I was never the most social person. Donâ€™t misunderstand, Iâ€™m not like Howard Hughes, alone in the dark with the fingernails and the Kleenex boxes for shoes. Iâ€™ve saved some things for my forties.
In my less imaginative moments, I like to blame the circumstances of my upbringing. Moving around a lot, new schools every 18 months or so; making and keeping new friends was a challenge, especially as I got older. But then I had two sisters doing exactly the same thing, and they seemed to do just fine. So that theory turns out to be low-quality, store-brand rationalization. Great. Yet another thing my sisters ruined for me, like movie musicals. Itâ€™s possible to watch â€œGreaseâ€ too many times, it really is.
Iâ€™ve gotten less introverted as Iâ€™ve gotten older. Part of that is the realization of oneâ€™s own creeping mortality, understanding that maybeâ€”just maybeâ€”I havenâ€™t got all the time in the world. And being shy is a giant time-suck, let me tell you. Imagine having to make an effort to decide to leave the house. Being a parent helps with this. Being a stay-at-home parent is a sure-fire, undeniable cure. If agoraphobia is malaria, stay-at-home parenthood is quinine. Shack up with three kids under five in a confined space and see how long it takes before youâ€™re standing in front of the mall Cinnabon begging grown-up strangers to talk to you. About anything, my God, anything.
My perspective has changed as Iâ€™ve gotten older, sure, but I still have my episodes of social anxiety. The best news is that this is exactly the right time to live for those of us who want social interaction, but maybe without all the squirmy eye contact or people breathing at you or expecting you to say things. Itâ€™s possible now to live an almost entirely mediated non-hermit existence with the help of text messaging and social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. I can keep up with people, catch up with people, anonymously stalk people, all from the comfort of my home, where all the traditional accoutrements of hermitude are still available to me if I want them: the muttering to yourself, the matted beard, the loincloth, all of it.
Iâ€™ve found techno-assisted interaction to be especially helpful now that Iâ€™m dating again. Thereâ€™s a scene in the movie â€œSwingersâ€ documenting one manâ€™s horrific social seppuku via repeated stabs with the dagger of increasingly catastrophic answering-machine messages. These are problems of a pre-text-message world. Am I still capable of making an ass of myself? Certainly. But itâ€™s easier to face knowing I have a backspace key. I had the chance to proofread it several times before I hit send. So if the message gets to you and I still make an ass of myself? Baby, thatâ€™s just who I am.
Some parts of the new reality confound me, sure. Iâ€™ve reached the magic age of 36. This means I am now exactly twice as old as other legal adults. I am on the leeward side of an actual, a literal generational divide. There are teenagers whose stupid, stupid worldviews and cultural preconceptions I have to take seriously now because theyâ€™re of voting age, just like me. I want to shake my old man fist at them as I point out how idiotic they look with their hair in their faces and their Chinese letter tattoos that donâ€™t actually say anything and their face piercings. But I donâ€™t. This is the generation whose smartphones remake whole societies, in subtle ways like here with the way we perceive information and elsewhere where the pillars of government shake, like Tunisia and Egypt.
Plus theyâ€™ll be in charge of my Social Security one day. It wouldnâ€™t do to piss them off. I told you Iâ€™m getting more socially savvy.