They’re wrong. Well, for the most part. I’m actually a pretty nice person, once you get to know me. My problem is that I am separated from the outside world by a very thick cement wall of social anxiety, and it prevents me from functioning normally when interacting with people I don’t know very well.
Whereas most people can have a normal conversation with an acquaintance and then proceed to go about their day as planned, I will spend an additional half hour after our interaction has ended psychoanalyzing every word I said and wondering if I sounded as stupid aloud as I did in my own head. I’ll wonder if I spoke too loudly and called unwanted attention to myself; if others were gawking at the tiny rip in the sleeve of my jacket or the mud peeking out from the bottom of my shoes; if I was regarded as a shitty parent because my kids weren’t using their “inside voices” (while also publicly beating the crap out of each other).
In short, I will waste a lot of time psychotically obsessing over a whole world of shit that DOESN’T MATTER AT ALL. And it’s not even that I really care that much what other people think of me (hence this entire website devoted to my half-assed parenting and other personal problems). I just don’t enjoy the uncomfortable feeling of being scrutinized and consequently unaccepted. It kinda makes my stomach hurt.
So that’s why I tend to avoid 99% of unnecessary social interactions with people I don’t know.
Because I’m the idiot who is incapable of handling basic conversations with other adults without the help of alcohol or maybe narcotics. I’m the babbling moron who hasn’t mastered the art of small talk and probably never will. I’m the jerk who will pretend I don’t know you at all even though I have walked past you while picking my child up from school at least 100 times since he started elementary school three years ago. I’m the asshole who would rather stare at my foot, a tree, parked cars, my phone, anything in the vicinity without a pulse, just to avoid making eye contact with you, person who I kinda-sorta know but kinda-sorta don’t.
And speaking of picking my son up from school– there is no other activity within my daily life which I despise so vehemently. Talk about social anxiety to the max. Everyone’s chatting, Lizzie lost another tooth, Joey got a soccer award, yada yada yada blah blah blah. I don’t totally mind discussing the difficulty of the recent second grade math test with these ladies, honestly, but I’m just not the type to walk right up to you and start the conversation. It feels weird. What if you don’t really want to talk to me? What if you just want to talk to this other girl who is suddenly approaching us and you don’t want the responsibility of introducing us? What if you don’t introduce us and I just stand there awkwardly while you start talking about someone I don’t even know, inching away ever-so-slowly, silently begging the powers-that-be to make my son’s class be dismissed first today. And then I will say another prayer that he doesn’t ask to stick around and play with his friends in the schoolyard for a little while, thus extending this unpleasant social situation by an extremely painful extra half hour.
This is where I could continue to list the myriad of stressful situations for a socially anxious parent like myself, running the gamut all the way from play dates to birthday parties. But I won’t. If your anxiety is anything like mine, you know how horrible they are. Let’s not even get into it.
If my behavior sounds silly to you, then you clearly aren’t plagued by social anxiety. You are the head of the PTA, the Class Mom, the good neighbor, a person with social circles galore. You and I will never be the same. Which is okay.
Just please understand that I’m not really that much of a bitch. If you approach me and mention that pain-in-the-ass math test, I’ll agree that it was difficult. I’ll talk about how much my son hates studying too, and commiserate with you over how many days are left until the summer vacation. I’ll be surprisingly friendly and kind, maybe even a little bit funny.
But just know that afterward, I will silently berate myself for every weird thing I’ll definitely think I might have said and then wonder if you think I’m the biggest idiot you have met in your life. And the next time we see each other, don’t expect more than a half smile or tiny wave as I rush wildly past you to go hide behind a tree.
I swear it isn’t you. It’s me.