I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating, I am socially awkward. Not quite socially inept, but getting there.
Generally speaking, I’m as fearful of most of public speaking, but I can force my way through it (provided there is a shower and a change of clothes nearby).
And it’s not even really public speaking, as I’ll chat up people in line, store employees and others during everyday interactions.
It’s social occasions that cause me the greatest trepidation, bordering on terror.
In the past month, I’ve received “e-vites” for two different events. One was for a former co-worker and friend’s son’s graduation/send off to college party. The other was for a former co-worker and friend’s 4th of July party.
Two totally different friends, two totally different parties, one absolutely identical fear.
I turned down the first invite, figuring just to send a card and gift. Another former co-worker and friend (that may exhaust the list now) accepted the invite and said I was her “plus-one”. I couldn’t decide whether I loved her for thinking of me or hated her for thinking of me.
But, at that point, I had to go. And my uncomfortable meter was at a high level, standing alone in a room of people who I didn’t know (or didn’t remember I once knew; it has been seven years since I worked with some of them, after all).
I moved away from my friend to allow her the opportunity to mingle without my dead weight and planted myself against a wall near the side of the room. Despite my best attempts, several people came up to talk to me and I suffered conversation.
Let me explain. The people who chatted with me were pleasant and engaging (and even attractive). For me, though, I have to force myself to engage, putting on a “performance” of civility and openness, since anything else would be rude to my friend who invited me and my friend who brought me.
It’s so tough for me, though. I need to grip a glass or something so as not to have my hands feel like dead fish. I start sweating in an air-conditioned room I would otherwise feel cold within. And my throat tightens up so much my voice actually starts getting hoarse.
My problem, as I see it, is I’m just not an interesting person. I can’t see anything in my day-to-day life that would be worth someone’s time to listen to and therefore I can’t justify my wasting their time when they could possibly be enjoying the party with someone else. I feel like a thief.
Thankfully, my friend also wanted to leave early, so I escaped without more damage than a few hours of post-party solitude could cure.
Yesterday’s party was worse. I actually committed to go, since these friends often come to my BBQ parties and thus I felt obligated to go to theirs. Further, I even said I would cook something for the party.
In the days leading up to the party, my dread grew at an alarming rate. I kept swinging between not going and “having” to go. Even unto mid afternoon, I still thought of calling it off. If not for the commitment to cooking, I think I might have canceled.
Once again, I found a spot, this time at the end of the kitchen counter, and planted myself there for two and a half hours, talking first to the father of my former co-worker and then the father of her husband.
Fortunately, I was spared further time at the party by another couple of friends of mine (not co-workers), who wanted me to join them for BBQ later that evening. Thus, I had a pre-set excuse to leave.
I’ve always been a little socially awkward/shy/uncomfortable in groups, but it seems it may be growing stronger as I age. Or perhaps it’s an effect of my increased time alone as a hermit-in-training.
Whatever the case, I could see myself going to more parties…if only every home had a tall plant I could sit behind for the duration.