"Hey, you know what you should write an article about?" my friend Sasha texted me. "Worrying."
The woman had a point. She had just received a long, rambling text from me describing a proposal for how to spend my birthday, and the reason it was long and rambling was that I thought she might have been hurt that I hadn't planned to celebrate with her on the actual day. Never mind that she didn't care, and wasn't available.
But therein lies the problem for all of my friendships. And acquaintances. And stranger interactions. I am a social worrywart, whether the concern is justified or not. I analyze and re-analyze nearly every conversation I have, trying to pre-empt looming problems. My worries are always interpersonal ones - I'm actually quite level-headed in cases of medical crises or financial catastrophes or problems that would warrant actual concern. It's that fear of looming social armageddon that gets me above all else. I only worry about the fluffy stuff. Let's sort through some of my recent texts, shall we?
Me: "Hey! Do you think I should invite the school moms for snacks and drinks after school Thurs?"
Yes, I like the moms and thought hanging out would be fun, but I also worried they thought I was standoffish and snobby rather than just quiet, and I wanted to minimize that concern. I almost just erased this paragraph worrying they might see it and would wonder if I had an ulterior motive to inviting them over, which would hurt them - my worst fear. Backup plan - I'll publish under a pseudonym. But they might still figure out it's me??? And if I write this and my other friends figure out it's me, are all the social invitations I throw out suddenly suspect? And yes, I've thought it all through that far. Hasn't everyone?
Me: "Night! Damn I hate text silences after I've just said some weird shit!"
I had just revealed my new book idea to a close friend and I didn't hear from her after an insanely long interval of, like, ten minutes. At the time, I was convinced she thought I was a wing nut and that it was a bad idea. She replied shortly with, "Sorry, Cam just came home with cookies and I got distracted."
Me: "Hey you guys! Sorry I was such a loudmouth - thanks for putting up with me!! And congrats again on your great test results, Neal."
I sent this the morning after I had had "one too many," as my Irish father-in-law would say. I had had a long conversation with Neal about his recent positive brain tumour results, and the bravery he has shown in facing his mortality. All still true the morning after, but I was worried I had crossed the line with being too honest. I was sure I had said things I never would have said while sober, and that he might think I was offensive as a result. Truth - he was probably grateful someone had called out the elephant in the room. Plus he has bigger things to worry about.
The potential for leaving people out of a social event drives me so crazy I almost prefer not to host anything. Leaving me hanging after a text nearly kills me with worry that I've said something offensive. Drinking gives me a break from my inner critic, and while I'm socializing after a few I feel like I'm on fire, but I pay for it with ridiculous analyses and self-reprimand in the other direction the next morning. These examples don't even tap into the prologue of the social anxiety textbook that is me. Yay.
There are some benefits, though, to being overly aware in social situations. At work, I used to think I was Deanna Troy incarnate (Star Trek). I was an Empath who understood social dynamics beyond what was said in a meeting, and in many cases this was true - my bosses would ask for my perspective, and often I was absolutely right. We could fend off hurt feelings that affected high performance before they became a problem. When I needed to reprimand someone though, I had more issues. Every time I needed to have a "performance management," conversation with a subordinate, I felt like I was acting, and I really should have fired more slackers. I worried that I may not have been giving the underachievers adequate opportunity to prove themselves. But I knew I was naturally empathetic, so then did I overcompensate by acting too tough? Only Jason could say.
With strangers, the worrying situation may be at its worst. We live in a busy neighbourhood where I meet people in my social situation on the street all the time - we're all struggling with a stroller and a few young kids. If I see someone all the time and they don't return my smiles, I worry I might be doing something to come off as unfriendly. If I'm in the schoolyard and there's someone I've seen for months who ignores me, I wonder if I'm putting off a bad vibe, or if I'm doing the body language thing all wrong. Suddenly I see the entire neighbourhood as standoffish, while at the same time thinking any coldness is due to my own revolting first impressions. Stranger danger incarnate.
So where is the truth, and is my worrying help or harm? I can tell you from experience that it's harm to me. But I guess the friends who graciously love me get a kick out of my ridiculousness, at least. Now they answer my morning-after-hang-out text or call with, "So is this the call?" I try to tell myself on a good day that my social skirmishes are few and far between, and that my friends would love me enough to get past them. At least everyone understands that I care, and that gives me comfort, because I do care - that's where all this stress comes from. In terms of work, I need to keep acting to do what the job requires, or take a job where strong manager/employee empathy is mission-critical. And as for strangers? I think I need to let strangers be strangers, keep smiling, and if they ignore my smiles, fuck 'em. Isn't that what a Klingon would say? Maybe if I identify with a new Star Trek character, it will be problem solved.
By Ann Moore
The Purple Fig is a community where women share personal and relatable stories; no ego, no shame. We're about life, love and all of the stuff that makes us yearn, squirm, and giggle. These stories make up the authentic and intriguing journey of a woman.
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