Last night as I was falling asleep I heard my roommate in the next room with her best friend, talking and laughing with abandon. I curled up and pushed away the longing that tugged at my soul, telling myself I needed sleep and I was an introvert so I was ok with not having someone to chum with at the end of a long day. In reality, I want that as much as anyone else. Unfortunately, I missed 12 years of practice in it, and it’s still a struggle to interact with other people around my age.
I was raised in almost complete social isolation. When I finally started realizing that other kids got to hang out with peers in settings other than twice a week at church (and always next to their parents, because heaven forbid you let your children away from your side when you are at church!), I was already so far gone into the fundamentalist mindset to really object to my parents’ methods. Once, I brought it up with my mom, who told me that if I could learn to get along with my siblings I would be able to socialize with anyone. I quickly grasped this as a goal to attain and started working really hard to get along with my siblings. I wanted to be prepared when I got the chance to have a friend, and I didn’t know how else to do it. I also bought into the myth that “socialization” included being able to get along with people from every age group—older than me, younger than me. What I didn’t seem to realize was that while I have always been pretty good at that, I never could get along with people my own age—something that continues to follow me.
Now, I’m not well-versed in personality theories, but I am an intense introvert. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t like people, but that being around people takes an incredible amount of energy from me and I have to plan it carefully. I think that this started kicking in as I got older, and when we finally left the fundamentalist church I grew up in for the slightly less fundamentalist church my parents now attend (when I was about 16), I discovered that combined with my introversion, my practical ignorance of how to form relationships with others was a veritable isolation fence. Even though I wanted to be able to talk to other my age, I didn’t have the skills. And while, if I had been an extrovert, I might have pushed through and tried to make friends, as an introvert I just couldn’t do it. It took all my brain space to adjust to life outside of the cult, and suddenly trying to figure out how to develop personal relationships as an introvert was too much. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand any of this at the time, and simply assumed I was a big social flop and that people didn’t like me because of sin in my life. Or something like that.
I spent the next two years desperately wanting to have friends, but having no clue how to go about that. I would vary between not talking to anyone and taking refuge in books to clinging desperately to anyone who so much as said hello to me. I didn’t know about boundaries, never having had any set with me. I was insecure, needy, frightened, and an inveterate people-pleaser—and people rightly ran the other direction when they saw me coming. A few tried to stick around, but I was a mess. My mental health was collapsing around the same time, and I was a master manipulator. I’m amazed that there were even one or two who didn’t run.
College and four years of mental health treatment (including a stint in treatment for an eating disorder) taught me a lot about myself. Newsflash: being able to get along with your siblings or your mom’s friends does not make you “well-socialized.” HA! Even though I can set excellent boundaries, understand myself as an introvert and can factor that into my social life, (am coming to) believe that I am inherently worthy and loveable, and don’t debate people on theological or moral issues every time I meet them, socialization is still DAMN HARD. Being able to socialize with people older than me and younger than me and my siblings did NOT prepare me for life in the real world. I still feel the effects of it today, and it hurts.
The socialization “myth” is one of the things that the most upsets me in the realm of legitimate-concerns-that-homeschoolers-make-fun-of. It’s especially rife in fundamentalism, with the concept that the family structure can be an isolated and independent unit. To quote John Donne, “No man [family, student, parent] is an island.” When parents homeschool in order to isolate their children, there is a whole host of problems attendant.
is a thing, so I’ll end with my response to it: “I grew up outside the village and it wasn’t all so great either.”