I write a lot about being an introvert. Then again, it’s probably one of my defining traits… the funny thing is, not a lotta people I know would describe me as an introvert. Being raised by one of the most extreme extroverts I’ve ever encountered (my father, of course) I was pretty much forced into extroversion. Well, that makes it sound like human trafficking… I suppose I should say, it wasn’t much of a choice for me. So I learned to fake it. growing up in small-town Ohio, I didn’t have much of a chance to be an introvert, though. I mean, we’re talkin’ about a town where I could probably list off everyone in my graduating class. It was that small.
Still, I thought I had a chance to re-invent myself or rather, be true to myself, by the time I got to college. You ever tried introversion in college? It’s how you end up on Campus Security’s watch list. The connotation of “introvert” and “loner” and, well, if we’re being honest “Unabomber” continues to this day. You keep to yourself and people generally think that means you’ve got something to hide. Aside from my embarrassingly large collection of Boba Fett memorabilia, this introvert has nothing to hide, but again, I gave it the old college try and faked my way through four years of undergrad. Well, technically three and a half since I graduated a semester early, but you get the point.
In grad school, the challenge was a lot less. Sure, there’s the distinct advantage of less of the social scene, considering everyone is busy carrying on their adult lives, but it’s more than that. Grad school was a place where one-on-one discussion was encouraged; where we all engaged with one another on an intellectual level. I can handle people, but with the people in grad school, it was less of a chore.
Nevertheless, here I am. Asheville, North Carolina. Not a place many of my friends would choose to call home, but I wanted something “less LA” and Asheville is pretty much it. The politics of the state at large are… less than ideal (as living in a red state is for someone like me) but Asheville is a different kind of town from most places in North Carolina.
But this isn’t about where I chose to live or the reasons why I picked it. This is about what Asheville has to offer. Ever since I announced I was moving… again, people have encouraged me to take the opportunity to re-invent myself. I mean, after all, it’s a new town where I know <b.literally no one. This was a first for me. While the whole “re-invent yourself” is good advice for some, for me? I tweaked it. “Be yourself.” I mean, in all honesty, in my twenty-five years of life and considerable amount of physical, emotional, and mental bullshit, this was the first opportunity I had to be me.
For those of you that don’t know, since movin’ here, I’ve taken a job at the local gay bar. I know, not what you’d think I’d be doing with my Master’s, right? Believe me, I didn’t think so either, but it’s something to tide me over. As it is now, I work at this place on Fridays and Saturday nights. Two nights a week where I hafta force pleasant small-talk to a half-empty bar and a whole lotta bar stools. Even I can handle that.
The rest of the time? That’s my time. For example, those of you that don’t know, today is “Dining Out for Life.” It’s an event with participating restaurants all over the country where they have a specific day where they donate a portion of their profits to local HIV/AIDS programs. Naturally, I like to lend my support where I can.
Anyways, that’s how I ended up crammed into a seat at the bar. Happy couples and large groups littered the restaurant as I sat all by my lonesome. As I waited for my food, I thought that it might have been nice to bring a book or something while I waited, but being forced to spend time alone with my thoughts was another viable alternative. Hell, I haven’t done that in a long time and a whole helluva lot has changed. It seemed like it was time.
Occasionally, I’d look around and sort of examine the others in the restaurant. More often than not, I was met with indifference, but occasionally, you’d catch a glint of pity as they made eye contact. Other times, it was more of a visible discomfort. I wasn’t sad that I was eating alone, why should others be sad for me?
Of course, this returns to my earlier point. I didn’t fake extroversion for so long because I was uncomfortable. I did it for others. I did it so my parents wouldn’t worry about me or my teachers wouldn’t send home notes about how I was “having difficult adjusting.” I faked being an extrovert for so long because it was easier.
But at 25 years old, why am I still trying to make my life easier for other people? It’s too damn exhausting. If I wanna go out for a beer and can’t find someone to come with, who gives a damn? And that, my friends, is the art of eating alone. Not giving a good goddamn.