I Suck At People

Most people are afraid of speaking in public. In fact, this phobia is one of the top two fears that afflict the American public (source: None. I made that up. But I think it’s true anyway). The idea of standing in front of strangers, or co-workers, or even friends can set the palms sweating, skin flush, and voice jumpy, squeaky, and waytoofastinanattempttogetthroughthesentenceasfastaspossible (that says “way too fast in an attempt to get through the sentence as fast as possible”, for those who have no interest in working for what they read). The smartest, most knowledgeable person on earth can sound like a bumbling buffoon in those situations.

Oddly enough, I feel perfectly fine in those situations. I can stand up and riff on a whole lot of stuff, even if I need to make it up as I go. I talk with my hands a bunch and I pace, but I think it helps keep people awake. I’ve done it a bunch of times, and did it for a living for a while (well, part of my living). I have a knack for it. Now, before you get the idea that I’m just tooting my horn and acting like I’m all that, the only reason I brought that up is because I am easily one of the worst interactors with human beings that ever lived.

Say you’re walking down a hallway at work. You see a co-worker approaching, one of those people you aren’t exactly friends with but are reasonably comfortable around. You probably can walk past them, greet them, and move on, all without thinking about it.

I can’t.

I see that person approaching from a distance, and my brain is all of sudden like, “Just act cool. You’re good.” Now, if I were cool, why did my brain need to tell me I was? I’m clearly not cool. Then it goes, “Just say Good Morning. Or Hello, sir. Or Hey, Man.” I approach my co-worker, ready to pass by, and what flies out of my mouth is more often than not an amalgamation of several greetings all at once: “Hey morning, ma-sir.” They give me a nod and a slightly squinty look I know well and I’m smiling HUGELY and acting COMPLETELY CASUAL and then I force a calm relaxed high-pitched titter that makes it sound like I collect body parts and stash them in plastic bins under the basement stairs.

I don’t socialize with the people from work much.

My actual friends, I’m generally better with. I feel calm and relaxed. I also keep my mouth shut more often than not, which cuts down on potential stupid shit that comes out of my mouth. I can have a few drinks, then I open up, and that part of me that is OK with public speaking takes over and I’m suddenly articulate and engaging and interesting.

Everyone else though, forget it. There are times when I can’t leave the house to go to the grocery store because I’m worried about a potential conversation with the clerk (and self-serve registers are to me the single greatest innovation of the last ten years). Getting a haircut? Hah – forget that. I sit there looking at my dome in the mirror and struggle to form meaningful sentences with someone I don’t know whatsoever and have to answer questions about my life or sit there in awkward silence. I prefer the awkward silence every time. I’ve solved that problem by convincing Lady Aravan to cut my hair, which she just quite wonderfully. Another hurdle of life overcome.

Maybe that’s why I like writing so much. I have the time to let my brain stop screaming instructions to me and telling me to just CHILL OUT FOR GOD SAKES YOU LOOK LIKE A LUNATIC and actually type out a sentence that I like. My blog posts flow pretty quickly, and I can drop 1000 words in twenty minutes without too much trouble normally. I’m relaxed, I’m good. Social networking places, though, like Twitter and Facebook and commenting on blogs, can add just a dash of that element of OH NO THEY’LL THINK I’M CRAZY. I try to make a funny comment or just something a little entertaining or something, and as soon as it flies off into the Internety World of Digitalia I suddenly think to myself: they won’t get the joke. They think you’re odd. Will he think you’re coming on to him? Is she thinking the same thing? Am I being too nice? Too mean? Too familiar? Too distant? How do you know? Are you sure? And then I get all sweaty and worried and freaked and I’ll suddenly scream out loud I CAN EXPLAIN THE BUCKET OF EARS and everyone in the office is just looking at me over the walls of their cubicles like frightened prairie dogs and I smile and pass out.

OK< maybe I’m not as bad as I’m laying out here, but there is an element of truth behind it all. So if I ever pass you by, and you ask how I’m doing, and I answer, “Good and you fine!” that’s not exactly what I mean. I swear.

About Alan Edwards

Former cancer caregiver. Husband of the most magical and amazing person who ever lived.

Posted on May 24, 2011, in Self Reflection and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. reconstructed

    Oh my. I laughed so hard I nearly burst a seam in my trousers.

  2. I think we are related. Is that possible? Every single thing you said I do to a certain extent. I actually despise interacting with human beings so much that have I worked with dogs for over 10 years. Now, I do some editing online so I can almost take out all that awkward shit all together. It is funny because people seem to think because I respond politely or write well, that I enjoy speaking to people. Completely the opposite. Most social situations for me involve a nice dose of alcohol. I second guess every single post I make on any site. Wondering if they will “get it”, or think I am some god damn freak. Should I delete it? I could write so much more about my social anxiety, my second guessing, and my genuine dislike for most human beings, but I gotta take my dogs out.
    Thank you for this post. At least I know I am not alone.

    • Alan Edwards

      You definitely aren’t alone. Pretty much everything you listed here is exactly the same for me. If I go to someone’s house and I see they have a dog, I feel so much better, because then I have something I can focus my attention on and seem relaxed.

      One of my reasons for wanting to be a full-time writer is so I can eliminate it altogether. A recluse life is the life for me!

  3. There are probably a lot of writers out there who prefer to avoid social situations. I think it’s part of the job description. I’m a thousand times more articulate and clever with my fingers than I am with my mouth. Ooh! That’s a great Tweet…hold on…Tweeting now…okay, done…

    Sorry, my ADHD kicked in. *Twitch* *Knee jerk*

    I used to be a teacher, so getting up in front of kids and interacting with them was as easy as wiping my butt. However, when we used to have orientation nights or awards ceremonies and I had to address adults, I became Nervous Nellie. I *always* flubbed my lines, even with note cards.

    I’m one of those people who has to write down what I’m going to say before I call my doctor’s office because I’m afraid I’ll fuck up “Hi, I’d like to schedule my yearly pap smear and mammogram.”

    On the other hand, give me a topic I know a lot about, and I can yak until the last cricket leaves the meadow. Whales? Yeah, no brainer. I talk to people on boats with no problem.

    I feel your pain. Just keep writing. You’ll be fine! 🙂

    • Alan Edwards

      I think you’re right – all the people who love interacting and small-talking and bullshitting with anyone they meet – like, say every person that sits next to me on a plane – probably don’t feel the need to write. They can just tell everyone around them their stories and feel satisfied.

      Small talk to me is the absolute worst. Like you, if I know a topic well, I’ll talk until well after their eyes glaze over. But if there is no topic but general blandness. Yeah, no. I just look in the distance and nod a lot.

  4. Oh yeah. I’m much more coherent in writing than I am in person. Drinking helps me too. I must have a social/mental block alcohol removes.

    • Alan Edwards

      Most definitely. It’s probably part of the reason I built a huge-ass bar in my basement. When someone comes over, I have something to stand behind and ready access to social lubricants.

  5. I almost wet my pants from laughing. This is why we’re friends.

    • I’m definitely glad that it came across as funny, and not batshit insane. Of course, I think you have to be a certain kind of person to NOT see it as batshit insane. I’m glad you’re one of those people! Heh.

      • Elderberries. Er, I mean…Did you eat your….no wait, thats not right. Put the shovel down. Crap.

        Hee hee. I know just what you mean. =D

  6. I think you may be a long lost cousin. Most of my conversation is with a verbally delayed youngin’ so my biggest fear is talking with adults. I’m so out of practice. Luckily he doesn’t let anyone get a word in edgewise – so I usually hide behind him. LOL

    • Alan Edwards

      I think having distractions for potential conversers is very important. Children work well, as do smoke grenades and maniacal screaming.

      And I’m beginning to think we’ve all known each other a long time, but just hadn’t met yet.

  7. I wonder if you just let yourself embrace your own quirks without feeling like you should be embarrassed by them, if you’d chill a little.

    I mean, we are all dorky to some extent. We are all nervous around certain people (book smart intellectuals are my kryptonite) but none of us is less worthy, less good, or less deserving than anyone else. So if you _know_ who you are and how you are, and you like that and nurture that instead of braining it into being something else, wouldn’t it be easier and healthier?

    Why do people always feel the need to change or punish themselves for having quirks?

    • Alan Edwards

      I don’t necessarily think I’m somehow lesser than the people around me. It’s more like, I know I’m lousy at small talk and inane interactions, so my brain tries real hard to make it seem natural and easy, which leads me to blurt out the wrong shit all the time. I let my freak flag fly (do a greater or lesser degree depending where I am) so I’m less worried about my quirks, and more worried about not coming across as a psycho stalker/killer with a speech impediment.

      So in short, I’m more embarrassed at my verbal gaffes than I am myself. I’m cool with me. I just… worry that I might give the wrong impression from time to time.

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