I was speaking today with a friend I met on the bus a few months back. The day we met, Tyler was sitting opposite me, studying a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People. Having read the book myself, and wishing to make Dale Carnegie proud, I smiled at him and mumbled “that’s a great book,” ignoring the somersaults my stomach was performing.
He almost didn’t hear. He looked up, processing what I had said before responding. “One of my favorites,” he said. “Read it every five years.” I came to learn that, much like me, he worked in technology, and was interested in self improvement.
We were discussing today, as we often do, the obstacles facing modern man in his search for human connection. He asked me if I had found “my spot” yet – someplace in the city where I was a regular to the staff and felt comfortable in my skin. I haven’t. We discussed how difficult it was to find something like that in the states, and how easy he found the same task when visiting Toronto.
On his recommendation, I decided to start a blog chronicling my adventures as a social fuck-up getting along in contemporary society, and my attempts to meet some good people along the way.
Determined, I opened the door of my two bedroom apartment, stepping into the brisk November air. It was the first day I would make a conscious effort to meet people. My head was already dramatizing the potential events to come. There was snow in the forecast, and I imagined offering my umbrella to some poor stranger without a jacket, shielding them from the-
Fuck. My umbrella.
I turned around and hurried back to my apartment, berating myself for forgetting. I almost talked myself out of doing it, right then. I could cook some frozen chicken and sit at my computer like I always do. I could watch social interactions from a distance on facebook, where I felt safe and in control. But I didn’t.
I left my apartment once again, going through the standard phone-wallet-keys mental checklist. My destination was the campus library, which I chose for its proximity and tame atmosphere. The small talk would be brief and without expectation, or so I hoped.
I walked through the door to the library, handing it off to the man behind me as I continued inside. He didn’t utter so much as a thank you, not that I expected him to. He was much too interested in the lines of text he was scrolling through on his oversized smartphone to be bothered with the dull intricacies of everyday life.
I made a sharp left towards a set of tables that lay between two rows of large legal texts, which in all probability had not been opened since the library’s inception. The tables sat four, but the majority had only a single occupant. One of them, an artificial blonde, took her eyes away from her studies for a moment to peer at me, before returning her gaze to her book. Everyone here seemed too intent on their coursework to be bothered, so I circled back around.
Thinking I might have better luck upstairs, I took a few deep breaths and climbed to the third floor. It was adorned with a few large couches arranged in a serpentine pattern, with some chairs and footrests here and there. A bearded man was seated at the end of the room, his legs crossed over a footrest and propping up his macbook. I don’t know what it is about hipsters that makes them seem more approachable, but my money is on the tasteful flannels.
I made my way towards him, steadying my breathing as best I could.”Hey.” I stammered. He looked up, acknowledging he’d heard, before looking back at the screen. I dug deep. “Do you mind if I sit here?”
My voice was shaking. Why couldn’t I have one of the stupid phobias, like heights, or spiders?
My heart was racing. I swallowed the lump in my throat, nervously pulling out my copy of Kant’s Prolegomena and flipping to the introduction. Normal people have security blankets. I looked up again, a bit more confident.
“Whatcha workin’ on?”
“Life 102. I’ve got a test tomorrow.”
“Oh, I’ve heard that’s a rough course.”
He nodded, indicating he’d heard but wasn’t going to grace me with a response. I sat contemplating my next move, which mainly consisted in trying not to throw up on his shoes.
A few moments later, he closed the lid to his laptop and left. “Good luck on your test!” I called after him. “Thanks,” he replied. “Enjoy your book.”
To many, such small talk may seem laughably trivial. To me, it instills pure, pants-shitting fear. Imagine you’re Tuco during the uncomfortably long stand-off at the end of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, when his pistol jams and he frantically tries to slam the hammer down. That’s what it’s like to have social anxiety: everyone you see is Blondie, and every social interaction is like a shootout at high noon.
As such, many people with social anxiety struggle with feelings of loneliness. These feelings are not limited to those with such anxieties, however. In fact, a recent study conducted by the National College Health Assessment found 60% of Colorado State University students regularly struggle with feelings of loneliness. Much of this is not due to anxiety; other obstacles, such as social barriers, cultural practices, and changes in technology, are making face-to-face interaction at best an underdeveloped skill, and at worst obsolete. As such, much of this blog will be dedicated to what I learn about social interaction in the modern world.
This blog is in its infancy and as such I am still excitedly working out the details. Future posts, however, can be assumed to broach the following topics with reasonable consistency:
- Tips for meeting others, gathered through both experiences and education
- Philosophical discussions of interpersonal relationships, technology, and society
- My attempts and progress overcoming social anxiety
- Discussions of different places to meet people, perhaps with reviews
- Other musings related to identity, loneliness, and social norms
- Hopefully some jokes
If you have the time, be sure to check out my friend Tyler Green’s twitter. He has a love for transit and a charming disposition, and without him, this blog never would have started: https://twitter.com/tgreen8091
Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly attributed the study conducted by the NCHA to Colorado State University.