On being quiet in one of the friendliest, most outgoing cities in the world

I started reading Quiet by Susan Cain on my second week in Auckland, where I am based until 2017. It’s the perfect book for this phase of my life. My introversion is such a contrast to the reality of this mega-friendly city . The book is giving me some kind of validation – that it’s perfectly fine and acceptable to be an introvert. Sadly, I’m finding it difficult to squeeze in non-academic reading so I haven’t made much progress with the book. Nonetheless, the chapters I’ve read so far are packed with well-researched, interesting examples and arguments. The book does a good job tackling extroversion and how/why our society thrives in it and how introverts are amazing too except we have no choice but to live in/with the world “that can’t stop talking”.

I’m from the Philippines. Filipinos are quite friendly. We are very warm but we usually save that demeanor for loved ones, special visitors, foreigners, balikbayans, or people we regard highly. On normal days, we keep to ourselves. We are not friendly to strangers, we do not talk to people in public transit, we barely say hi to that co-worker we see everyday. We’re not really friends with them so why start a conversation now?

Kiwis on the other hand are a sociable bunch. They love small talk. They will talk to anyone and show genuine interest in what the other is saying. My Kiwi flatmate, a very sweet and smart girl, always asks me how my day is going whenever we see each other (so that’s every single day!). Some days, she also asks me how my family is doing and she seems genuinely concerned.

They ask how’s it going like it’s their job. I never know how to answer. I feel unprepared every time even if the casual chat comes up every day!

They also have no problem inviting people they barely know to activities usually spent with close friends or family (at least in the case of less outgoing societies). These range from playing cards at someone’s flat to a big hike somewhere outside the city. We have a Facebook group for residents living in my student accommodation. 75% of the posts are residents inviting other residents to come join some kind of activity. “Anyone keen to…“, and people reply “I’m keen“, like, all, the, time.

It’s a consistent trait I find in  many people I meet here, many of whom are not natural-born Kiwis, but immigrants or children of immigrants. I guess that’s exactly why they’re friendly. They know from experience how it’s like to move to a new place. Being surrounded by warm, friendly people definitely helps newcomers in adjusting and feeling less lonely.

I’ve been here almost a month and I still find it fascinating how it’s so natural for New Zealanders to be sociable. For introverts, we have to work hard at it. Because life. Because genes. Because historicity or whatever that means. I’m not outgoing and “keen” enough and I doubt that will ever change.

Last weekend, I met a couple of Filipinos my age who were introduced to me by a common friend. We had dinner and drinks and we talked about life in Auckland. One of them is new like me and the other has been living in NZ for 8-9 years. We talked about New Zealand being different from the country we grew up in. The topic of being outgoing kept coming up. I admitted to being “shy”, so they spent the night convincing me to be the opposite because that’s how it is here, that it will be good for me and it will make make my stay more exciting if I become more sociable, if I meet new people and go out a lot. We made plans to do exactly that even if in my head I knew I am going to regret it and eventually back out.

I did not tell them about introversion and how some people don’t mind not meeting new people (or even close friends) for long periods of time. How some people prefer spending their Friday nights by themselves, doing nothing and still find it enjoyable. How I would love to go on road trips but I’m not really interested in clubbing or drinking (except I surprisingly liked the summer ale beer I ordered that night, I think I’d love to try it another time but maybe not in a few weeks, or months).

This is an exact manifestation of what Susan Cain says in the book. Introversion is perceived as a negative trait. We’re made to feel we’re lacking as individuals if we are not extroverted. We are then encouraged, sometimes, forced, to try to “overcome” the “shyness”.

“Aya, why are you so quiet in class?”, my professor asked me yesterday. I wanted to say “I’m not very comfortable sharing my thoughts in class. It takes me a while to formulate what I have to say. I’m also an easily anxious person (anxiety is different from introversion, so I also have that to deal with), and I’m not very articulate so even when I have something insightful or interesting to say, I get so nervous that I fumble for words and it comes out not the way I formulated it in my head, which makes me even more nervous and self-conscious.” 

Except I did not say that. I just told her I’d rather listen to what others have to say, which is true. My classes are very interesting, although heavy on the readings. Most if not all my classmates are participative, sharing what’s on their minds without any hint of reluctance. Very often they have good insights and make good arguments. I’m learning so much just from listening actually. Introverts are good at listening and I hope more people gave us credit for that.

Going back to university has been a struggle for me — mentally, emotionally, physically and socially. But at least I’m not at Harvard Business School. Susan Cain studied how it was at HBS and it goes without saying that people there are overflowing with confidence and social skills and the introverts have to feign confidence and enthusiasm to survive. If they are not inherently extroverts, they are trained to appear as one.

My brother, who is also an introvert but has done a great job developing his communication and social skills, told me I should enjoy reciting and reporting in class because those are “Life Skills”. I agree. Learning how to speak well and make good presentations are necessary because our society made talking such a big deal…

I’m still struggling to come to terms with my introversion. The book is very helpful in that sense so I really hope to get back at it.

For now, excuse me while I cancel a Tinder meet-up………….




On Moving On

This is one of my attempts at it.

I remember December 2011. A boy broke my heart or I broke my heart because I thought this boy liked me back but he did not, not in a way that I was expecting at least.

What they do not tell us about heartbreak is that sometimes, our hearts get broken not from breaking up with someone we love (in a relationship and things turn sour and you have to part ways kind of heartbreak). Sometimes, we fall in love with someone and s/he does not feel the same way. Sometimes, we meet this wonderful person and we’re pretty sure we’re meant-to-be but we’re not. We pick up on details that tell us we have a chance with a person but in the end we do not end up together. These are all heartbreaks too.

Alas, this is not about heartbreak but what happens after. This is about moving on.

How do we move on when everything reminds us of the person we most admire and crave?

How do we get over someone we thought was the “right person”, our “soulmate”?

I don’t know. All I know is that time is our friend. “Give yourself time”, a friend advised me when I was going through that dark patch in late 2011/early 2012. In a way that we do not force ourselves to like or love someone, we cannot force ourselves out of our feelings either. I accept this as fact but even I have a hard time applying it in life. I’m the type who cannot wait to get over someone. I immediately want to skip the part that hurts. I am human after all. I try to avoid pain if I can. If the pain is there already, I cannot wait for the day that it finally stops hurting. But guess what? It does not work that way. We have to go through the pain.

One day, it just leaves us. We no longer think about the people who broke our hearts. Not as much anymore. Only once in a while. Sometimes, one of them appears in our thoughts. Sometimes, we reminisce. Sometimes, we write about them (Exhibit A, this entry).

A habit I cannot get rid of: giving deadlines to my feelings e.g. “April 30, dapat mag-move-on na ko“. Again, it does not work. I constantly have to remind myself that feelings cannot be forced. We have to acknowledge the legitimacy of our feelings and our thoughts and we have to feel them and think them.

December 2011 was tough. I spent hours in bed feeling sorry and stupid and sad. It was Christmas season and I was far from jolly. So many things would remind me of this boy as if he wasn’t the main person in my head already. I knew that one day I’d get over him but at that time, I was just miserable. But I did go through it. Every day. Then it was time to move on. Literally. When I graduated from college, I also (gradually) graduated from my feelings for him.

Let time do its work. We cannot impose. We can do things to help us move on. Delete the person off our phones, unfollow them on Facebook, distract ourselves. But in the end, we heal our hearts simply by continuing. We get out of bed and live our lives.

At the moment, I am attracted to an amazing person but for reasons I choose not to disclose, I cannot have him. Actually, at one point this month, I was quite sure I was already in love with him and it breaks my heart because I know we are not meant to be.

They say timing is one of the biggest factors in relationships and timing can be a bitch. But I will stick to what I said earlier, time is our friend.

I came across an interesting article a few days ago. The gist was, we do not meet the right person at the wrong time. If the timing is wrong, that person is not the right one for us.

This guy I currently like is not the man for me. I’m thankful for our little moments and I am looking forward to the time I no longer feel this way towards him.

Move on by April 30? Maybe not.