Confessions of Social Novice

from "that quiet girl"

Love the One You’re With

on December 22, 2011

One year in my late teens, I got a job for the holidays in a popular clothing store.  I’m not sure why they let me work there as long as I did because my attempts at fashion were as awkward as my conversation skills and knack for creating uncomfortable silences (a fusion of misapplied fashion rules and strangely inappropriate bouts of theatrical inspiration.  How can I make this jeans and blouse ensemble evoke Les Miserable?  I want it to say “cute girl at the mall” but “tragic French novel” at the same time).

I did not make any friends, but I had a flair for thorough cleaning.  My favorite time in the store was when all the customers had gone and the other associates were in the back rooms and I had the job of tidying the floor before closing.  It was a fairly spacious floor, and I could not wait to run the vacuum over that carpet until it looked like a scene from a post apocalyptic movie where all human life has vanished.

Looking back I realize that my coworkers most likely did not appreciate my obsessive compulsive vacuuming.  After my other duties, around 10 at night, I would start at the farthest corner from the door and vacuum the entire room – sloooowly – even if it was already clean, dirt or not, in careful rows up and down the floor. It took close to an hour.  Coworkers closing with me would come out and ask if I needed help  – No thanks! – or exclaim at how thorough I was – Thank you!

Well, I obviously did not take the hint.  The carpet and I were very self satisfied.  In my mind I was showing them up with my superior standards for thorough tidying and rather than be put out or offended, they were an admiring audience.

Those days are past.  I don’t remember anyone’s name or face except my manager’s, and that was only because I was forced to face her for twenty minutes during my interview in which I had to sell her a stapler.  What I realized long after was that the issue was not the choice between people and inanimate spaces, it was between being sociable and being thoughtless and self-absorbed.

So eventually I did move on from vacuumed carpet love to some real human interaction.  But I still lacked social perspective.  My typical style was to choose a favorite person and then obsessively shadow her or him, ignoring everyone else or curtly showing complete indifference to all the other people I thought were boring.  Not surprisingly these one sided relationships failed because I was left out as those I had chosen to socialize with invariably preferred to socialize with those I had rejected and once I saw the difference between their open, easy way with each other and my stiff, too serious stalker vibe, I retreated into my lonely corner.   So I learned the hard way that if I were not to be rejected that I would need to stop rejecting others.  I would have to find a way to make conversation with even the most unlikely of comrades in my day to day life.

I would need to talk to them and not exit as soon as they approached me.  I would need to smile and  ask them about themselves every time we met.   I would need to seek them out and chat them up.  Daily.   But you can’t choose to anoint some people with your friendship and treat other as if they are invisible.  The only time that works is if you are anointing someone just as self-absorbed and exclusive about their friendships, and believe me they aren’t very good friends, and besides I’ve never make the cut. Yes, sometimes I would rather be vacuuming meditatively, but relationships come first because they are all connected.  Throwing out one means throwing out the whole barrel of monkeys.

But what I found was that I actually like people more than I thought I did.  More on that later.

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