Friday, July 26, 2013

Let's Talk: Socializing

Some time ago, I linked to a rather silly article about how to be around introverts, being one myself.  Some of it probably ties to the depression that I've discussed before, but I think there's another level of my own mind that I sometimes have to fight against in order to be able to function at a large group gathering.  In smaller groups, it doesn't become as prevalent, but the more people who are there, the more I have to fight.

Of course, the fact that today I mapped in my head the following:

A = P^squared divided by (L-U) + C - D.

...that probably doesn't help impress a lot of people.

A equals my anxiety level.  P equals the number of people at the event, L is the size of the location, while U is a number representing how unfamiliar I am with the area.  C is things I have in common with the other people, and D is the differences I have with the other people there.

A great example of this happening is something that occurred today: my company's summer outing.

First off, I want to express one thing.  This is my own messed up head I'm talking about.  I don't expect or really want people to have to go out of their way or have to feel like they need to make sure I'm included in events or discussions.  When I find a natural conversation to join in, or if someone simply asks a side question to me that happens to be something I know about, I can find myself blending into the group discussion.

But unless there's something specific that I think one (or more) person would enjoy hearing about, the only real times you'll hear me provide that conversational gambit is if there's I know about one specific person that I'm curious about.

"What did you think of that movie you saw?"

"Hey, have you seen Person X recently?  How are they doing?"

"Oh man, did you see that video I found online that relates to that thing you like?"

But at larger events, like my company's summer outing, I find myself constantly battling my own head.  I don't feel antisocial so much as I feel somewhat threatened by experiences that I never found the guide on how to handle correctly.  Do I just make my way to a group of people, sit down, and join in?  Do I wander around until I hear someone mention something I can contribute towards and then see if I can pry my way into the conversation?  Do I just find a seat by myself and wait for a group to form around me?

That last one only tends to work if I'm one of the first people at an event and if there's limited seating, or if seating is established ahead of time, like at weddings, cruise ships, and fancy dinners.

What I tend to find myself doing is becoming focused on the details around the event as my brain gives up trying to pick out individual conversation threads that suddenly get drowned out by laughter or another passing discussion, and I instead find myself watching a bug climb up a tree, or a boat passing by on some nearby water.

Our summer event today was held at Fort Williams Park, in Cape Elizabeth.  I've never been to that park before (honestly, I don't really think I've been in Cape Elizabeth before despite going to school right next to it), so already "U" was pretty much maxed out.  There was a pretty good size crowd of coworkers, most of whom I'll admit I don't know much about.

Many were there with their families, or spouses, or significant others, and that's always been another hurdle for me.  Numerous parents were discussing things involving their kids.  I heard discussions about what peoples' significant others did for a living, being on equal ground as two people learned about two other people.  People with already long-established bonds easily hung out together and discussed the people that they know (or know of) together.

I...don't really have much to contribute to any of those kinds of conversations.  I don't know many people (having never really been the social butterfly type), I have no special someone in my life right now, and I'm pretty sure I don't have any kids floating around out there.

Someone who I consider a pretty good friend popped by to comment that I was being quiet that day, and I responded that I tend to be quiet.  They found that pretty hard to believe, knowing me to be (as she put it) a "chatty Cathy" at work.

And she's right, at work when it's usually just two or three (or maybe up to five) people around, I can contribute a bit more.  I'll find that one other person who isn't part of the main conversation and bring up something I heard about recently to keep the two of us occupied until we can rejoin the main conversation, or if it's just one big group discussion, I might make a joke or two, try to get a laugh...

...but other than that I'll stay quiet.

But today, though?  Well, the group I probably would've gotten along best with at the event is already a connected group because they all work in the same department.  I have a bit more in common with them than with the people on my own team (again, not having a family to discuss or bemoan), but there's still enough differences there that when the group builds up enough, I start to feel anxious.

Plus, I'm a bit older than everyone in that group, and I really don't want to be "that guy."  Trust me; you know what kind of guy I'm talking about.

So today I found myself mostly just wandering around the park, reading facts about the area, admiring the ocean, and sitting by myself outside of the larger group because I couldn't handle the noise.

Completely unrelated note, I'm so angry at myself for not looking at the ocean more and being completely amazed that such a huge body of water can even exist that it's not even funny.  I think my mind is sometimes at its best when it's trying to put ridiculously large things into context of other objects around me.

Again, I wasn't silently hoping someone would go "oh, hey, there's Erik, let's go talk with him" or "hey, Erik, you look lonely, come sit with us" or anything else that might stem from any kind of concern or pity.  If it did, I'd probably feel worse for putting that on the person, because that's how my brain works.  Plus, as I said at the top, this isn't meant to evoke any kind of concern or pity or cause anybody to feel like they have to comment, it's simply a basic explanation of how my mind works.

I love hanging out with people, I love having fun with friends, and I love finding out new things about people and laughing at the same jokes or being able to talk about a common subject.  I'll answer any question about myself anybody asks, regardless of how personal it might be, because I like having that kind of connection to other people, where there's a tie that connects us through either shared experiences or personal knowledge.

It's just getting past that first step I always struggle with, and today it beat me.  Next time, I'll do better.

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