I’ve always been an introvert, but a well-trained one. By well-trained, I mean that I have been given the skills to succeed in an extroverted world. I have been socially awkward since birth, though. Making eye contact with people makes me uncomfortable, like I’m walking around with a big flashing sign that screams, “TALK TO ME!” and I really have to be in the mood for any personal social interaction. At my last job, I was called out on this more than once, for presenting such an unfriendly demeanor toward my coworkers (even though our guests and visitors really enjoyed my company and raved about how friendly I was). Resting Bitch Face? I have been told I have that, too.
Last night, however, while my family was enjoying a delicious dinner out for my birthday, I found myself completely engaged with our waiter. Ricky was charismatic, utterly charming, instantly likable, and, I suspect, a closet introvert. After a few short conversations about the food and the view (we were fifty stories above downtown Oklahoma City), Ricky took our order and headed off, after which my husband looked at me and said, “You know, you’re much better at talking to people than you think.”
Oh, I know. There is a reason for this. It’s all in how I choose to commit to the relationship.
I met a friend of my husband’s earlier this year when she was visiting Oklahoma City. She and her husband, both native Oklahomans, moved to Brooklyn a few years ago. In my living room we chatted briefly about how each one of us has gone about making friends and meeting people in our new hometowns. I felt like I had the advantage in friend-making, though, but only because I don’t really crave the presence of other people. She does. And it was really interesting when she expressed one serious concern of hers – that she would accidentally scare off a potential friend by appearing overeager or too excitable at the prospect of forging a new-friend relationship.
The newness of a budding friendship, the possibilities in its long-term survival…what is this? I really don’t know. This is an emotional language that I cannot comprehend. Probably because I live under a rock. Happily, I might add.
Every now and then, probably more than a few times a week, I have some really incredible conversations with people I see on the regular. I chat with the woman who pours my coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, the man who sells succulents at the Farmers Market, or even our very charismatic waiter who surprised me with a chocolate ganache birthday cake after last night’s dinner. Those short-lived connections with strangers actually satiate my social appetite. After a quick exchange of stories with people I don’t know, I usually walk away from these encounters feeling pretty good about myself and about people in general.
I think the reason I can successfully make small talk with strangers is because I don’t believe in “small talk” (as a meaningless time killer, that is) – and this is where my being well-trained comes into play. Small talk can be meaningful. It can help to connect people with one another without the pressure to commit. I don’t have to call you the next day and I don’t have to worry if you’ll still respect me in the morning. Perhaps because there is no pressure and absolutely no expectation of how the whole relationship will evolve (or even crash before takeoff), I can rock the hell out of some small talk.
My early career aspirations involved climbing the corporate ladder of the hospitality industry and I was well on my way. My future career aspirations involve working with the public, as well. Playing the part of hostess, confidante, therapist, friend, mother, manager, teacher – all those roles – is an essential part of both jobs. And, for an introvert, I am really freakin’ good at it. It’s not difficult for me to turn into a social leader – when I need to do it. I pay for it the following day, though, after I’ve used up all my energy reserves to be friendly and fun and inviting, to morph my face into whatever the opposite of Resting Bitch Face is. But for all the complaining I do about people’s behaviors and the human population, I know for a fact that most of us just want to make a connection with one another. Some people just want different kinds of connections.
* Here’s our view of Oklahoma City last night. Look at all those square miles filled with people I’d like to talk to, commitment-free.