are the single, non-dating, no children, and unnatural familial person. Unnatural familial means the person who doesn’t fit into the family definition of normal.

While the hostess wonders why that black sheep sitting in the corner doesn’t get into the family program, they have no interest in getting to know the black sheep a little better. Why so uncomfortable? Why do they seem so unsocial?

This is my chance to give those hostesses that special look since I happen to be that particular black sheep in my family.

black sheep

In most families, every year and every gathering is the same regimen.

Family members who haven’t seen each other for months gather, they get caught up, they eat, and then they splinter into groups. There’s the mom group where the women get together in the kitchen and talk about domestic things. The guy group where men gather around the TV, watch sports (or whatever belchy man thing is on), talk about tools, and pass out. Last, there’s the kid group.

Basically, the kid group consists of kids and unmarried adults. Some stay in the kitchen with the mom group to talk about domestic stuff dealing with their cohabitant life with their significant other. The younger ones tend to disperse to the living room or elsewhere.

Then there’s the extra, the black sheep, the other who doesn’t fit into either category. The person who loves their family, yet would rather be home doing something entertaining or constructive. They have different ideas of conversation that doesn’t involve sports, domesticity, or an endless string of small talk. Essentially, the person in the corner who’s bored out of their mind.

Perhaps that person is an introvert like me.

Extroverts gain energy by social interaction (a.ka., being in a big group of people). They soak up the atmosphere around them. This likely explains the hostess and most members of the family.

Introverts gain energy by being alone. Most prefer the company of a good book when they’re tired. When they’re in a crowd of people, they’re expending energy.

These are the simplest definitions. The world is vastly colorful with little flecks of black and white. Meaning, there are introverts with varying degrees of extrovert tendencies. Conversely, the same can be said with extroverts.

Most people consider me a homebody. I love staying home to read anything and everything. Sometimes I take excursions to Starbucks to write or the movies for entertainment. Even when I’m outside, I make sure there’s a certain distance between me and others.

At work, I don’t mind spending lunch around people. Although, I discovered two weeks ago that stressful situations are the exception. My composure frays when I’m located in a building with antsy teens who can’t wait for the Holiday Break and lunching around extroverted coworkers well versed in the art of extensive small talk.

The week after, I found a quiet room to eat lunch and watch Netflix alone. It did wonders for my fortification.

That’s my introversion under extreme circumstances. I do have extroverted tendencies, and they show under certain conditions.

  1. I can socialize with a max of three people. More than three people makes me uncomfortable and withdrawn.
  2. The conversation can’t be meaningless small talk. I like conversations regarding my interests or cerebrally engaging topics (i.e., current events, literature, or general academics). I have no clue what to do with small talk. Hence, small talk makes me uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, my family gatherings don’t meet these rules.

A typical family gathering involves me sitting next to my grandparents in the kitchen while the rest of the clan goes about their typical familial socializing.

My aunts attempt to engage me in conversational small talk.  They ask how I am, how are my pets, and what’s new.  My answers are expected to be one or two sentences.  Any attempt to take those questions out of the realm of small talk and I’m cut off when they literally turn away and talk to someone else.  (They stopped asking me about my romantic life a few years ago because they likely came to some crazy wrong conclusion…like I hate men).

Old-House-iconDomesticity dominates the conversation at the kitchen table.  The topics range from raising children, to relationships, to beautifying the cohabitant domicile.  These are topics that bore me since I’m happily single, and my decor doesn’t include nuevo chic or rustic industrial.

Most of my male family members move to the living room to watch something mindless on TV and pass out from overindulging in home cooking.  I’d join them in nap time, yet that’s something I’m more comfortable doing in my own home.

My cousins, ranging from high school teen to almost thirty, are scatter about the house.  They might be in the kitchen talking nuevo chic or in the living room messing with their electronic devices and snuggling with their significant other (of whom I just met  and he greeted me with a grunt and a slight head nod).

Meanwhile, I stay in the kitchen by my grandparents because their presence makes me feelNewspaper-icon slightly comfortable in an highly uncomfortable environment.  I spend most of the time bored out of my mind watching the time crawl and longing for the serenity of my personal surroundings.

The experience wouldn’t be so bad if I had a family member that was well versed in a wide range of topics and preferred deep conversations.  I wouldn’t mind playing games with the family like Clue or Monopoly.

I’m sure they notice that I don’t like family gatherings.  They definitely noticed my recent absences for the past few years.  During those odd times when we happen to meet outside the gatherings, they have a certain questioning tone in their voice when telling me of the next family gathering.

While they don’t question me directly, I understand they want to know why I stopped attending.

I’ve been tempted to tell them the truth:  The family gatherings make me uncomfortable, bored, and I hate it when they cut me off in mid sentence.  Yet, I know they won’t listen to my explanation.  They’ll have selective hearing or hear an entirely different meaning in my words.

Perhaps that’s not the reason why your black sheep sits in the corner.  It could be for an entirely different reason.  Whatever reason for their disinterest, hopefully this post will spur the familial hostess to have a constructive conversation with their black sheep.  A deeper family bond sometimes begins with openness.

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