Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Social Anxiety

I suck at social pleasantries. An example: Daniel works with his dad in the family business. Often, he'll be at his parents' house doing work-y things, so if I need to talk to him during work hours, I call there. His mom will answer and I will say, "Hi, is Daniel there?" and she will reply, "Oh, hi, Bethany! How are you?" Then I will feel like a jerk for not asking how she is first, or at least introducing myself.

Then we spend the few seconds it takes to find him discussing what, exactly, is up with her and with me: "Oh, you know, same-old, same-old," I have very little spice in my life. "The baby, he grows. He occasionally doesn't sleep well. I exercised this week." But what I am thinking is insert something (anything!) interesting here! She's got to pity me by now! She is the type that has things going on and thinks that's the best way to live! I am pitiful and boring! And she tells me some interesting tidbit about her plans, or her children (all of whom I love, but don't talk to because HELLO, this post), and I am glad I get to talk to Daniel finally because I can just say, "Hi, this is the reason I called you. I hope you can answer this question soon, which is why I interrupted you at work." The end.

It isn't that my dear mother-in-law is unreasonably interested in sharing lives with me. She is not the only one with whom I fail to make small talk. She is a lovely woman whom I love and enjoy being with. I just don't know how to make small talk. It doesn't even cross my mind to think of small talk-y things until it's too late and I come up with something lame like, "Oh, not much," to say to someone when they ask what I've been doing lately.

But I am an interesting person! I craft! I build shelves and I make reverse Roman shades and sew neckties and I'm growing wheat grass in a pot because it's cute and green and springy! How does one train oneself to keep these salient facts at the TOP of one's brain, rather than in the foggy, foggy depths thereof? Who knows?

Another facet of my social inability is one of not reading peoples' conversation cues. I don't mind talking about your life and how it's going, and, in fact, am interested in how this or that went for you. But I don't know when people are done talking about it. The other day, I went into the paint store for supplies (hint: I LOVE what we did with the family room!), and I was toting Gideon. (As an aside, "toting" sounds like it's just no thang to throw my little baby in the car and go, when in reality I mean that I was TOWING this monster of a 30 pound car seat and child combo, limping around with it knocking against my thighs and jolting the kid with every step).

The paint guy made some comment about what a big boy I've got, which is true and doesn't bother me at all, then asked how much he weighed when he was born. I replied with the number and it turns out the paint guy's daughter was the same weight! Hah! So he knows how I feel, right? And just as I finished my chuckle and started to ask a question about the paint, Paint Guy goes on to say that his son was such-and-such weight, and I realize that he wasn't done talking about his children. Jerk. (me, not Paint Guy).

This happens ALL the time, especially on the phone. I really would love to hear about how your children acted or your feelings on the subject! I just didn't realize you had so much to say!

My hypothesis is this: many cases of social anxiety are not so much about people (I love people!) but about an inability to do a particular social thing. LIKE SMALL TALK. It can be damaging, at times. Like right now, I am putting off calling my dentist because I kind of know the receptionist, but not KNOW know, just kind of. And, though I know she won't interrogate me about how I spend my days, she will ask me how I am and how Gideon is and I could say, "Just fine," but I can't JUST say that because it sounds weird and is a conversation ender and "Fine, how are you?" is just so FAKE and obviously an uncaring social pleasantry. And that's just the greeting part of the call. This conversation thing is so stressful.








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