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I didn’t realise then that so much of being adult is reconciling ourselves with the awkwardness and strangeness of our own feelings.

Douglas Coupland
Girlfriend in a Coma

I had a revelation last night. I was out with a large group of people that were almost entirely new to me. It was a large and diverse group from many cultures, backgrounds and approaches to life. They did have a unifying trait, but I didn’t share that unifying trait.  I was there in the role of “friend of person who’s in the group”.

It was a tough experience.

I’m so raw at this social stuff: dealing with people in an open friendly way; mixing well with new people; letting myself loose and going with the flow. I’m not an in the moment kind of guy.

I have a cerebral approach to social interaction, always anticipating and trying to read the signs and pay attention to the details. If I’m having a social conversation with a stranger, my mind is constantly buzzing:-

Listen to the words, try and use their name in the conversation, pay attention to their body language, listen to the tone, does it all match up, is that  too risque to say, should I be more careful, should I be more friendly, do I talk more about myself or listen to them more, is this person interesting me, am I interesting them, oh god what the hell do I say next…

Juggling all of that at the same time, it feels like my mind is overloaded; all these fires breaking out all over the brain, and feeling on the verge of eternal embarrassment, or that the conversation is about to become the greatest train wreck of the century.

As I sat there, drowning in inner voices, a momentary solitary pull towards sanity saved me:-

All this thinking, all this analysing, all this forced attention to the moment is burning me up. I’m getting so nervous, so tense, so awkward because I’m trying to pay attention to everything. By the time I’ve got it all figured out, I’m 30 seconds behind.

That’s pointless.

My brain is working as hard as it can, and doing the best that it can in this situation. Maybe that is enough, maybe it’s not. I will never know. I am satisfied that I’m doing my best, and I am being authentic to myself.

What I have learned from all my encounters with new people, and of all the friends that I have, is that it is likely that what happens in social interaction  is no more in my control than the rising of the stars, the swell of the tides or the path of the moon.

I’m fortunate that many people appreciate me for who I am, and that my character and personality is accepted by many that it is my joy to call my friend, for they are in so many ways amazing people.

I will from now on be me. I will try and pay attention to what I can, and do better where I can improve. But my limits and my limitations are part of who I am. I am happy to accept those. Whether others do or do not is a choice for which I cannot take responsibility.

I enjoyed the rest of the night a whole lot more after that. It was so much easier to go with the flow, to be in the moment, and to laugh. To be mocked, and banter back, and take chances and say stupid things and accept  that things will work out however they would.

Isn’t it odd that accepting I could never reach my goal by myself, made things easier? That freeing myself of the goal, made the goal easier to achieve?

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3 Comments

  1. But surely there is still a line you would not cross. For example certain jokes you refrain from cracking because it would be too inappropriate for people you’ve just met.

    Currently I am trying to get myself to get eye contact right. I need to constantly remind myself to look at the person I’m talking to rather than trying to avoid eye contact. Kind of annoys me that it seems to be in everyone’s blood but mine.

    • mtalib
    • Posted November 23, 2008 at 8:05 am
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    There is still a line I wouldn’t cross for new people, that I might cross for the old people. That’s absolutely the case. I’m still trying to keep myself immersed in the moment and pay attention to the other person, but I’m no longer trying to track everything or being so hard on myself if I feel like something has gone wrong.

    In relation to eye contact, I know exactly what you mean. If it’s any consolation, a friend of mine who does some part time kindergarten teaching recently told me how they had to teach kids things like eye contact because they didn’t do it naturally. I suspect that no one taught me and no one taught you. Instead we’re having to learn in our 20s what we could have learnt when we were 5. On the other hand, at least we know now and are able to do something about it.

    • Lil
    • Posted December 21, 2008 at 2:31 am
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    That freeing myself of the goal, made the goal easier to achieve?

    Almost always true in my life… in most everything =)


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