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Intro, Extro, Whate-vert

Jessie Ma1 Comment

I've never been a fan of labels.

Well – okay – I've never really understood them.

When I was in rehab (long story) a decade ago, my group leader explained how important it was to separate you from the thing.

"You suffer from an addiction; you're not addict."
15 year old Jessie nods...
But is also confused why that was even worth clarifying
To her, it felt so intuitive.

To have, say, do, but not be Something.
She never thought of herself as her disorder, as Anything.

Maybe it's because I'm so particular with my words. As much as I love them, (and boy, do I love them) ONE word is never enough to summarize anyone or anything... 

It still freaks me out when people define themselves categorically.

"She's the type of person that..."
"Our relationships is...."

"I'm a..."

To me, the generality of labels unfairly rule out the gloriously complex nature of a person or relationship or feeling or event. The dissatisfaction and curiosity drive me mad.

I guess that's why I'm so obsessed with stories.

I have to know the who/what/when/why/hows behind a truth.

YEAH, I HAVE TO.

I understand people not by ASL or zodiac signs, but by their idiosyncrasies – slight lisps, rose-tinted memories of a past love, the way they doodle bubble letters in their Passion Planner or use flirty sarcasm to deflect compliments because of an underlying insecurity or flinch when someone raises their voice because their dad used to yell, regularly, in a drunken rage when they were growing up.

These bewitching little details are everything to me. That's what makes someone them. It's hard to see society bundle all those characteristics in a tortilla and just call it a burrito.

I am not a burrito.


I remember first watching Susan Cain's TED Talk, "The power of introverts" and having mixed feelings. 

On one hand, I could relate to so much of what she was describing as "introversion." The craving of solitude, heightened responses to stimulation, even an introvert's ideal work environment for optimal creative flow and productivity. 

But I was so confused because (and I'll bet ya $5 on this–) no one that has ever interacted with me would think to label me an introvert. 

I am* outgoing, friendly, and happy to meet new people.
*Not because I naturally am, but because I want to be. 

Basically, there is gap between my "introvert nature" and "extrovert actions," and that discrepancy exists because of social pressures, work expectations, a deep-seated compulsion to transcend my suffocating shyness – to name a few.

So, how is one actually defined... 
By their true, inner, knee-jerk responses?
Or by their conscious actions and behaviors?
Nature or nurture?
Private self or projection of self? 

The label "Ambivert" is even more confusing. To me, that just describes a damn human.

Oh, you have different responses to different situations??
Totes both an introvert AND extrovert. ✅ 

WHAT?!?!? ISN'T THAT EVERYONE????


I'm not shitting on all the surveys and studies on personality.

I just want to be understood in the way that I try to understand people – not by a word, but through words

Because any time the black/white dichotomy of introversion/extroversion comes up, I find myself struggling to explain the grey area that my identity occupies. As much as one can predominantly lean toward being a "Something," so much of human behavior is unpredictable – playing off context, environment, and most of all, mood. 

THIS is the whate-vert I am:

Honestly, I'm terrified of (and terrible with) most social interactions. I always feel like I'm talking too much or too little, not funny enough or not serious enough, or somehow offending or annoying the other party. I cut conversations off prematurely to let them escape and talk to someone more entertaining (or just less anxious). 

Don't even get me started on eye contact.

Yet social interactions have become somewhat of a masochistic, self-satisfying challenge. I throw myself in environments where I know I'll feel pushed, then be proud of myself for the moments I made someone laugh or feel loved.

Living situations have always been tricky. Throughout college, I either felt guilty for not engaging with my roommates, or stretched so far from what feels comfortable when I did. Because in my head, home = quiet. Now I live with 2 strangers I found online. People may think it's weird that we seldom interact, but I think that's how all of us prefer it.

As much as I love all the dance teams I've been a part of, it does involve a high dosage of social activity, which does require mental prep. I am writing this, literally, after walking out of a rehearsal I realized I could not handle. I could only get through 15 minutes before my hands started shaking. This week's been rough. I need more me.

I've found my home as a Creative because I know I have cool shit in me that I wanna share. But I can't always depict them face to face with people. So I spend most of my time letting my mind wander then making something that showcases my humor, pain, dreams, and endearingly relatable emotional instability. On the internet. 
Like my meme page – fuckin' dope.

I'm way closer to guys than I am with girls; always wondered why. One day a (male) friend **said, "that's natural, most girls are like that because they never have to question whether the guy wants to really hang out with them or not because guys always wanna hang out with girls."
**A theory based in heteronormative thirst, and like, no real evidence... but I can see where he's coming from. Whole 'nother rabbit hole. Anyway –

On this note, the only people I ever felt genuinely comfortable around were my (ex)boyfriend(s) and my mom. Those are also the most convoluted relationships of my life because I am a fucking crazy person and only they have seen/felt my full crazy. But in the same vein, they have also experienced my truly warm and loving heart. That's why I still hold onto them so dearly. Because once upon a time, their presence made me feel less alone.

And I always feel alone.

When I go to dance events, I put on myself the pressure to be a human champagne bubble.
"Hi! 。◕‿◕。 Nice to meet you!~~ YAS GURL LUV LUV LUVVVvvvvvvv"
Then I go to the bathroom, close my eyes for 5 minutes, take a deep breath. Then I skip back into the ring.

Yes, there are times that I want and even initiate hanging out. This is rare and happens only when my love for someone overpowers the comfort of my own company. And when I can, for moments at a time, quiet the voice in my head that tells me I need to perform in any way. If I have ever asked you to get coffee, you is so special to me.

I'm bad at interacting with people, yes, and EVEN WORSE at maintaining relationships with them. (As described in re: dance event vignette), I can be great at meeting people. Punny banter is my shit. But a deeper, more meaningful level is reserved for specific individuals, not a group, and it gets hard to manage. 
My closest friends are scattered around my life. A soul mate from college. A mentor in dance. A sister in faith. Etc., etc. They're all so colorful and extraordinary and lovely and I crave them – but it's so hard for me to ask for them to just be with me. I need to work on keeping in touch – by first believing that they need me, too. 

I always think that, if I were Filipino and had a debut (or ever got married but sigh I'm too behind in life to think about that rn UGH), my "court" (or bridesmaids) would NOT KNOW WHO THE HELL THE REST OF THEM WERE HAHAHA

And all of this is made a million times more confusing because I have ADD/ADHD. My focus, desire for stimuli, and energy levels are hard to balance. Even with medication.  

But that's okay.

That's me.


My point isn't that I'm socially crippled and it's sooo sad (although that is kind of the direction this took, my bad).

It's that I find it wildly insufficient and, quite frankly, boring to say "I'm a ___," when what I really am is a unique collection of predispositions and habits and feelings and scenarios.

I think personality tests are fun (ENFJ or INFJ here, depending on my mood when I take it), but I think embarrassing anecdotes and outrageous sex dreams are approximately 1000x funner. To me, building relationships is about accessing an authentic part of the self, story by story, rather than skimming the back cover of a book.

I want to challenge each of us to consider the stories in others.

The most alienating feeling in the world is to feel misunderstood... or even worse: that no one is trying to understand you.

Ask, and most are happy to share. 

Share, and most are happy to listen.

This is important because your stories make you You. 

Not your job title, but how you make custom cold brew coffees for your coworkers.
Not being petite or plus-sized, but how sexy you look in that white sundress.
Not your relationship status, but the way you wake up to a puddle of her drool on your chest and it somehow makes you want to stay with her forever. 

And, circling back –

Not me as an intro/extrovert, but the ebb and flow of figuring out how to love and be loved as Me.

(Whate-vert that is...)