With all the warnings about hot flashes, wrinkles, decreased libido, age spots, and so on and so on, nobody ever tells you about the possible fringe benefits of menopause. I don’t recall reading anywhere about the sudden transformation that I experienced when my ovaries halted production. I’d been painfully shy my whole life—I always had a few close friends, but I dreaded parties, meeting new people, and speaking up in meetings. Well, the hormonal shifts of menopause must have rebalanced my biochemistry, because now this shrinking violet can’t shut up.
I’d long realized we were often mistaken for being aloof or superior, when really we just couldn’t understand how extroverts did it. What was the secret to small talk, easy banter, unself-consciousness?
I had come to honor my shyness (introversion and shyness are not the same, but I had both). It was part of who I was and something that, try as I might, I seemed powerless to remedy. I even blushed when I was younger. Outnumbered as introverts are by extroverts, we grow accustomed to what feels like our unfortunate social shutdown when the rest of the world seems to be enjoying the party. Susan Cain’s bestseller Quiet did a lot to restore our self-worth, but it didn’t help with that rush of anxiety that still hit us every time we entered a room of gregarious people. I used to experience it as a physical dread from head to toe.
I’d long realized we were often mistaken for being aloof or superior, when really we just couldn’t understand how extroverts did it. What was the secret to small talk, easy banter, unself-consciousness? I used to consider a party successful if I’d been cornered by some windbag yammering at me until I could exit, satisfied that I had shown my face for a reasonable amount of time. Now I look upon a sea of unfamiliar faces as an invitation to know and understand a bit about other people and to have them know and understand a bit about me. They no longer loom as a menacing challenge. This year I even attended my college reunion for the first time and stayed up half the night talking to people I never knew back then. Shyness made me miss so much, but it’s fun catching up on some of it now.
Shyness made me miss so much, but it’s fun catching up on some of it now.
I was born in England but came to this country as an infant. I’ve often thought that, had I been raised in the U.K., I would not have identified myself as an introvert but simply as a Briton. The U.S. is particularly laden with extroverts (up to twice as many as introverts), making the rest of us feel we have something to atone for. We like extroverts, but it’s exhausting for us to be around them for long. Nothing personal…we replenish our energy by spending time alone, whereas theirs is replenished by being around people. Extroverts need a big hit of dopamine to get the same satisfied feeling we get from just a little stimulation.
But I guess I should stop saying “we.” I welcome the freedom of no longer being weighed down by social anxiety and self-consciousness. Is that what stereotypes reflect when they portray the menopausal woman as a harridan, a shrew? Maybe some of us have just had enough of biting our tongues and longing for a moment to ourselves to regroup. We have a lifetime of keeping quiet to make up for! Hell yeah, we might sound direct or blunt now, and it’s about time. I have learned to embrace my inner shrew.
This spring I picked up a plant for my window box whose name made me smile: nonstop begonia. I expect it to be in full, glorious bloom all summer long. In middle age, I seem to have transformed from shrinking violet to nonstop begonia, and I like the change in the garden.