Respecting people’s privacy means respecting the fact that (a) not all times will be opportune ones for a visit, and (b) they are not obligated to explain that to you in the moment just because you’re on their front stoop.
In a recent column, Carolyn Hax offered the perspective above when a mother-in-law was upset that her son and daughter-in-law didn’t answer the door when she dropped by unannounced. Her response really focused on the concept of privacy and the misplaced entitlement that some put on access to other people’s time. This is a huge, ongoing concern of mine, and one that I’ve spent a great deal of energy over many years trying to subtly address without starting World War 3. I need my privacy/solitude and will go to the ends of earth to protect it. This tends to be at odds with how the rest of the world operates, but it’s a walk I’m willing to take.
Most people in my life understand and respect my introversion and how that impacts my ability and willingness to engage with people. It’s taken a lot of time and conversations, but I’m fairly confident that they understand it’s not you, it’s me. Usually that’s BS, but I’ve learned that it’s the honest to goodness truth about how I engage with people. Having conversations in any format (in person, on the phone, via text, etc.) is draining. Whether these are positive or negative conversations, they are exhausting for me. You can ask my boyfriend for confirmation, who has learned to tune out the line of expletives I spew when my phone rings or sounds a text/Gchat notification. It’s probably irrational to have that strong of a reaction, but it comes from the same place: it’s as if people are trying to force themselves into the quiet bubble that I need to maintain my sanity.
It’s hard to balance this with the reality that life is filled with interactions that I need to have. I fully recognize this and compromise to ensure they happen. However, I do have the right to manage these as I see fit. That means I have the absolute right to prevent interactions when I’m not in a place to receive them appropriately. Just because the phone rings doesn’t mean I’ll pick it up. Just because you text doesn’t mean I’ll read it, and even if I do, I may not respond immediately. And heaven forbid you drop by my home unannounced (or without an hour’s notice) — please know that I will not open the door.
It’s not about you, nor is it anything you’ve done wrong. Interactions are draining and “being on” for one more second when I need to recharge (read: sit in complete silence, lie in a dark room, etc.) will result in complete disaster. Ever been around someone when they’re hangry? That’s me. I’ve come to embrace reality and choose to be proactive to avoid catastrophe. The result is that I pull back/block people in order to ensure I can function later.
Unfortunately, this begs the “well why didn’t you (pick up the phone, reply to my email, text me back, come to this event)?” This always feels like an interrogation even when I know that’s not peoples’ intention. It’s rarely the intention but is the usual impact. It’s almost like a never-ending cycle: they initiate an interaction, I dodge it, next time we engage they ask why they didn’t get a response, I feel judged because I wasn’t in a place to interact, I avoid further interactions with them because it is stressful. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I’ve become comfortable enough with my choices to not engage, but I really struggle with the explanation piece. On one hand, I’m grown and don’t have to answer to anyone but myself and my God about my actions. I know it’s hard for people to understand my choices, but here’s the thing: they don’t have a choice. I make the final choice about when I engage with people. I do, however, recognize how it can be helpful to give an explanation to appease others. It’s not that I hate you (I really love you dearly). I’d just rather be alone. Maybe it was a long day at work, maybe this is that week where I have everything happening and just need a few hours to myself, maybe I’m going through a personal crisis and don’t want to talk about it. Please trust that the moment I ignore that call, don’t reply to the email/text after reading it, or decline an event invitation, I’m dreading the conversation in which I have to tell why. Sometimes it’s just “*deep sigh* I can’t. Even. With anything.” or sometimes it’s a bigger reason that they’ll respect.
*Shrug* I’ll figure out a perfect balance someday. Til then, I’ll get back to you when I feel like it.