A friend recently said that I was the most social introvert he knew. I had never really thought of myself that way, but he’s right. I do seem to have a much more active social life than most introverts I come across. But I am definitely an introvert, because I need time to myself as well. Too much socialization leaves me feeling drained and irritable. But I do enjoy spending time with friends. And I seem to enjoy meeting new people, at least until I realize that I have nothing in common with them. This weekend was a very social one for me, involving two birthday parties on back-to-back nights (and seven of us who were at both).
I wasn’t always like this, though. Until my late teens, I had very few friends, and I really wasn’t all that close with most of them. During the last year and a half of high school, I started spending time with the people who had most of the same classes as me; they were a pretty tame group as far as teenagers go. I went away to college as a freshman, and I found some friends in my dorm; I started getting involved with Intervarsity and church activities, and until my early 30s, through two more geographical relocations, most of my social life revolved around church friends. That all changed after I started getting involved with swing dancing and blues dancing. Ever since around 2008, I’ve spent a lot more time around dancing friends than I have around church friends.
This has put me in a situation I’m not used to, a situation I never would have expected to find myself in a decade ago or more. These days, I spend a lot of time around people with very different lifestyles and beliefs from mine. For example, on Saturday night I spent some time playing I Never, and then playing I Have. This is the game where everyone puts up their 10 fingers, and you go around in circles and take turns saying something you’ve never done, and then everyone who has done that has to put a finger down. I Have is the inverse game of that, where you say something you have done, and everyone who hasn’t done those things puts a finger down. My record of life experience has made me usually pretty good at I Never and horrible at I Have, especially when I’m with a group that likes to make these games mostly about sex and drugs, because there are a lot of things I’ve never done and not much I have done. I don’t mean to be judgmental, but when I hear people talk about how their significant other was a f*** buddy for a few months before they became serious, or about their polyamorous friend who is having trouble juggling three boyfriends, or about all the pot they smoked in high school, or about the time they had sex with five people at once, these are all strange and foreign concepts to me. I’ve spent most of my life in a world where these things are not acceptable, and certainly not shared openly in polite company.
So how did I end up hanging around people so different from myself? The best answer that I can come up with is that I found things I did have in common with friends from dancing right around the same time I stopped having things in common with church friends. As I got older, I would find fewer and fewer people at church around my age who weren’t parents and parts of families, and church people with kids typically don’t stay up late swing dancing or playing old video games very often. I don’t mean to stereotype, but come on, we all know it’s true. I also got to a point where I had outgrown young adult ministries, and the next step in the way most churches are set up is adult singles groups. That group at my church is mostly people older than me with kids who have been married before, and none of them have the same interests or background as me. They’re nice people, nothing against any of them, and I’m going to continue being part of that group as much as I can, but I don’t know if I’ll ever feel completely like one of them.
Meanwhile, I found dancing, another interest in which I can participate, and through dancing I found a lot of people with nerdy senses of humor like me, people who appreciate when I make a math joke or a joke based on an obscure Simpsons reference. These people have a more consistent record of showing up when I invite them to something than my previous groups of church friends did. But I still don’t always feel like I can completely be myself around them, because of the different beliefs. I feel like I have to hide parts of myself sometimes when I know that they disapprove of people like me. It’s kind of hard sometimes being around people who constantly post things on Facebook belittling Christians and those of my political slant. However, this might be all in my head; during the I Never games last night, I admitted two things about myself in front of people whom I knew did not share those things in common, and their reactions weren’t what I feared they would be.
Everyone is different, and no one is just like me. I’m going to find church friends that I have things in common with, and church friends that I don’t have things in common with. I’m going to find dancing friends that I have things in common with, and dancing friends that I don’t have things in common with. I’m not going to be judgmental of their different lifestyles and beliefs, but some people are going to be jerks, and I just have to deal with that. And I have a lot to learn from people with different backgrounds from me. My life doesn’t fit the pattern preached by churches these days, so maybe I have things to learn about being 38 and unmarried from non-church friends which I can integrate into my own core beliefs without feeling like I have to compromise. And I can use what I learn about the lifestyles of my non-church friends to understand better how to be the light of Jesus to a broken world, in ways that those who never leave the church bubble won’t experience.
And I know that I love my crazy quirky group of friends, and I’m glad I have them.