Someone invited me to join their group of friends tomorrow night. We’re going to one of those painting places where they tell you how to paint a nice, seasonal scene and as long as you listen to the directions, at the end of the night you all end up with some swell art.
It’s going to be fun! I’m totally thrilled to have been invited! Every time I think about it, the Imperial March plays in my head! This has less to do with my atrocious artistic abilities and more to do with the fact that I volunteered to get out there and socialize.
Apparently there are people in this world who find the prospect of mingling with others enjoyable, even invigorating. These people were dropped on their heads as children, because that’s the only thing that explains this kind of sick attitude.
My Greatest Fears
2. Contracting Human Papilloma Virus and turning into a tree
3. Accidentally kidnapping a child
4. Engaging in small talk with strangers
5. Celery when I was not expecting it
Most of those fears make total and complete sense. Snakes will kill you. Dede the Indonesian Tree Man haunts my nightmares and it only takes one accidental kidnapping to ruin your whole life. Celery will also kill you. The small talk thing is a little harder to nail down.
Small Talk — It Might Kill You?
1. What if you open your big dumb mouth and immediately offend someone?
2. What if you open your big dumb mouth and everyone instantly hates you?
3. What if you open your big dumb mouth and you can’t think of anything to say?
4. What if you open your big dumb mouth and the person you’re talking to hates what you’re saying so much that he or she decides to attack you for the good of the group?
These things probably won’t happen. But they could. The trouble is that you have to do it because the very real benefits outweigh the mostly imaginary drawbacks. It’s nice to make friends, and be a contributing member of society, and pretend that you don’t have crippling anxiety for a couple of hours! It might even pay off in the long run because… networking…? (I heard a business person say something like that once. I don’t know.)
In an effort to avoid offending, incurring hatred, forgetting how words work, or being physically tackled, I’ve been reading a lot about how to hobnob like a normal person with innate social skills. It turns out there are a whole bunch of people like me out there. I just didn’t know it because none of us ever want to go to parties and meet each other.
How to Socialize Like a Human Being
Step 1. Prepare some conversation topics beforehand. These topics can include current events (“Say! How about that ebola?”), things you enjoy talking about (“Would you like to see a picture of my cats? I named them after warring world leaders of the 20th century because I like puns and history!”), and things you’d like to learn about others (I noticed you’re wearing an interesting toupee. What made you decide not to age gracefully?”).
Step 2. Practice conversation openers. It may be a good idea to also practice some specifics, as “Did you hear about the thing?” and “Excuse me, can you tell me where another, different thing is?” and “How do you know the person here that I also know?” may not get you very far.
Step 3. Look for people who are already talking. Even though it’s rude to interrupt people in literally every other context, and even though the people standing uncomfortably on the edge of the crowd, not talking are probably more your kind of people. Yep. Just jump right in there.
Step 4. Remember people’s names when you’re introduced. It’s helpful to develop a mnemonic device or to associate their name with someone you already know who has the same name. This is polite, and will also come in handy if something weird goes down and you have to identify people to the police later.
Step 5. Actively listen so you can avoid touchy subjects and gain new insight. As a general rule of thumb, you should avoid controversial topics like religion and sex. You should also avoid topics that elicit negative responses from the person you’re talking to. I don’t know what you should do if the person you’re talking to only responds positively to topics like religion and sex. Start over with a less creepy person, I guess.
Step 6. Get out of there quickly. Conversations and bomb threats should be treated the same way: actively listen, remember the salient details and then evacuate the area. In terms of conversation, this strategy leaves people wanting more. In terms of bomb threats, it means you’ve reduced your chances of exploding.
Optional. Utilize a conversational crutch. If you drink and it’s appropriate, a glass of alcohol can make you less inhibited and occupy your hands when you fidget. If alcohol is not an acceptable option, there are other possibilities — coffee always makes me nice and chatty and sweaty. People like that, right?
Ok. I think I can do this. I think I can leave my house (which has cats! And a book I’m enjoying! And guacamole!), go to a strange place to make art (which I am bad at!) and rub elbows with strangers (who might hate/be annoyed by/attack me!). I’m just going to drink six cups of coffee and apply three sticks of antiperspirant first.