Sunday, December 4, 2016
11 of 2eLLLve. Coming Out of the Closet.
When I tell people I am an shy, they look at me like I'm nuts. They know me from work, and they see me joking around in front of a group of people, or comfortable in front of a room. One on one, I'm perfectly fine.
When at work, I'm typically partnering with someone on a common goal, or helping sort through a problem. Most of the time, these situations are personal (a career challenge, a team issue, etc) so it allows me to ask some probing questions so I can understand the person better to aid in solving their dilemma. In my personal life, I tend to surround myself with people I have known for a long time, and we have shared history to build from.
A cocktail party, however, might be the most uncomfortable situation you can put me in.
The month of November was spent at work trying to power through work as normal, but also attending a variety of family and work related events that put this uneasiness to the test. I've got enough social graces to power through and do my best to be friendly and engaging. However, I remain constantly in awe of those people who can walk into a room and just start talking to strangers. I can do it...I just don't want to. And sometimes, you just have to.
One example came at an end of season banquet this month for one of my daughters. I was grateful to run into an old friend, and was fortunate enough to grab a seat at her table where I knew no one else. I did my best to chat and make small talk with this table full of lovely women, but it became clear - on the surface at least - we didn't share much in common other than the fact we had kids who shared a sport. One woman at my table was dressed beautifully, complete with hair and makeup. I stupidly made the assumption she had come from work, and thought that would be a decent opener. Turns out, she doesn't; she just decided to use this banquet as a reason to get dressed up. Very dressed up. Apparently, so did most of the other moms in the room. I was wearing jeans and 14 hour old mascara. Candidly, I still I was the most appropriately dressed for the occasion.
After that first attempt at chit chat fizzled with one mom, I started conversing with another in the buffet line. Started easily enough, until she quickly said, "Oh my god, don't look...that's X's ex-husband!! We hate him." I looked at her and tried to process. I had no idea who X was, and who the "we" was that she was referring to. I gazed at the nicely dressed guy and would have loved to be in a situation to ask more. That's how I connect with people; ask questions, learn stories. You can't just drop stuff like that on me as a throw away comment and then expect me to go back to the salad.
A similar thing happened at the Thanksgiving dinner table. My girls and I headed down to Florida to share the holiday with my parents. We were joined by some of my father's side of the family, as well as the family of my mom's good friend. My parents put together a lovely spread; fantastic food and a home filled with warmth and love. And yet, I was surrounded by people I didn't know particularly well. My dad's sister and her family are wonderful people; I just didn't grow up with them. We lived a far distance away, and have only come to know each other through family events (funerals, weddings) over our adult life. Of course we have family matters to connect over, but otherwise, we are virtually starting from scratch with each other.
But I tried.
I busied myself with helping in the kitchen, hiding a bit from the overwhelming number of people standing outside playing catch up. One of my cousins helped me, and we had an easy time chatting about our kids. Of course, it stays fairly surface level, as I just didn't want to probe too deeply on things; we just don't know each other that well. It was a fun day, followed by everyone sitting around the fire pit sharing stories at the end of the evening. That can be such a fun experience when you are with friends and family you know well enough to tease and laugh along with. For me, listening to people's stories when you don't know them well enough to participate just leaves me feeling awkward. It's really hard to laugh along when I really want to say, "Seriously?! There is no way that can be true!" So I just tend to go quiet and try to be polite.
So this month, through a series of social and professional events, I tried to take a different approach. I attempted to spend less time hiding in a closet making the Thanksgiving mashed potatoes (Yes, that happened. Not my choice.) and more time attempting to get out there and be friendly. Did I do it? Yes. Was it uncomfortable? Yes. Did I go over the line with too many questions? Potentially. And yet, somehow, it seemed to work.
Life is just more fun - for me at least - when I connect with people. I will never be the girl who enters a room and immediately wants to talk to everyone she's never met just to expand my network. And yet, when I make the effort to go out of my comfort zone and get to know people, rarely is it an epic fail. Perhaps other people feel just as weird...and maybe that's why alcohol flows so freely at events. Not being a big drinker, I don't rely on that as my crutch. I just have to suck it up, get out there, and start with a "Hi, I'm Christina."
And I'll do my best to keep my probing questions to a minimum.