When I was asked to join Quiet Diaries, my first thoughts drifted towards my sister. She was clearly the quiet member in our family: she craves moments of solitude, prefers staying at home rather than attending overdone birthday parties, and, like my father, uses words only when she needs to make others feel comfortable in social situations. While perhaps this was how our mother raised us, I was worried I would not be able to live up to the title of Quiet Diarist.
Rather than identifying with any extreme, I have always thought of myself as an ambivert. While I enjoy my own company and am not necessarily as outgoing as my friends, that does not mean I do not enjoy social interactions as much as my peers do. I am a versatile conversationalist and love expressing myself to others, yet I am also comfortable listening when others need it. While I can be very talkative when people approach me, in most situations, they prefer to hang out with other people, and I’ve learned to accept this.
For many people, rambling and being silly comes easily and gets them many friends. However, for some, speaking becomes torture. Thoughts like Am I going to offend this person? Am I speaking too much? Are my jokes funny? Am I boring them? sweep through my head, making it nearly impossible for me to feel like I’m being a normal friend to anybody.
My sister, comparatively, goes through these experiences with more ease than I do. Because she uses her words mainly to make others feel more comfortable, she creates pleasant small talk with people, and she has an intimate group of friends at parties, while I thrive standing against walls and in corners. She also orders for the both of us in restaurants when we go out to eat. It’s a maturity I’ve always been envious of. She isn’t popular, but she’s well-liked. I, on the other hand, while being unsure of where I stand on the social ladder, have had people avoid me because of how small my voice is.
However, on stage, that all changes. And I’m not the only one who notices this change.
“Annelie, I have a question. If you’re so loud on stage, why are you so quiet when you talk to people?” my friend Laura asked me one day.
I thought of giving a clever answer, like, Oh you know, just saving up my voice for another spoken word performance. But even I wouldn’t buy that excuse. In truth, maybe it’s because I don’t even realize it myself. Or maybe it’s because I hate the sound of my own voice. Most of the time, I don’t even have any confidence in what I’m saying off stage.
I opened my mouth, ready to tell her the truth, but I was afraid that Laura, the class clown, wouldn’t understand. I stuttered, then exploded in conversation to cover up my mistake. Thankfully, at that point we had to part ways, and she didn’t realize her question remained unanswered.
“It’s just that whenever we speak, you’re so quiet and I can’t hear you, and it gets annoying after a while.”
Laura’s words still echo in my head today. I wonder if other people think the same things about me as I do.
Do they think I am annoying? Does my social awkwardness really destroy the friendships I have made? Do people hate me for being quiet? Or do they actually hate something about what my ability to be quiet says about themselves? Do the people who I think are comfortable in their own skin experience these feelings as well?
Looking around from Laura the class clown to my own sister, I think there must be things they are insecure about as well. Maybe this insecurity isn’t an ambivert thing. Maybe it’s a human thing.