Social Anxiety and Me or How to Portray Convincing Human Behavior In the Face of Overwhelming Social Inadequacies

Friday nights should be easy.  I work all week during the day and stay in every night.  My schedule is light enough on the weekend that it should be obvious that one would get out of the house and enjoy some social interactions.  After all, it is what people do, right? Today is Friday.  Today I should get out of the house.

“We’re going to a party,” my roommate explains to me.

“Cool,” I say even though half of my brain knows that it is not cool.  It is not cool to go to parties.  Do you know who is at parties?  People in multiples of fives and often tens are at parties.  In argument to my feelings of overwhelming doom, I tell myself, “It’ll be good for you.”  I’m not so sure.

For most people the chance to engage in social interactions is something unconscious.  I don’t think normal people use the words “social interactions” or are conscious of the fact that they are engaging in them.  It is just something that you do and there is no need to make a big deal out of it or even assign a vocabulary term to it.  However, for me, there is something more ominous about a gathering of people in one location for the sole purpose of interacting and sharing conversation.

“You ready to go?” My roommate asks, keys in hand.  I walk into the bathroom one last time to look at the mirror.  Am I actually pale over this?  It’s not too late.  I could back out like I’ve done before and there probably wouldn’t be much of a fuss.  No.  I need to get out.  I grab my phone and we exit.

While driving, I slouch in my seat and say nothing.  The song on the radio is great and normally I would be playing air drums and singing, but right now the only thing I can focus on is my heartbeat pounding in my ears.  Fortunately, I am not overwhelmed by my emotions so much that I cannot ask myself, “What is my problem?”  Why is a stupid party with people whom I don’t care about and girls that I don’t want to meet causing me so much discomfort?

I would diagnose that my tendency to prefer seclusion to interaction began with middle school and the onset of puberty.  I can’t say for certain that some external force hindered me because I remember actually preferring being alone to trying to interact.  I spent most of my middle school years by myself.  I could blame it on the fact that I was a little chubby, but I don’t think that I even realized it.  I mumbled a lot, but only when talking to someone of authority.  Nothing was stopping me except for my own disinterest in making that one effort to break the familiar silence between someone and myself by means of a simple introduction.

In high school it might have been more of the same had I not been on the drama team.  I got used to being in front of audiences of hundreds, so that left little excuse to be uncomfortable in a room of ten.  Also, people recognized that I did have the capacity to speak; so playing dumb was out of the question.  Eventually I made enough friends that any sort of extra-curricular social gathering was more comfortable because I knew everyone.  However, it never changed the fact that I would have still preferred to sit and watch these phenomenons than participate.

As I grew older I became comfortable with being uncomfortable.  I became adamant in my antisocial behavior.  If I was somewhere and I didn’t want to talk, I wouldn’t.  If that made someone uncomfortable, I tried not to care.  Uncomfortable pauses became my specialty.  If I didn’t have anything to say, then I said nothing at all.  Small talk is for people who are unsatisfied with their awkwardness.  I’m fine with mine.  This sort of behavior helps me out when I find myself in situations that I’m uncomfortable with, but it does nothing to ease the pain of placing myself in the path of a social freight train; i.e. this party.

As we neared the highway I am, at first, grateful for a 45-minute traffic jam, but it is only delaying the inevitable and prolonging my mental anguish.  I imagine several dozen people drinking profusely and acting like idiots.  Everyone is mingling and enjoying themselves, occasionally glancing at the tall fellow in the corner holding the same beer all night, chain smoking, and not talking to anyone.  I begin to convince myself that tonight is going to be full out social mayhem and if I’m going to make it out alive, I’m going to need a plan.

I could always play the ever-interested person.  It doesn’t seem that hard.  “Hi, I’m Josh.  What’s your name?”  But where do you go from there?  I could inquire about where they’re from, what they do, do they like doing it; any number of questions that could lead to endless possibilities for other questions.  But that would require feigning interest constantly, especially at this party.  “You’re in a band?  Berserker Robot Overlord?  Wow.”  They are bound to see through that.  After all they are monsters and they do read minds, don’t they?  Better to move to plan B: Get drunk fast so that I can forget everything a moment after it happens.  Perfect.

As we walk up the driveway to the party, I begin to dispense an array of methods in my arsenal for assuming the profile of a normal human being.  These tried and true tactics have helped me out in countless situations and now I will use them to save my life.  First thing’s first: Move Slowly.  Quick movements will only draw attention.  Second thing’s next: Make eye contact sparingly and intentionally.  The last thing I want is to draw the attention of someone more awkward than me.  Third thing’s last: Find the keg and pound it.

When I finally get my beer, I am sure to place my back to the rest of the party and address only the two people that I am familiar with.  As I become sure of my safety, I turn around to analyze the party.  What I see makes me feel better about myself, then stupid.  There are literally about fifteen people here.  There is a couch on one side of the party where half of the people sit bored out of their mind.  A make shift bar is on the other side where an over-dressed hipster with pants so tight they hurt my balls conducts a majority of the socializing with a coked up model and the party “bartender”.  The pretty girls are all talking to members of different upcoming Blink 182 knock off bands, and the interesting people are the people that I came with.  All of this is expected and surprising at the same time.  Surprising because this is not the torture that I imagined.  It is simply a lame party, just like I knew it would be and I am the fool who had to give myself a pep talk just to attend.  This is what I let drive me insane for the past hour and a half and now it’s right in front of me and I couldn’t care less about it.

As the night draws out I have a moderately enjoyable time except for that my plan to get drunk has given me an incredible headache.  I meet a few people who are from my home state and when we leave I am actually interested in going somewhere else.  When I finally make it home and into bed I have little to reflect on.  All anxieties are eased and I don’t even remember what it was like to feel them in the first place.

You would assume that I might learn some valuable lesson.  Perhaps now I can consider going out on a weekend without giving myself a panic attack.  Maybe next time I will actually talk to someone that I find intriguing.  Hell, maybe I will meet a girl.  Maybe I will find an additional best friend that we can hang out with and get invited to more parties with more interesting people.

Tomorrow is Saturday. As my roommate goes to bed, he tells me there is another party tomorrow.  A familiar pain builds up in my chest as I tell myself, “Another party can’t hurt.” But I’m still not so sure.

By: Josh Gilpatrick

Leave a Reply