I feel like shy people have gotten a bad reputation as inherently selfish or cold. I even heard Matthew Hussey, self proclaimed relationship expert, say you shouldn’t feel bad for excluding shy people from your gatherings, because we don’t bring anything to the table. I take offense to that Matthew! When you bring a shy person out of their shell you get a friend that is more loyal and hears things others don’t. And for the most part we’ve really thought about what we have to say and we can also make great listeners as we process what you have to tell us. We’re kind of like cats in the great Meet the Fockers quote: “But cats make you work for their affection. They don’t sell out the way dogs do.” For example, we had a graduate school friend of Wole’s who was extremely shy, but once you took the time to get to know him, he had the funniest observations on life.
One of the first things I ever noticed about Wole and other Africans was a brutal sense of honesty. Our first time hanging out together, Wole asked me, “Why are Americans so big?” which infuriated me at the time. Since then, I’ve noticed as a culture the Nigerians I’ve met have no qualms about calling people out to their faces for just about anything. Along with this honesty comes an extroverted nature, where anyone can talk to anyone else and frankly invade their personal and emotional space (Wole aptly uses the word “invasive”). And I really mean your personal space. The only Nigerian I met that doesn’t fit this description and is painfully shy turned out to suffer from schizophrenia.
I realize there is a difference between being an introvert and being shy with introverts recharging by themselves and shyness meaning you have trouble interacting with people you don’t know. I have always had a bit of both and most days I would be content being alone with my children and husband. I have progressed out of my shyness quite a bit, starting with my freshman year of college, really when I started dating Wole. Before that I was terrified of interactions with people I didn’t know and really did not want to go to a school away from my family and friends although I did it anyway. Something switched with Wole. I never want to encourage anyone to have to find their self-worth through a relationship, but I kind of did. Up until my senior year of high school my mother had insisted on dressing me in baggy jeans and t-shirts and only half listened to most of what I had to say. Senior year I started buying my own clothes, younger band kids were starting to look up to me, and there were also a few flirtations, although none of them went anywhere. But when a guy who always spoke exactly what he was thinking saw me as beautiful and found what I had to say interesting, it inspired a whole new boldness. My job has also helped with my introvert ways as I have to interact with my class. Being an introvert, control freak does not make it easy to be a middle school music teacher (why do you always have to be in my space and try to do things your own way!), but it has helped me with both aspects of my personality.
That does not mean I became completely outgoing and loved, loved, loved social scenes after dating Wole and starting to teach. Part of the reason Wole and I got along so well in college is we avoided parties and opted for smaller gatherings, so the first real difference became apparent in phone conversations. Now I have never been a huge fan of talking on the phone. I talked a lot on the phone in my younger days, because I had no other choice, but I’ve always preferred face to face interaction and felt awkward on the phone. When your boyfriend’s family lives a $1500 plane ticket away, you have no choice, but to talk on the phone. I had to be ready to talk at any moment, with a bad connection, and dealing with accents. Much as I already loved these people for raising such a fantastic son, these calls nearly gave me anxiety attacks. Mummy and other Nigerians have chastised me several times for not calling enough.
In person, the lack of shyness has its pros and cons. The pros have been feeling like I really connect with most of the Africans in my life. This pro outweighs just about everything else, since my family has always kept things on the surface and not really been able to talk about anything real. My in-laws listen when I communicate something, even though they have to struggle with my accent. The con can be having to talk or interact with people when all I really want is to be alone and away from everyone. I feel guilty for this, because I’m not as warm as I’d like to be, but at the same time sometimes I really do need a little bit of alone time or to slowly acclimate to a new group of people. This can often cause misunderstandings with me and my husband who can talk to a new stranger for hours with no anxiety whatsoever, but this is another example of how our opposites help balance each other out. In the end, I appreciate the African world not letting me live too much in my head, even if the culture can be intrusive.