Have you ever held a hermit crab? If you’re like me, you may have been too grossed out by their spider-like qualities to particularly enjoy them, but I have held one, and there is something interesting to be learned from their behavior. (Just totally ignoring that they occasionally pinch the living daylights out of you.)
When you hold a hermit crab, they initially withdraw into their shells, protecting their soft bodies by using the hard exoskeleton on their legs to block the little door of their mobile homes. But, if you hold them gently, are quiet, and don’t make fast or sudden movements, they will slowly come out, poke their little heads out and become curious. After they’ve started to explore, you can then move more and be less careful of scaring them. They’ve learned to trust the ground (your hand) that they’re standing on and aren’t afraid to check you out and see what you’re made.
As much as hermit crabs kinda freak me out, I can relate to them a lot. When I meet people for the first time, I tend to withdraw, barely participating in the small talk they offer me, often feeling a bit claustrophobic if they try too hard too fast to get to know me. But occasionally I meet people who sense my hesitation and back off a little. Still engaging me in conversation, but doing so more calmly, less demandingly, and sometimes even literally giving me space by going and talking to other people before coming back to me. And I love it when I meet people who do that. It seriously makes me feel so respected and understood.
At work, I can fake extrovert like a pro. I increase my volume, I start lots of pointless small talk conversations, I use witty comebacks and ignore when people invade my space. But it wears me out so much. By the time the end of the week comes, when I do most of my social activities with other Christians and people I would like to be friends with, I’m just out of it. I don’t have enough energy left to be a fake-tro-vert. And really, if I have to fake being SUPER outgoing just to make friends, what kind of friends am I really making?
Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to say “Look, I’m antisocial and rude and I don’t like talking but you should love me even though I refuse to talk to you.”
Heck. No. I’m very social, I love talking, I love people, I love being in social situations. I feel very badly when I have those days when it’s next to impossible for me to be truly myself with people, those days when people try to talk to me and I just don’t respond in a way that shows them how much I really do want to get to know them. It kills me. I lay awake in bed at night sometimes just angry with myself for being that way. I pray regularly that on days when I’m just emotionally drained, that He would sustain me and help me be that kind hearted person He’s made me to be.
I don’t want people to have to cater to my “social needs”. I want to be flexible and easy to communicate with. I want to be accessible. And sometimes, I’m not. And on those days, when God brings into my life those understanding people who can see through my hard, cold shell and say to themselves “I bet she’s a really cool person, she just needs some space and TLC.” Gah. I just love those people. I need friends like that. They rock. See, I want to be my best for everyone. But I’m way too human for that. I need people in my life who understand that I have days when they’re like “HEY, how are you!!!” and I’ll just say “Oh, good!” and don’t even ask how they are, not because I don’t care, I always care. But because I’m struggling, I’ve got ten thousand things going on in my head, my reply was an auto-response. Deep down I thought “I should ask how they’re doing too”, but I know that I’ve got too much going on to listen in a way that they deserve, so I don’t ask.
I don’t ask people how they’re doing to hear “Good, you?”. I ask only when I want to know how. they. are. doing. I don’t want an auto-response, I want a look into their life. So why would I ask you how you’re doing when I’m passing you in a hallway, with maybe 50 seconds of time to converse? What a waste of speech! I’d much rather smile and say “Good morning!”, a friendly greeting, but no obligation to express anything about what’s going on in your life when neither of us has time for that at the moment. Make sense?
Back to people who give me space… Sometimes, in that group, they may not see much result from the totally awesome respect they invest in me. But I remember them. Always. And next time, I will seek them out. Having shown me they are safe, that they aren’t going to try and pry me out into the open, I will seek them out in a crowd. They unwittingly become my anchor into the group. No matter how loud and demanding that group becomes, I know I can seek them out for a moment of peace. And if they spend one-on-one time with me, I will open up and talk and be social. I like to invest in conversations, and it’s really hard to do that in group settings. I don’t start conversations that I don’t intend to finish, but in groups, often times the topic will get lost as more people join in and make other remarks and it’s just… I can’t follow it. It’s annoying. Or someone will make a comment that make me curious as to why they feel that way, but before I can get a chance to inquire, the whole topic has evolved and moved on and it’s no longer applicable, so I just file it away for later. I think I freak people out a little, because sometimes I’ll send a text to someone, or come up to them and be like “So, this comment you made like two weeks ago during this group conversation, tell me more.” I’m not a stalker I promise… I just… I’m curious.. *toothy grin*
Anyway. That’s my piece on how I relate to hermit crabs. (I made hermit crabs way deeper than they actually are. 😀 ) Summary: I like real conversations, not small talk. I like one-on-one time best, but in groups I do enjoy listening and learning about people by observation. I’m not a hermit, I’m an tenderhearted person who genuinely wants to know you, but feels attacked when you try and force me out into the open. And lastly, to those of you who treat people like me with the kindness and genuine respect that makes us want to be ourselves, thank you. You make us feel like we can shine. It’s people like you who help us grow. You are the answer to our prayers.