Some people enter every social situation like it’s a private party in their honor. For example, when my fiancé, Megan, or my brother, Bjorn, enter a room of strangers, they do so with gravitas and with purpose – scanning to determine in what order they will systematically speak to every goddamn person. I, on the other hand, am more like a house centipede, clinging to a wall and disappearing as soon as you turn away.
I remember, as a child, this was so easy:
“You like cookies?”
“Okay, we’re friends now.”
…or as a teen:
“You like basketball?”
…or in college:
“eherf toof rhahm rigenally?”
I’m not sure where I lost these basic human social skills but now, as an adult, I simply do not know how to engage other adults and, worse, find myself not really wanting to. I think part of it is the fact that I have such a close relationship with my big brother, R.J., and have a several friends whom I’ve known since childhood. Even when I moved away from home, to Atlanta, I randomly met the benevolent Joe Hoot, who’s the mayor of Friendshiptown, allowing me to osmosis my way to several more friendships. I guess what I’m saying is that I haven’t had to make friends on my own for so long that I have no idea what I’m doing now.
The challenge is that I’m so frequently in social situations because my lady is the best and everyone wants to be friends with her. So, we’ll be at a bar or house party and she’ll be leading a group conversation and I’ll be satelliting around it looking at stuff on the walls and thinking something like “hmmm… maybe pizza after this?… Yeah, pizza.” I sometimes wonder whether folks assume I’m aloof or that I’m socially awkward or just a little odd, and the answer is yes. Combine that with my dry sense of humor and one-note cadence and you’ve got a first-class ticket to social irrelevance.
The funny thing is that, more often than not, Megan will later mention a friend, by name, who enjoyed meeting me – to which my first response is: “Who?” Followed by: “I don’t remember that.” Followed by pretending I remember that now. And lastly: “Yeah, they seemed nice.”
That’s not an indictment of anyone else’s character or personality; my brain just isn’t set up to remember details like your name or your face or anything that you said. My brain is set up to remember those delicious cookies over there or that you have on mismatched socks or that you stand too close to people you’ve just met – that type of stuff. So when someone tells my lady that I’m “so funny” or “so nice to talk to” I understand when she responds with “he is!?” I’m no good at small talk. I can’t detach my stream of consciousness from the fact that it’s tactical means to an end rather than a natural occurrence – that we’re talking to each other in an effort to be able to talk to each other better. And the thought of that takes me out of the moment. Yeah, it’s ridiculous. I understand that but that’s my journey.
As a busy businessperson man, I manage to get by through the sheer will of professionalism and politeness. Those things are like breathing to me. However, in a social setting no one gives a shit about your damn professionalism and you can be polite as you like and feel free to go sit your mannerly ass down on the couch by yourself. You’ve got to be interesting to make friends, or at least charismatic. I like to think that I have a fairly accurate self-image and I honestly believe there are some interesting things about me. It’s just that getting to those things is like trying to open a tuna can with a plastic fork – you can probably do it but it’s easier to just have a bowl of cereal instead.
So, that’s my life as a social centipede. Constantly approached by these lovely, interesting and friendly people my fiancé attracts, and constantly repelling them from meaningful interactions with one-word answers and the perception of disinterest. Thanks for the efforts, fine folks. Try to think of our relationship like your loyalty card to that sandwich place where you get a free sandwich after 10 visits. If you’ve already had five discouraging conversations with me you’re halfway to a free su.. er uh, truly gratifying exchange. Though, since I’m a moody guy, you very well may be paying for your sub on that 12th visit.