I ran into a girl at work the other day who used to be in the same department as me. We were chatting and catching up, and our conversation took a familiar turn:
Coworker: So how’s the boyfriend?
Coworker: Wait, what about [ex’s name]?
Me: We broke up like three years ago.
Coworker: …Wait, what?
This devolved quickly into the usual explanation of how things were mutual and we’re still good friends and no hard feelings, etc. I’ll spare you the details (if you really care and haven’t been keeping up with us, you can read all about it here), because the exchange that happened next is really the one that I wanted to explore:
Coworker: So are you seeing anybody new?
Me: Nah, not right now.
Coworker: Why not? Are there no good boys in Houston?
Me: (trying not to roll my eyes as I come up with a plausible excuse; you’d be surprised how often people ask me that) Either that, or I’m just too shy to meet them.
Coworker: (definitively) You are not shy.
Me: Yeah. I am.
Coworker: (now dismissively) No, you’re not.
Surprisingly enough, this is not the first time that’s happened. I am often met with weird looks of disbelief when I tell people I’m shy. Have been my whole life. Was painfully so as a child. It’s one of the perks of being a Gemini (ha ha, see what I did there?), and an introverted one at that. I can be loud and boisterous with my friends, and amiable and self-confident among my coworkers. But get me in a large group of people, and suddenly I am once again that completely terrified little kid with zero social skills trying to fade into the woodwork as she never utters a single word.
It’s a paradox I’ve dealt with my entire adult life. And apparently, I am not alone in this. Several of my friends also share my tendency toward the introverted, and I’ve heard the same thing from all of them. One-on-one or in small groups of strangers or slightly bigger groups of people we already know, we’re fine. But there comes a point where the shy takes over, and there’s really not a damn thing you can do about it.
I have come to refer to this phenomenon as the Introvert Equation:
S = N(D/K) + (AC)
In case you weren’t already completely assured of my status as a nerd, this should do it for you. Yes, I came up with the above equation on my own, after much careful (and even some serious) thought. Here’s what those letters all mean:
S = the level of shyness I can expect to experience in a given social situation.
D = the number of people in said social situation whom I do not know.
K = the number of people whom I do know.
N = the total number of people present in said social situation, or in the location where said social situation is occurring if it’s really crowded.
A = the level of shyness inherent depending on whether or not there is anyone present to whom I am attracted.
C = constant; the average level of shyness inherent in any social situation at all.
So in a way, A and C are both constants. Let’s say that these constants can be metered on a level of shyness from 1 to 10, 1 being not shy at all and 10 being hide-in-the-bathroom-because-oh-god-PEOPLE shy. C, for me, is about a 2.5. As I tend to clam up and get incredibly shy around people whom I find attractive and with whom I have little previous social contact, A = anywhere from 7 to 10 if there is a cute boy I like, and 1 if there is not.
The big variables are the D’s, K’s, and N’s. These will vary depending on the situation. And since the people I don’t know (D) is divided by the number of people I do know (K), the more people I know, the more comfortable I will be. But because that result is multiplied by the number of people present in general (N), the more people there are, the more shy I will be. It also has a lot to do with the size of the space; like if we have our own table in a restaurant or bar I don’t really have to factor in anyone but the specific group I’m with into N. But if we’re in a highly crowded space with no real designated location for my group, then I have to factor in everyone in the room.
This is why I can be fine at a series of slightly-crowded bars with several of my friends and only one person I don’t know, and then when we go down the street to a night club packed like sardines with retro-loving hipsters, I have a panic attack (actual, real example from earlier this year). Let me break it down for you.
At only-slightly-crowded bar, with our own table and plenty of space, and the only guys are either married or dating one of my friends so A = 1:
S = 5(1/4) + (2.5*1) = 3.75
3.75 (on our shyness scale of 1 to 10) is nothing. You might have to work a little to get me talking, but once we get going I’ll be fine.
With exactly the same group of friends, except now at the super crowded club where I have to inchworm my way through the dance floor and squeeze against the wall to let people past, so I have to consider everyone in the room:
S = 250(1/4) + (2.5*1) = Panic attack.
I didn’t even have to do that math on that one, but for the sake of argument I will. It’s 65. On the shyness scale of 1 to 10, you can see why 65 is a panic attack.
Of course now that I’ve taken you through all that, I realize I forgot to include the alcohol consumption coefficient…So my formula may need some work…Maybe I can just blame this post on the steroids…That sounds good.
PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE WOMAN BEHIND THE KEYBOARD. SHE’S ON DRUGS.