I’m sitting here writing this because I chose not to go out tonight.
It’s the first time I’ve truly had to myself for what feels like a really, really long time (thinking about it, I suppose that means about a week and a half). When my husband told me he had *surprise* duty tonight, I texted a couple of friends with a series of sad-face emojis and a brief grumble — but really, I’m thankful. I’m thankful for the quiet. I could have gone to a friend’s house, made dinner plans, or invited people over, but the allure of uninterrupted solitude won out. A glass of wine on the sofa and the soothing tap-tap-tap of my keyboard: Bliss.
A few years ago, I was an introvert in every sense of the word. I would go to work, come home, chat with my parents or roommates for a couple of minutes, and retreat upstairs into my little box room, away from everything. Admittedly, that was not blissful. I was struggling to cope and the only way I knew how was to shut myself away from everyone, friend or foe. When people talk about introverts and extroverts, it always sounds so black and white, and in those days I was an absolute extreme. I relished being alone; even something as simple as a coffee date with a friend would send me into a tailspin of anxiety. I allowed myself to be dominated by my natural introversion.
Fast-forward to the present, and in many ways I am a very different person. My husband will attest to this: Where once I was crippled with social unease, he now calls me his “weapon” when we meet new people, or go out in large groups. I can be just as talkative and charming as he is. Indeed, introversion and extroversion are due to real, chemical differences in the brain — but if I’ve learned anything in the few years that I’ve been a military spouse, it’s that personality is malleable. I’ve changed a fragment of myself for the better. I can’t make social interactions any less tiring, but I’ve made it tolerable, and that’s a truly positive step in the right direction.
As I’m sure most of my fellow spouses will agree, military life is not particularly compatible with introverted personalities. My husband and I have lived in four places in the past two years, which has meant we’ve had to start all over in new environments, new towns, with new jobs and new friends. To my delightfully extroverted husband, this is something to be relished; for me, it seemed like a nightmare.
Furthermore, my comparatively short experience of being a military spouse has been a steep learning curve; I rapidly came to realize that I’m kinda-sorta expected to socialize — to attend spouse events, family days, balls. I know, I know, I know there’s no order or contract outlining what’s expected of me, but I’m aware that my social presence and reputation reflects positively on my husband. And, honestly, I’m just too awkwardly polite to say “no.”
So: I make do. I say “yes.” I “get out there.” I make new friends and meet new people because I need to make friends. I work in a high-volume retail store, chatting with customers all day long, because I need to work. I propel myself towards social events before my mind can coerce me into running away. I smile and listen and make jokes and swap phone numbers. When I get home, I recuperate. And then I do it all over again.
I remember finding out that my husband’s late mother — an incredible woman, witty and smart and kind, an exceptional example of a military spouse — was, in fact, a textbook introvert. I had no idea, from all the stories and the praise and the love that people had for her. My husband had told me about all the wonderful parties she hosted, the spouse events, the volunteering — but he hadn’t told me, until relatively recently, how exhausting she would find these events, how she’d retreat into her “cocoon” for a day or so after a big gathering. Suddenly I realized that not only was it possible to balance my introverted sensibilities, it was also okay to be this way. I didn’t need to feel guilty about how something as simple as a family day could knock the wind out of my sails, or the fact I chose not to make plans in favor of a night on the couch with my husband. I could still function as a good, sociable, smiling wife, friend, and coworker, and permit myself the space I needed to hibernate — even if that just means a lazy, Netflix-y Sunday every now and again.
There’s such a difference between who I am now and who I was before, because I realized that resisting the tug of the comfortable is not only possible, but necessary. If I had continued to bail on plans, find excuses, and continue living in my lonely little bubble, I wouldn’t have been unhappy — but I wouldn’t have been happy, either. So I started to make friends — a small circle of real, meaningful friends, who I’d share wine and laughter and endless conversation with — and, gradually, the nerves dissipated. I learnt my social strengths, and I utilized them. And I feel so much more robust, and happy, because of it.
I’m proud that I’ve found the strength to break out of my shell, and I’m grateful to the military lifestyle for laying the foundations of that change. Being introverted hasn’t meant social suicide, as I once perceived; I’ve simply tapped into a new realm of possibility, learnt to create time to recharge, and gently pushed myself out of my comfort zone.
So I’m relishing this night “off,” absolutely. And I’ll relish the next one when it comes about. But I don’t fear the fact that I’m not in absolute control of when that will be, or how soon. I just know that I can tell myself, “dude, you got this,” — and so I have.