How I learned to stop worrying and love human interaction

1 Sep

The title of this post is kind of a lie, since I haven’t exactly overcome all of my social anxieties. It’s a process, and as my sweaty palms and nervous stomach aches can attest, I am still not always comfortable surrounded by people. But I’ve made great strides, and at the risk of being presumptuous, I thought I’d share some of my tips and mental reminders for meeting new people. Advice from Tony Robbins might be more practical, but you’re probably closer to my height. Besides, feeling awkward is an issue I face daily: I’m kind of an expert.

1. You are not the only person with social anxiety. Being an anxious person (clinically or otherwise) can feel very isolating—perhaps more in the past than now, in an age of constant antidepressant commercials and tweets about, you know, social anxiety. But it’s still easy to get so lost in your own head that you assume everyone else is a fully functioning human, and you are the nutty outlier. Lots of people’s brains work differently than the “average” person—we might all be kooky in different ways, but we’re very seldom “normal.” So take comfort in that. The person you’re chatting with is maybe questioning all of his life choices, too.

2. Practice makes perfect, or close enough. If you feel like you’re shitty at small talk and other forms of conversation, you might be kind of right. But don’t be such a defeatist about it. The easiest way to feel more comfortable talking to strangers and new friends is by doing it: like anal sex, it feels weird at first but the more you do it, the more relaxed you/your sphincter will become. (Yes, Mom, that is the most obscene analogy I could think of.) Every time I go out and interact with people face-to-face, I feel like I get better at it. I’m not a pro, but I don’t totally suck.

3. Worrying about being interesting is boring. Let’s get this out of the way first—some people are a little bit dull. You know who you are. But I’d say most of us have something unique or insightful or at least amusing to share. Trying too hard to excite people is bound to backfire—nobody likes a show-off, except at bar trivia night. It’s a lot easier to keep the attention of those around you by acting natural and not pushing too hard. To keep the anal analogies going, that’s how you get conversation hemorrhoids.

4. Get comfortable with personal space. If we hang out, I’ll probably want to hug and maybe kiss you a little, but not everyone feels the same way. It’s often hard to gauge what people are looking for, which leads to awkwardness and hurt feelings. (Have you ever been denied a hug? It’s worse than genocide.) Be intuitive—see how the person interacts with others. Don’t overstep your bounds by getting too handsy, but don’t be weirdly detached either. While you obviously don’t have to hug people if you’re not down with that, standing with your arms crossed is sort of a bummer.

5. Sex is the icing on the cake, and the cake doesn’t really need icing. I think the most stressful part of social interaction is trying to figure out which person you’re going home with, when the answer is very often “no one.” I’m not saying you should hold back on flirting, because maybe you’re really sexy and good at it, but for me, removing that from the equation makes things a whole lot easier. You can build a better rapport when you’re not trying to get into someone’s pants. And then maybe said person will think you’re charming and attentive: he or she would love to be pants-free for you. Just don’t count on it.

6. Remember how fucking awesome you are. Look at you. You are one smooth, stylish motherfucker. It doesn’t matter if you are suave by everyone’s standards—it matters that you feel like you are. This is the most obvious tip to feeling comfortable in social situations, and it’s also the one I have the most trouble with, because I spend a good amount of time fixated on my flaws. Maybe they’re real, maybe they’re not. The point is, feeling good about yourself makes others feel better about you. If you think you’re cool, people will pick up on that. And I think you’re cool, friend—I love when you do you.

And before I go, a few don’ts: don’t think that alcohol makes you more likable, don’t try to be an asshole to impress people, and don’t pass judgment on everyone else because you imagine they’re passing judgment on you. That’s shitty. No one likes a shit.

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