It may be a new problem for me, but I think it might have started in high school or earlier. Over the last year, increasingly, I’ve been finding myself anxious in social situations. It’s not so much in the one-on-one situations, but more in the alone-in-a-crowd or with-a-group situations.
I am a bit awkward, granted. I tend to enjoy hanging out on the fringes, surveying the territory before making any moves. I say strange things. There are times when I’ll say something aloud in response to a conversation that I’m having in my head. I talk to myself publicly in public. I don’t always get it right when speaking with people.
Some people are good at navigating social situations. For me, it’s a bit of work.
In any case, recently, I was talking to my sister about my increasing fondness for staying at home and spending quality time with myself. I told her that sometimes I break; I reach a certain point and then I have to go out. But, when I go out, I go out big. It’s some sort of threshold response to being alone for an extended period of time.
It could be that my spending time alone is a response to my big nights out. I don’t know.
She suggested that instead of having spots of excessive social interaction, I spread it out. Her recommendation is for me to do one social activity a week.
I think it’s a good idea.
The deal is this: I have to go out into a social environment, by myself or with company, at least once a week. Put another way, I have to expose myself to the possibility of interacting with other people on a social level at least once a week.
It sounds easy. Enticing, even.
My friends will likely tell you, I rarely reach out to them to see if they’d like to hang out. Most often, I’ll wait for an offer. If the offer doesn’t come, so be it. I’m not proud of this, nor do I really like this about myself, because I really like my friends, but, in a demonstrable way, I’m okay with it. I’ve even – hanging head in shame – slept through social events that I really should’ve attended.
Thankfully, my friends are forgiving people.
The problem with not interacting with others on a social level for extended periods of time is that you begin to become isolated. It’s not that you’re physically isolated from others but that you’re intellectually and emotionally stifled. When you spend too much time in a world that you’ve created and maintain, the world feels safe but its novelty is in peril. The world – any world – needs turmoil and change in order to stay alive.
It’s Hegelian, really.
In today’s world, there are ways to interact with others that don’t involve actually being around them. The internet is a great vehicle for this, as are books. These days, it’s possible to fall in love with someone who isn’t really there.
What, I think, we’re losing is the ability to understand people by looking at them. Here, John Mayer’s song Wheel is playing in my head, because of the line about airports seeing it all the time. There’s so much that a person can tell you by simply making themselves seen.
William Hazlitt comes to mind. (It’s been at least a decade since I’ve read this essay.)
This, the presence of people, is what I really need more of in my personal life. People are fascinating. They’re passionate, dismissive, kind, conceited, endearing, and unruly. They can be the source of self-reflection, self-understanding, and self-growth by simply showing up. Given the chance to see, hear, or talk with someone else, you come to know more about yourself and the world that permeates the one you live in.
How terrible have I been by not providing this opportunity to others?