Sunday, October 19, 2008

How's your Sociometer?

I was at a social event recently when this scene played out: I walk into a room and scan it for a table where I know people are friendly. That includes quite a few. But at one of them I see a familiar face and immediately my selfish mind says, You don't wanna sit there. She only talks about herself. So I decide to sit elsewhere. Soon I'm next to an acquaintance and I ask her how she's doing. Her response is something like, "Okay, considering all the stress I've been under." I ask her to tell me about it, so she does. News that blindsided her. I could empathize; I had experienced something similar a few years back. I tell her I'm sorry and that I will pray for her and I'm sure God has something in store for her that she can't see in the midst of her grief. She agrees. I tell her I hope I haven't just given her a platitude, a pat answer. I truly believe it. She does, too, and admits she's just not there yet. I am loving the depth of conversation.

Then a friend of hers arrives and they ask if I'd mind moving over so they can talk. Sure, I say, I'll move. (There are plenty of people here I could converse with.) The seating arrangement now has me next to someone who is asking me about myself and the changes I've been experiencing. She is full of compliments and questions. I'm loving this a little too much. So I ask her about herself and there are changes with her kids, which I can relate to. You don't see them as much as you like, but your times together are all the more precious.

All too soon she explains she has to leave early. Still plenty of people in the room, I think. Surely I won't feel left out in this crowd. She is gone and I am glancing around the table. My chair is wedged between two empty ones; the tables are close together. I have no graceful way to get up and move about without physically disturbing people or drinks. So I sit. And take mental notes. I note that everyone at my table is talking in pairs. And I am alone. They are bent close to each other. I dig around in my purse for a pen and paper--if I can doodle, I won't feel so strange. But I have no pen and no paper this time. I'm hoping someone, anyone, talks to me. It feels so awkward. I feel alone in a crowded room. It wasn't that I felt sorry for myself (I was pushing thoughts like that away because they take me down the pity path which I hate and so does everyone else). I just felt awkward. Eventually someone did fill the gap conversationally. Our talk was superficial, but better than nothing, under the circumstances.

The whole thing sure opened my eyes again to the questions, How friendly are you? and How observant are you?" My Real Simple magazine came the nezt day. In it was an article on how to handle social situations in which you feel awkward. At the crux of this feeling is selfishness (my words, not RS's). Everyone is more worried about themselves than about others. More self-conscious than others-conscious. Everyone's hoping someone approaches them and breaks the ice.

What about you? When was the last time you felt socially out of place? Awkward? Self-conscious? Invisible? And when was the last time you observed someone who was alone, looked awkward? Have you recently tried to notice someone who could benefit from your friendly greeting? I want to get better at that. I'd also love for other people to get better at it so I don't have to rummage through my purse for nonexistent pens to distract me. What do you like being asked--and hate being asked--in social settings? What ice breaker questions do you keep at the ready to draw people out?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I sat at our pool side this summer while the kids were swimming. I was already having a hard week missing home. I saw every other lady there talking with her friend. These were the non Christian neighbors I was so determined to reach out to. I just wanted to leave, I felt so awkward. I started to cry (from self pity) but fortunately was wearing sunglasses so nobody noticed. I remember having an emotional wrestling match with God. He won. I dried up in the bathroom, went over to introduce myself to some moms of boys my kids know, and felt much better.

It's interesting being at a church where people don't really know me. I never experienced social awkwardness at CCC because I was there before pretty much anyone I met. It has been sooooo good to be in the other gal's shoes for a while. This church is very friendly, but it isn't the same as when you are truly "known" by folks. hard to explain...

should have just linked a post :) .