It surprises people when I tell them I'm an introvert, because I can be quite social. Most people equate introvert with shy. While that is a false equivalency, in my case, I am far more shy than most people realize. As a teenager, I was painfully shy - outside of school and school activities where I felt comfortable, if I was in a group, I would frequently stay on the sidelines and watch, interacting very little, if at all. Even now, as an adult, it's a difficult thing for me to go into a group setting and interact with people when there are people I don't know (shoot, even when there are people I do know), so it's not uncommon to find me sitting back and observing what's going on around me (and I can be perfectly happy doing that, and trust me, I can see and learn a lot that way!). And if I find myself in a situation where I really like someone, really want to get to know them better, I'm just as likely to either make a fool of myself, or completely withdraw out of embarrassment. (I long ago embraced my membership in the Freaks and Geeks set, but I still struggle with the social cues that we're all "expected" to know. Some things don't seem to change much.)
It's not that I'm anti-social or unfriendly, or cold and unfeeling, even if it looks that way; to the contrary, I feel very deeply and passionately, and I need social interaction like anyone else. I just don't always express those feelings in such a way that our society says is "the norm." Each of these labels has been applied to me (and seriously, do you know how hurtful it is to be told you're seen as unfriendly and unfeeling, when nothing is further from the truth? And when that happens, I tend to withdraw more into myself, which of course just creates a feedback loop which reinforces the erroneous perception.).
I very much like being with my friends, talking, laughing, sharing. But I don't like huge crowds. And since getting the shunt in my ear last year, with the resulting hearing loss, which looks to be permanent, being in large groups is especially difficult, because I have a hard time distinguishing voices after a while. (It's kind of like in LOST, when The Others would be whispering in the jungle, and our plucky survivors would find themselves surrounded by all these whispering voices, unable to distinguish where the voices where coming from, just feeling them all around them, and unable to tell what they were saying. When I get in a large group, after a while, it's very much like that for me, which can make interacting a challenge.)
And the key for me (and many introverts): after a spell of being social, I desperately need to be alone. I need to go off by myself and recharge. Not to do so stresses me out a great deal. When my dad died, two of my sisters were in Miami for his funeral. From the moment I had landed in Miami to visit my dad, to his sudden death, I hadn't had a moment to myself, literally. I was exhausted, I was angry, I was stressed, and the day of his funeral, I decided I needed to go off by myself for the morning. Well, my sisters had wanted me to spend time with them (which was at that moment the last thing I needed or wanted), and I told them I needed some time alone. They were less than understanding, and one of them pulled out the "unfeeling" label, which was very much the wrong thing to say to me at that moment. Clearly they didn't understand my need, because that wasn't their way of dealing with their feelings. But their reaction didn't exactly endear them to me.
I don't take advantage of social opportunities as much as I could, because too often, I don't have the energy (and that would only serve to make me and everyone else unhappy). So I feel that after a while, I get forgotten, or people may assume I don't want to do something, when that may not be the case. Like anyone else, I want to think friends want to spend time with me, I like to be asked (and I hope for understanding if I have to say no). By the same token, if I hear about a social gathering, and I haven't been specifically invited, I'm not going to approach someone and see if I can tag along. That just goes so completely against who I am as a person, as an introvert, and to do so would feel like I was intruding. To my thinking, if people wanted me to be part of a gathering, they'd have asked me to join in. I don't assume my company is desired and I don't want people to assume I'm just going to ask to play.
I don't ask for pity, I don't need pity, I don't need advice, I just need understanding. For the most part, I'm a pretty happy person (events of this week notwithstanding). I only hope to be able to provide a little insight into my behavior, which I understand can be frustrating, irritating, mystifying, at times. I know there are others out there like me, and when I come across a kindred spirit, it's a relief not to have to put on our outside extrovert mask, because that gets tiring. Of course, the onus is on me to find that right balance between being a hermit and being social (and all too often, I tend to err on the side of being a hermit). It's just a bit of a moving target. Keeps me on my toes.