“Does she hate me?”
My partner Tom hears this a lot, and I swear it’s usually not the case. No, the fact of the matter is that I most likely just didn’t give that person what they needed, what they expect to give and get from new people they meet. I didn’t seem interested in them, wasn’t active enough in the conversation. I didn’t smile enough or make eye contact. I failed to tell them I liked their shirt or ask if they had kids. It’s almost like they knew I wouldn’t bother remembering their name.
Until recently, this made me feel awful, because I know how I am. Sometimes I watch it happen or it registers a second too late to do anything about. After a lifetime of experience, I understand that I’m not doing it on purpose, so I’m less angry with myself about it. But it’s still a problem.
Even with friends or coworkers–people I see all the time–I’m not the person who asks, “Hey, how was your weekend?” I also don’t notice new haircuts or makeup or clothes. Or if I do, I let go of it because it’s not important. And I know when people point out things about my person it makes me uncomfortable for two reasons: First, I don’t like attention, so when I receive a compliment my gut reaction is to say, “Please don’t look at me.” Second, now am I supposed to pay them a corresponding compliment?
Also with friends, I often do have questions, but it never seems the right moment to ask them, or I feel like I shouldn’t ask them. If they feel like telling me, they should just do that. It’s rare that I have a comfortable, stress-free conversation with someone that has good flow and I didn’t run off on tangents. Having Tom with me helps, because he’s ace at conversation. So many times I realize I’ve clammed up and then he says something and I think, “Gah, I shoulda said that.”
A couple of months ago, I had a Zoom party with some friends. I found myself mostly just smiling or laughing or trying really hard to not hold my head at a bad angle. It’s a recipe for disaster: a conversation with people who haven’t interacted in a long time, so that’s its own speed bump, plus I have to look at myself. Now this group is trying to schedule another call, since we still can’t hang out in person, and sure, I’ll do it, because they’re all lovely, funny people, but at the same time I’m dreading it a little because I’m so bad at it.
Mostly, I guess I’m grateful that most of my friends are a little awkward as well and they don’t blatantly mind my next-level awkwardness. The new intros, though, I think I need to focus on improving those skills (whenever people can interact in person again). I don’t want to make people feel bad. I don’t think it’s funny that a bunch of folks out there assume I hate them.
But small talk with strangers? Yeah, never gonna happen. I’m at peace with that.