In my last post I wrote briefly about one of my fitness related goals from last year that has spilled over into this year. There are a few others that join it on my “to-do list”. One of them being “Be more sociable”.
Growing up as an introverted only child in a house with an introverted single parent, being sociable occurred in sporadic instances. I always felt as if I had to put so much effort into interacting with my peers at school and returned home exhausted. At home my favorite books and sketch pads awaited me. Home was my safe haven, where I regrouped. It was a place where I didn’t feel exposed, vulnerable.
As I grew older, home remained that special retreat from the outside world. There’s nothing wrong with having downtime but after relocating to a new city I realized that I had to put more effort into connecting with people than regrouping. Things had changed drastically for me in a short time. I moved from an area I had lived in for almost 30 years and had academic, community and religious connections to an area where I only knew two or three people. In this new city it was less about finding a place to recharge from interaction and more about finding others with whom I could favorably interact.
When roles were being handed out in my elementary years for some reason I volunteered to be the wallflower and that has stuck with me ever since. I shunned being the first to do things. I wasn’t the first to raise my hand or answer questions. I gave you the chance to be vulnerable first and would react accordingly.
In social settings I always find my way to the outskirts of a room, observing and analysing. For me, socializing is a mental chore that involves an intense analytical process of which others are totally unaware. If they only knew the way the proverbial wheels turned in my noggin’ it would exhaust them completely. What is meant to be a fun night at a social event can easily turn into a science experiment. Instead of organically moving through the room I find myself observing body language between those conversing. I watch how people standing alone display a myriad of expressions.
Some look aloof as if to say “I’m here because I’m doing my friend a favor. I’m totally above this whole scene.” Others check their smartphones or nervously fiddle with their jewelry as they scan the room for a familiar or friendly face. Then there are those hopping from group to group as the life of the party, introducing people along the way. I observe which conversations fizzle after the introductions and which convert to actual connections where contact information is exchanged. Standing there I wonder what special combination of body language gave the green light for a total stranger to initiate conversation. These people were being vulnerable and were pulling it off with such ease! Fascinating….but exhausting! It’s this type of analysis that helps me when writing fictional characters but hinders the process of establishing new friendships in this new city of mine. Within the first year or so I found myself leaving events, mentally depleted of energy and nowhere closer to building anything but a longing for what used to be “home”. I say what “used to be” because once you leave, the dynamics of the things, places and people you love change. Weekend trips home did not provide the same kind of solace they had in my younger years.
There was no walking into a church service and immediately knowing 75% of the people in the room. There were very few chances I would run into someone I knew in the grocery store or have someone honk their horn at me on the road in recognition of us knowing each other. I had to roll up my sleeves and make an effort to connect. I had to be that dreaded dirty word: vulnerable.
I had to stand around awkwardly attempting to talk to people after church. I had to engage people in non-work-related conversation on the job instead of being super quiet. I went to fairs and festivals solo just to connect with people. I sometimes made the decision to go with someone to see a movie that I otherwise would’ve waited to see at REDBOX all for the sake of compromising (within reason of course) and being vulnerable. #truestory
It wasn’t easy! It’s still not easy. Thankfully, I scored an 800 in the common sense section of the SAT (that section is still in beta) so I knew who to talk to and who to walk on by, but I had to come out of my comfort zone to meet a need for basic social interaction.
There were countless times that I struck out. Some of those instances I found hilarious and others a bit bruising to the ego, but we humans are built of resilient stuff so I bounced back….after a few days of being a hermit. #realtalk
Three and a half years later, I’m happy with my efforts. I’ve met some very colorful folks: some of whom have relocated to other parts of the world and others who are a short drive away. All of them have contributed richly to my experience during the last few years of my life’s timeline. I embraced vulnerability, something that was extremely difficult for me as a result of my childhood. Let me rephrase that. I didn’t embrace vulnerability. I flirted with him across a crowded room. Then we engaged in superficial conversation and exchanged contact information.
We’re now Facebook friends.
He’s on limited profile.