There I was, standing with my gear tucked neatly at my feet trying to look tired but excited like my classmates. I was gathered outside the tech building at my college in the early morning with fourteen other students, one teacher, and two dirty old vans. This was my first day of an accelerated summer geology course that involved camping with these people for two weeks. All around me, people were introducing themselves and, in my mind, forging friendships that would put them on lists such as “Easily My Favorite Student” or “The Cool Guy Who Can Talk to Anyone.” I remember the moment I realized a summer camping trip (also known as an easy credit class) might rank as one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made.
I’ll be honest. Those two weeks were some of the most challenging and disparaging times of my entire college career. I was essentially trapped 24 hours a day with 15 people who hiked, camped, bathed, cooked, and, most importantly, talked with me. Despite being terrified at the time, five years later, I’ve forgotten most of the awkward encounters I’m sure were only awkward in my mind. At least that’s what I tell myself when memories of the most embarrassing ones keep me awake at 3 a.m.
Please Don’t Sit Next to Me
Thomas Edison once said that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. He was probably talking to young inventors and entrepreneurs so afraid they wouldn’t have what it took that they never started, but I always thought this quote could apply to personal relationships too. Connecting with people is like trying to defuse a complicated bomb with an instruction manual printed for an expert bomb diffuser. Meaning, socializing only really makes sense to the people who already understand it. Despite this, introverts often find themselves at tables in breakrooms, in line for the bathroom, or in my case drinking a cheep beer I didn’t want around a campfire in the woods trying to be both invisible and completely ordinary at the same time. I haven’t yet managed the invisible part so it wasn’t surprising when someone took the empty chair next to me.
Here it is. A moment that changes the course of your life seen in hindsight like a shining beacon heralding in the New Age. At the time, though, I just kept reading. Thankfully the universe had done its part. My one percent inspiration was sitting next to me and all I could think was why couldn’t he have taken a different chair and let me sit in peace. He didn’t though. Instead, he sat there doing god-knows-what while I reread the same paragraph over and over and my mind argued with itself about who was being more rude: me, for not putting down my book or him, for thinking I would do so.
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Eventually, for a reason I can’t remember (it was probably tied to an overwhelming desire not to appear rude), I put down my book and we talked. We talked as the day wore on, we talked as our classmates dished out dinner, we talked as the sun set and the fire died and all around us people returned to their tents. When the only voices in the campsite were ours, we went to the river and talked until it became absolutely clear we would fall asleep right there if we didn’t stop talking and go to bed.
Movies, music, books, anything—I only had to mention a topic I enjoy and he would fill in the remaining space with excited words I could never seem to string together out loud. As the night went on, I found myself growing comfortable with his loud but almost comically kind opinions on everything. Finally, I grew confident enough to tell him I disagreed with his opinion on something. A victory for me that I can’t overstate. Mentally I prepared myself for retreat. Would I ruin our new friendship with my opinion? This and every other worse-case-scenario played through my mind in a moment. Of course, after hours of gushing over the same interests, this one difference meant nothing to him and he nodded thoughtfully, a trick I now realize is his way of saying, “Your opinion of music is wrong but I’ll pretend to listen anyways.”
We’ve been together for five years now. We’re engaged. Our home, our cat, our life—all of it built on the mutual understanding that I probably won’t put my book down every time he wants attention. But if he waits long enough, I’ll think of something to say, and he will never concede that while The Shins may have done it first, they never did it best. But he will nod and let me finish when I say it.
So things ended perfectly, right? I found my Knight in Shining Armor and was then exempt from talking to anyone else the whole time. Unfortunately, no. All I can say is at least he wasn’t the loudest of them, though in an overpacked van full of college students, that’s not saying much. The thing about meeting your soulmate on a trip where you are also required to live, sleep, and eat with them every day is that within the first two weeks of knowing each other, you have a pretty good idea that the two of you are meant for each other. I should also mention that the thing about living, sleeping, and eating with anyone for two weeks is that it’s hard to keep secrets from each other. There was no makeup in my bag to wear, there were no soapy showers every night (unless you count a shallow river and biodegradable shampoo), and most importantly, there was no escape. Like so many of life’s struggles, though, I made it through and maybe even came out on the other side with a little more strength and fight in me.
Sometimes Hard Work Pays Off
I would never have signed up for that summer course if I had understood how much interacting with fellow students I would have to do, and if I hadn’t, I would still be going to concerts solo wondering if there was anyone out there who shared my insanely specific tastes. I’ll forever be grateful to myself for trying something I didn’t know I would succeed at, but mostly, I’m grateful to my extroverted fiancé who sat next to the shy girl in class and just waited for her to speak.