Monday 29 September 2014

Little victories

Last Saturday was a bit of a roller coaster of emotions. I woke up excited, which changed to apprehensive, went to enthusiastic, anxious, awkward, surprised, relieved, victorious. 
You may ask yourself: what event could cause all those emotions? Well, ladies and gentlemen, it was an event that certainly warranted all those feelings - it was a dinner party.
Of course, it wasn't just any old dinner party. It was the birthday celebration of one of my very best friends, and there was no question that I would not be there.

Here is the thing though: I don't know many of her friends.
We move sort of in different circles, and don't really have overlapping friends. She is a normal, outgoing person, while I indulge more often than I should in my anti-social tendencies. Going to a dinner where I know only the host well, a couple people just a little bit, and the majority not at all? It's terrifying.
All day, I gave myself internal pep talks. "You get to dress up!", and "You get to eat yummy food!", and "You get to hang out with one of your favourite, funny people!". It was working pretty well - as long as I was still in the comfort and safety of my own home.
Then the time came to get into the car. The first butterflies started to flutter in my stomach. "Don't be ridiculous!", I scolded myself sternly. "It's going to be perfectly fine!"
When I arrived there (5 minutes early, as per usual), the butterflies were dancing a wild tango. I forced myself to stay in the car for 7 minutes, so as not to be the very first person to arrive. Then I got out.
The place was hopping, which never helps: too many people all at once make me feel claustrophobic. But I took a deep breath, clutched my purse firmly to my chest, and pushed my way through the crowd. As I was looking around, I noticed a large table with only 4 people on it, but nobody I knew. No wait, hold on... one guy looked vaguely familiar. After confirming that I didn't see my friend anywhere else, I hesitantly made my way over. "Ahem, is this B's birthday party?" They confirmed, and we introduced ourselves. I immediately forgot their names, sat down, and cursed inwardly for still having arrived too early.
Once I was sitting, I pulled a menu towards me, and buried my nose in it. That's what I usually do, because I don't know how to deal with the most dreaded of social interactions: trying to make small talk with people I don't know. Or in that case, 3 total strangers and one guy I only vaguely know and have last seen more than a year ago. How do people do it? What to say? My mind was a total blank. I couldn't think of a single topic to talk about.
Fortunately, not 5 minutes after my arrival the other guests started to trickle in, and there was the usual commotion of welcoming each other, introductions being made, and choosing a seat. My friend also arrived, and I'm always very happy to see her.
But then everybody settled down, and little pockets of conversation erupted all around me. Here I was, sitting as a lonely island amidst a lively ocean of chatter, not knowing what to do.  I had already finished my first glass of water, just to keep myself busy, and had visions of spending the night making frequent trips to the bathroom, not only out of necessity, but also for something to do.
Then, something wonderful happened. The friendly looking guy across from me pulled out his phone and laid it on the table. "Hey, I have the same phone", I inadvertently blurted out. I have a HTC One phone, and you don't see that one very often. Guess what? That was all it took! We started a conversation about phones, apple products (we are against them), my accent (a godsend when it comes to striking up conversations), how I know B, how he knows her. Huh, who knew it could be so easy?
That little interaction made me reckless enough to chime in to another conversation a while later. And so it went, and it was a really great night.
Three hours later I left feeling absolutely elated. I was on a high that made me feel like I conquered the world. I could small talk to strangers! Sober, I may add - I was driving. (With enough alcohol, I can become very outgoing.) I was singing along the radio off the top of my lungs, envisioning my new life where strangers would come together, leaving as friends. I would be a people person! A social butterfly! The life of the party! 
Well, after I came down from my high (several hours later, it was intense), I realized that this was obviously crazy talk. One successful night of chatting to strangers (very friendly onces at that) does not an extrovert make.
However, I realized something: There are a few strategies one can use to overcome that inherent awkwardness that we introverts have in social situations.
Here is what I have learnt this weekend I'm determined to try next time:
1. When meeting new people, try to use their name right away. Not that I have ever done this myself, but I have the best intentions every time. I figure that gives you at least a fighting chance trying to remember their name? I imagine it something like this: "Hi, I'm Miriam." "Hi, I'm Aaron." "Hello Aaron, nice to meet you." I'm usually so focused on the person's face, the name doesn't even register. Maybe by having said it out loud, it will stick? Or all people simply wear name tags. That would be much more convenient.
2. Once you sit down, don't bury your face in the menu. It gives off the message that you don't want to talk. Instead, look around, maybe comment on the restaurant, the flowers on the table, or ask our dinner companions how they know your mutual friend. Again, I have not actually done any of these things, but they seem like a good idea.
3. When it comes to ordering food, talk about it: Discuss the choices, ask if anybody has tasted any of the dishes, maybe talk about other great restaurants or foods you have tried.
4. Bathroom bonding. I don't know what it is, but sometimes it's just easier to talk in the bathroom than out at the table. It is more intimate, there are fewer people, and usually there is less noise. You can comment on the other girl's outfit, hair, make-up, jewellery (whatever catches your eye), or ask for some styling tips. I myself am quite styling-challenged when it comes to hair, and am always interested how other girls get their amazing hairdos. That's a topic I can talk about with almost anybody, without feeling awkward at all!
5. If you can, drink. A few cocktails make everything easier. 
That's all I've got so far. Writing all these down, it seems remarkably simply. But believe me, when I'm in these situations, I'm clueless! So as always, this little list is basically written for myself. Hopefully some of you may find it helpful as well!
Do you have more helpful tips for conquering social situations? If you do, please share! As you can see, there is lots of room for improvement, and I can use all the help I can get. Thanks peeps!
xo Miriam

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  1. Introverts unite! Oh my gosh college is an awful time for being thrown into situations like these! I definitely agree with using their names. And drinking. haha I find little can beat a glass of ol' vino in helping conversations flow! Also, a few {more serious} I've learned from my intense "make people's drinks while they hawkeye you" barista-ing is that complimenting someone on something (shirt/shoes/ring/necklace/nails) often lends itself to some great conversation. Have you read about my experience with the French-Ring lady? We actually have something of a relationship now!
    ~ Samantha

  2. Hehe go Miriam! Great job! A stranger would be lucky to meet you.. I mean that. You are totally engaging and funny.

  3. Great tips!! I have the same anxiety when it comes to social situations with people I don't know well. But it is worth the effort (even if it's completely exhausting) because I like to prove to myself that I can play the part of an extrovert. That's something that helps me - if I tell myself that I'm acting a part, it kind of removes the emotions. Then I can relax and I wind up enjoying myself!

    I'm glad you had a good time!


  4. I have Social Phobia so social situations are very awkward for me. I never know what to say to people. I usually end up feeling like the odd person out. Yes, having a drink or two usually helps. I think those tips are awesome and I need to try them the next time I'm in a social situation. I'm glad you ended up having a good time and you got to see your friend.

  5. I"m a straight up WEIRDO... I can talk to anyone about anything in public. I still would rather NOT go out in public though lol

  6. I do not consider myself an introvert. HOWEVER, I get so nervous when going out even when I know that person very well. And groups? I do better when I have a wing man with me. I once went to an old friend's house for dinner after reconnecting on FB. I was so nervous when I got there that I almost dropped the bottle of wine I brought. Ina few weeks I am going to a girls night at a friend's house ( not one I am very close with but really like ). I will not know anyone else there. I am looking forward to it but already feeling anxious!


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