They’d tipped the Red Cap $20 to get on early. As we boarded the empty train, one urged over my shoulder, “Get the row with four seats facing each other!” Another shouted, “Up there. Front of the car on the left.” I thought to myself, “N- n- n- nooooooo. Nopey-nope. No no no.” And then like all the other inhibitions broken down after many hours with the same people, the words just rolled out. “No. I’m going to sit by myself.”
Cue the chorus of eyerolls, snickers, and sarcastic comments. With one move, I’d offended at least two-thirds of my friends.
Everything had gone entirely well on this trip. Exceeding my expectations, we saw more, shopped more, sipped more, and ate more carbs than any of us have had in a year. We belly-laughed more than I’d imagined we would. There was absolutely nothing wrong. And still, I’d had enough.
It was only a two-day, one-night girls trip to New York from DC. I should have been okay but wasn’t. We were headed home on the late train, and I’d had enough togetherness. It wasn’t so much that I had to banish myself (or be banished) to a separate car. I just wanted my own damn row. I wanted to be close enough to see and hear their conversation and far enough away to power down, zone out, and stop talking.
I’m whatever you call people on the boarder-line of the popular personality-type indicator. I’m an extroverted introvert (or introverted extrovert): equal parts rabid cheerleader and loner armadillo. I’m always flipping between seeking out and avoiding time with people- even my closest girlfriends.
The issue with being borderline is your loudest, most obnoxious public moments stick in people’s minds as “you.” They think extroversion is your default. Then when you need to retreat, they assume there’s a problem. Look at that gnocchi, there’s no fucking problem!
Okay, here’s the problem. I absolutely, truly love my girlfriends. I want and need them in my life. They’re beautiful and fun and funny and smart and caring and all the things you want in lifelong friends. And, I can only take so much. It’s not just them.
Like everyone in my orbit, they’re plotted on a time-together tolerance line. Imagine a speculum-wielding gynecologist on one end and my husband and children at the other. In fact, my little beloveds don’t get the farthest spot. That’s reserved for the only person with whom I can spend unlimited time- my dog. Even she gets regularly shooed away for breathing on my foot.
Back to my girlfriends. When I start to pull on the leash, I get the impression that the togetherness doesn’t drain them in the same way. And after years blaming them, questioning myself, and trying to be different, I’ve found some peace in my approach to separate togetherness.
The hardest step for me was to stop fighting my split extro/introversion. It seems ridiculous at 43 to say “just be yourself” with your best girlfriends but its where I am. I’ve stopped worrying what they think- at least on this topic. Of course, my habitual tardiness and the condition of my nail polish are still open for critique and comment.
I’ve taken a more active role in planning. Before, I’d get lost in the 436 emails required to nail down transportation, lodging, food, and entertainment and would give up. I thought I didn’t care about what we did. And, I don't. The point is just being together. While true, I now know I have to pay closer attention to retain some sense of control over myself. To their annoyance, I bring work or some other project. Whether I’m really drowning in client “to do” or just immersed in a podcast, a productive escape is a must.
Like many friend groups of a certain age and life stage, we will continue to travel together. Two years ago, we set a goal to take an annual trip. We’re now two trips down and have a lifetime to go- both exhausting and profoundly comforting outlook. I’m hoping for a little patience and understanding… and my own damn row.