In Chicago, people sat next to each other on buses and trains for hours and barely looked at each other. I'd go to my favorite coffee shop or bookstore and see other regulars there, but we never talked to each other. City dwellers usually try to avoid looking at or speaking to strangers, because they never know if those strangers are just regular people or people who would whap them in the head and run off with their wallets.
In Small Town, Tennessee, although I can't go anywhere without being stared at and gossiped about, the townspeople are generally friendly and strike up conversations with me, which startled me when it first started happening (I was all, "Why are they talking to me? Are they going to rob me? Because that's what happened the last time I got robbed.") Several of my colleagues have invited me to lunch, parties, or to barbecues.
Here's the thing, though. While I appreciate their invitations and have said yes to a few of them, what I often feel tempted to say is, "Sorry, I can't! Maybe next time...or NEVER."
In my version of hell, I would have to go to parties every day and make conversation with a bunch of people. When I was a kid, I liked going to parties, because we got to play games, eat cupcakes, and bring home goody bags. Now that I'm an adult, all people usually do at parties is drink alcohol, talk about the new diet they're on, and go home feeling obligated to reciprocate the social invitation.
I have a heavy course load this term, and I'm teaching more students at one time than I've ever taught before. As an English teacher, that means a lot of papers to grade, which means I might get so stressed that I end up writing, "All work and no play makes me a neurotic workaholic" or "redrum" over and over again.
I still have my website job, which, due to the car I had to buy (there is no public transportation in Small Town), my credit card debt that I accumulated when I moved here, and my student loan debt, I can't afford to give up. So that means I'm working too many hours every week. It's still the beginning of the school year, and I've been so tired that I end up falling asleep by ten P.M. (though I have to slap myself awake to finish my work) almost every night.
That means that when I have time off, I'd like to spend it doing what I want to do, like exploring Tennessee. Once I save up enough money, I'd like to visit Graceland and Dollywood. There is no mall in Small Town, so I'd like to drive to one of the bigger cities and go shopping. I'd also like to stay in town and write in a coffee shop, and I want to read more books without footnotes in them.
I've always been an introvert, and while I don't want to be alone all the time, I don't enjoy socializing every weekend, or even every other weekend. I prefer to do things on my own, because then I can do things on my terms. On the rare occasions I do go to a party, I spend the whole time counting the minutes until I can make up an excuse and leave "fashionably" early.
I don't want to be rude to my colleagues, which is why I've said yes to a few of their invitations. And I know that it is a good opportunity to network as well. But if I say yes more often, I'll end up resenting them and blurting out things like how I disagree with several of their teaching methods, the English department's policies and how I think it's extremely unfair to give us low salaries, heavy course loads and also require us to make time for endless meetings and committees. Or I might just blurt out, "Why does everyone in Small Town keep staring at me? Is it because they think I'm an alien, or are all of YOU the aliens?"
What about you? Do you consider yourself an extrovert or an introvert, and how do you deal with social invitations that you feel pressured to accept (but don't actually want to say yes to)?
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