Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Did you see this week's article on the shy and how shyness might be an evolutionary tactic? The author talks about two kinds of people: sitters and rovers.

Sitters are the 20(ish)% of the population who are "watchful, slow-to-warm-up types who stick to the sidelines," and rovers are the remaining 80% who "sally forth without paying much attention to their surroundings." Both have evolutionary advantages and disadvantages: sitting will keep you safe if you are slow to walk into a trap, and roving will keep you rapidly acclimated to differing climes which might help keep you alive.

I am SUCH a sitter. I'm shy. This is hard for people who know me to believe because I'm very friendly and it looks like I leap, early and often. But I don't. I may make quick judgements about things and it might LOOK like I'm leaping, but I'm not. I wish I were.

The the article made something clear to me that I hadn't before understood: shy people are worried about negative attention, whereas introverts just prefer to be alone. Ah! The light bulb went on when I read that. I'm not an introvert. I like to be around people. But the fact that I've always been worried about negative attention creates such a conflict that it's hard to decide which way to go sometimes. I like to sit and watch and determine the best, safest course of action so that I don't make a great OOPS and cause everyone to look at me and laugh (like in fifth grade, when the mime wanted me to form a conga-line behind him, but I jumped on his back instead, misreading his clues to my GREAT chagrin). But I also want to make friends and laugh with new people!

I remember as a child, my ultimate fear was being called on in class. I developed all kinds of methods to avoid it: I'd look my teacher straight in the eye, to make sure she knew I wasn't dodging the question and then I'd become suddenly absorbed in the tip of pencil. Was it sharp enough? Oh! Perhaps it needs sharpening! And then she'd say, "Rachael? Do you know?" And I did, I really did know that the answer was Guatemala, but instead I'd get too nervous to say anything or I'd say, "Guh..." and she'd move on. I'd feel the class looking at me in judgment (which they weren't! But I didn't know that then) and I would want to dig a hole to Australia.

When I was in my early twenties, I was extremely self-conscious about my bad skin. I thought everyone was looking at my acne, all the time. IT WAS ALL ABOUT ME. I thought when I walked down a street that the person who turned aside to whisper to their friend was talking about my skin. It was horrible. I died a thousand deaths every time I went outside, to school, to the store.

I'm not sure how I realized this, but I think it was a combination of therapy mixed with time: I finally figured out: NO ONE CARES HOW I LOOK. Or how anyone else looks. People might notice if my hair is cute. They might notice if there's a big hole in my pants and my ass is hanging out. But apart from that, no one really notices, or cares. I look like Rachael most days, and they like me or they don't. How I apply my eyeliner or how my skin looks doesn't matter a whit. If I gain weight or if I lose it -- it doesn't make people look at me differently. I'm still Rachael to them.

I'm still Rachael to me. Sitter at times, rover at others (hello, RWA National! I'll be roving! I hope!), I'm still just me, and I'm not getting negative attention (unless I walk into a pole in the middle of sidewalk, which is a thing I'm prone to do, and in that case, oops -- just pick me up, and thanks, in advance, for choking your laughter back. I appreciate it).


Gigi Pandian said...

I'd never have guessed you were shy! Me, I'm definitely an introvert, but not at all shy. Best definition I've heard of an introvert versus an extrovert is that an extrovert gets their energy from being around other people, and the introvert reenergizes from being by themselves. I love people -- both my friends and meeting new people -- but more often then not I love doing things by myself.

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh, this was good. I think, having read that, that I am an introvert AND shy. Your stories so resonated with me. I still remember (with a rush of the accompanying emotion, even after all these years, even with the knowledge that it's ridiculous) stopping at a rest stop when I was about six, skinning my knee, and going up to the wrong camper (that looked just like ours) and telling the mom (not my mom! aaaghhh!) that i hurt myself and then being so mortified I wanted to die right there when i realized my mistake.

Juliet Blackwell said...

Rach, I would definitely notice if there was a tear in your pants and your ass was hanging out. Just sayin'.
Other than that, your Rachaelness shines sooooo bright!
Love this essay...and here's a secret: I'm shy too ;-)

Mysti said...

You radiate confidence and warmth and welcomingness, at least at RWA meetings :) Hard to imagine you worrying what anyone else thinks!

Me, shy (and introverted) to the point of needing medical attention--IF I don't know the rules, or if I care a fig what people think of me. which often I do. However, after 18 months in L.A., I could give a flying fig what any waiter, clerk, or bank manager thinks of the way I dress in any retail shop, restaurant, or, well, bank. My manners, now, that's something I like to keep tuned up.

School was a blessing because the rules were clear (at least, I thought they were). Meet-an-agent night? No frikkin' way. What are the *rules*?

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