Last night I was standing in line behind a woman whom I know quite well – she’s a design partner, I speak with her almost weekly on the phone, etc. I’ve no idea if she saw me or not. I don’t think so. But I didn’t say “hi”.
When I pass people I know on the street, I almost never stop and talk. I rarely even wave. I will, most of the time, acknowledge them with a head-nod and a smile.
If I’m invited somewhere, and I don’t know who will be there, I often simply won’t go. Or, if I do, I’ll spend most of the time only with the few people I knew were going to be there – regardless of whether or not I know other people where I am.
This isn’t because I don’t like you all – I do! I really like you! It’s just that, most of the time, I try very hard to have in-person (or on-phone) social interactions solely on my terms, my schedule. If I don’t, it just all becomes too much for me. When I don’t stop and chat with you on the street? It’s because the very possibility of making small talk about something, or being careful to ask the right sort of questions, to not confuse you with someone else, to be smart and engaging and everything I want you to think that I am is so incredibly overwhelming to me that I literally break out in a cold sweat and start envisioning doomsday scenarios. My headphones, a near-permanent accessory in my ears, are the most culturally polite protection against that.
When I go to an event, be it dinner with friends or a tweetup or a party or a professional function, it takes time & effort to “gear up” for that. As I’ve gotten older (more confident?) the effort required has lessened. But the recovery from the event hasn’t lessened much. I will “prepare” to encounter the people whom I know will be there. When feeling good, I’ll make an effort to chat with people they appear to know. But rarely, if ever, will I chat with someone with whom I have no prior known connection – I just find it too much for me. I feel like I am getting better prepared for strangers, but overall, I still give myself a failing grade. I’m amazed at Jeff, my business partner, who seemingly effortlessly meets everyone and charms them with ease. He likely knows the name of (& general public story of) everyone in our office building. I know the names of my staff, and maybe 4 other people.
A week where I go to two or more things is incredibly draining, and, I’ve noticed, affects my whole life. I’m moodier, more tired. One of the greatest revelations to me is just how incredibly healing it is for me to spend time with Liam & Leah, who are truly the binary stars at the center of my universe.
In some ways, the internet is perfect for potential shut-ins like myself (I say that with some humor – I’m not a shut in, but I can easily see an alternate life path where, essentially, I become one). I love social media because it gives me a highly-filtered method of learning how to interact with new people. When I do go to social-media-related events, people with whom I’ve interacted with online are less intimidating, I think in part because we’ve already established a rhythm and parameters of our interactions.
So yeah, I won’t often say “hi” to you. But I might just @mention that I saw you later on, when I’m safely behind my screen. 🙂