Marius Masalar
March 11th, 2024

"Nobody waves—but everybody waves back"

Not coincidentally, a couple of months before this new blog idea took root in my mind, I finished reading a fantastic book by Jess Pan. It’s about an introvert’s year of living as an extrovert.

Jess celebrates introversion as a spectrum rather than a singular experience. She understands it because she lives it, so her attempts to broaden her social horizons come off as relatable rather than patronizing. It's not a label she's applying for vanity's sake. She’s not trying to vilify or escape introversion, she’s simply exploring its borders.

I believe every introvert, secretly or not, wonders what life might be like on the other side. I certainly do. Over the years I’ve found my own ways of exploring those borders, crossing them, even re-drawing the lines now and then.

I do enjoy social interaction, but of a particular kind. What I crave isn’t volume, but depth. I don’t want to talk about the weather, but I’m happy to discuss the climate, so to speak. I don’t do well in large groups, but I love small gatherings. I prefer to listen rather than speak. Don't get me wrong, I understand the value of small talk (especially as a sort of conversational lubricant). But recently, it's felt as though people are becoming less and less willing (perhaps even able?) to lower their defences enough to reach beyond that stage in the conversation. I'm guilty of it too.

Is it because we so often feel the need to “perform” a persona? Maybe it’s true that all this time spent in systems of surveillance, where every gesture and thought we share is scrutinized and evaluated by algorithms and spyware, has more serious social side effects than we anticipated.

Everybody says that making connections as an adult is hard. It certainly feels that way to me. But I wonder if this odd era we live in—connected but alone—makes it even harder than it used to be? We want to be seen but not judged, heard but not challenged, together but not vulnerable. I don’t enjoy the feeling, and this blog is one of several attempts in my own life to combat that feeling of social malnourishment.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I met my closest friends thanks to acts of creation and sharing on the internet. It’s why I think the infrastructure of the web isn’t the problem, it’s how we make use of it. This blog is part of my attempt to re-capture those old ways.

One of the characters in the book tells Jess a story that encapsulates what I’m doing here:

“A few years ago, I was driving through a remote part of Ethiopia, and I kept passing all these mothers and children outside of their mud huts. Everybody I passed stared at me like I was dead: totally blank facial expressions. It was the most uncomfortable I’d ever felt in my life. But then it occurred to me, while I was sitting there: I was looking at them in exactly the same way they’re looking at me. So I started smiling and waving as I went by—and it was like I flipped a switch. As soon as I started smiling, waving, and looking friendly, they started waving from their windows, grinning at me, and running out of their houses to give me high fives." “That’s the truth of the world, Jessica,” he says, casually full-naming me to let me know something big is coming. “Nobody waves—but everybody waves back.”

More highlights from the book

I prefer dogs to people. But that’s easy. Dogs don’t require small talk, they don’t judge you, and they don’t hum near your desk while you’re trying to work. They don’t ask when you’re going to have kids. Or cough on you. But to Sam, dogs have wild eyes, might put their dirty paws all over you, and are ready to strike at any moment, which is exactly how I feel about humans.
I always assumed that all introverts were shy, but apparently some introverts can be ultraconfident in groups or capable of smoothly delivering presentations. What makes them introverts is that they just can’t take stimulation and large crowds for extended periods of time.
We need to know that our own sorrows have echoes in other people’s lives. That’s what connects us. Strength may be impressive, but it’s vulnerability that builds friendships.
People change. On that day in New York, Teddy didn’t see me as who I am now. Or, at least, who I felt I had become. Being seen is something we crave out of friendship—that feeling of “This person gets me more than I get myself.” When we lose that with old friends, the magic is gone.
“When we watch The X Factor,” Kate goes on, “what we love the best are the people who are really shit. Right? We love that. When they’re great, it’s good, too, but what’s great about them being shit is not that they’re shit but that they’re trying really hard and then they’re shit,” Kate says emphatically. “That’s what so great about it. Someone being shit at being shit is just shit. But someone trying really hard and then being shit is amazing,” she says.