“I can have oodles of charm when I want to.”
-Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions
I am not really that personable, although I fake it well. Most of us have a very shallow well of personality from which to draw from and mine is more shallow than most. Consequently I must treat my personality the way a Bedouin treats his water at an oasis- ration it, use it only when necessary, and don’t waste it on activities that do not provide an immediate reward. The majority of the people withhold their personality in this way, the exception being the extreme extroverts, the “life of the party” types who I have not and will never trust. I believe they are insane. Hitler was an extrovert. Did you know that?
My wife is an extrovert, and while she is the mother of my children and I love her so much it is physically painful at times, she is insane. The more people she is able to talk to the happier she is. As much as I can be in awe of anyone, and for a variety of reasons, I am in awe of her. However, it is this ability to interact with others without becoming exhausted that awes me the most. She can show up early for a party, make a crowd feel important and vital, and three hours later be going stronger than when she started. Me? Thirty minutes in and I’m camped out at the bar. It is a well known party trick for those physically incapable of engaging in conversations for more than five minutes at a time to chat with people as they wait to refresh their drinks. If the bartender is worthy of a buck a round then I only need to be sociable for five minutes- one fairly specific topic of conversation before they are off again and I’m left to recharge. Unless they want to do shots, and shots are the single most important reason to avoid camping out at the bar during wedding receptions and high school reunions.
Before you get the wrong idea, I really do like people. But like LASIK surgery, social situations leave me feeling like my eyeballs are being sucked out of my head. But I do like people. For brief periods and under the right circumstances. Much to my wife’s amazement nobody can really tell if I’m faking enjoying or if I’m actually enjoying, and it’s probably for the better that this is so, lest I never get invited to parties and my wife has to talk to me all of the time. Nothing is more disconcerting to her than ten minutes of me in a social situation, animated face, witty anecdotes, expressions oscillating between amazement or concern or amusement as the flow of talk dictates, only to turn away from the conversation and immediately adopt the flat affect of a lower functioning autistic. I make sure I lock eyes with her in these moments, the wrung out emotion a triumphant gesture of an indomitable will.
Then, a bee line for the bar.